On the face of things, there have been few changes in the small village of Avirey-Lingey if one is to judge by comparing photographs taken in the early 20th century with today. The village still lies huddled around its church in the valley hollow, with vines climbing up the surrounding hills. And yet, despite this apparent immobility, this part of Champagne has witnessed a revolution over the past century. Progressive changes have seen growers fight to remain part of the Champagne appellation, then gradually earn the confidence of the major Champagne houses from the Marne for the quality of their grapes. And now they increasingly make and sell their own Champagnes. The Mathieu family have been involved in every step of these changes.
1760: the first vineyards
The Mathieu family has lived in Avirey-Lingey since at least the 18th century. Plot by plot, they have built up a vineyard that now covers almost thirty acres. In 1760, then again in 1860 and 1894, notarized deeds show that plots within the commune of Avirey-Lingey were acquired. Several others were to follow during the next century, despite troubled economic times. Seven generations of vine-growers have now managed the estate, at first selling their grapes to négociant houses. In 1958, Serge Mathieu started to work on the estate with his father France. As sales of Champagne grew, he produced his first bottles in 1970. From an initial level of 5,000 bottles per year, production rapidly increased to 40,000 bottles, most of which were at the time sold in France.
In 1987, his daughter Isabelle joined the family firm after studying modern languages. She set out on the road, in France, Germany and then Great Britain, making contacts and rapidly extending the clientele. Within the space of a dozen years, sales had grown to over 80,000 bottles, of which 60% were exported. These was an export share worthy of the major houses, but rare for a small grower. In 1996 Isabelle married Michel Jacob, a vine-grower from the nearby village of Merrey-sur-Arce. He joined the Mathieu family business a couple of years later and decided to focus on the vineyard and its care. In the cellars, Serge tutored the young recruit and gradually handed over the reins. Isabelle and Michel Mathieu-Jacob energetically handle the four main jobs of an independent wine-producer (vineyard cultivation, winemaking, selling and administration). They travel to markets and receive visitors, openly discussing their wines and approach with customers from all over the world. Their good humour comes with the local accent!
Over the past 10 years, a team of young vineyard workers, trained by Michel in eco-responsible techniques, have come to join their more experienced colleagues. At the same time, considerable investments have also been made: first of all a reception and office building, full of light and opening onto the vineyard, has been installed. Then an extension of the winery was carried out. Both modifications are functional and esthetic, falling in line with the style of Serge Mathieu Champagnes, which are light, airy and harmonious. Nowadays over 100,000 bottles are sold each year, of which 85% are exported to 32 different countries. This small family business even ships its Champagnes to Nepal!