Portrait: Champagne Abelé 1757

In 2021, my book "Champagne: The 100 most important maisons, winegrowers and cooperatives" was published. At the time, I found it extremely difficult to make a selection from the hundreds of first-class Champagne producers. That's why there's a sequel online at Sur-la-pointe! Part 4 is dedicated to the fifth oldest house in the appellation: Champagne Abelé 1757.

8 mins read

History Part 1: The family saga

Company founder Théodore Vander Veken

Not many Maisons can claim over a quarter of a millennium of history. Anyone who is just a little interested in the past of Champagne will find the history of the House of Abelé fascinating. The house will be in the family for six generations before it passes through various owners in the 20th century – and each of these stages has its own unique history. The Maison was first registered in 1757 under the name of its founder, Théodore Vander Veken, a wine merchant in Reims since 1750. He was actually born in Lille, where his father, who came from a family of dyers from Liège, then part of Westphalia, had emigrated. After Théodore’s death in 1799, his son Rémi succeeded him, but he remained childless and so his nephew followed in 1828. He bears a famous name: Auguste Ruinart de Brimont. Indeed, Rémi’s sister Françoise had married Nicolas Ruinart, the grandson of the founder of Champagne Ruinart of the same name.

1842: de Muller-Ruinart, successor to Van der Veken father & son

In 1834, his brother-in-law, the husband of Augustus’ sister Elisabeth Ruinart, joined the company. Antoine de Muller, a native of Marktoffingen, had worked for the widow Clicquot as cellar master and co-invented the riddling table in 1813. In 1842, he took over the management and renamed the house de Muller-Ruinart. Daughter Lucie married her cousin François Abelé, the son of her aunt Marie de Muller and Charles d’Abelé, a French emigrant who had moved to Württemberg. After a few years at his father-in-law’s side, François Abelé founded the Abelé de Muller house based in Épernay, then in the Château de Ludes, in 1842. After his death in 1876, his son Henri took over, moving the company to Reims in 1880, merging it with de Muller-Ruinart and giving the Maison its name in 1903. Henri ran the company for 44 years, and in 1920 his sons Louis and Joseph took over. As a result of the economic crisis and the beginning of the war, they finally had to sell the family business in 1942.

History Part 2: The modern era

The company seat in Reims since 1942, Rue de Silléry 50

The new owner is the large-scale winery Compagnie Française des Grands Vins. Its founders in 1909 included Eugène Charmat, the inventor of the tank fermentation process for sparkling wine named after him. The company moved its headquarters to Rue de Sillery 50 in Reims, but otherwise took little care of the historic house. In 1985, the Catalan cava giant Freixenet took over the house, which made headlines in France. Actually, the Abelé house had once stood at the cradle of Spanish cava production. In 1886, Henri Abelé and his cousin José de Muller (who ran the Bodegas de Muller in Tarragona) had taught Manuel Raventós Domènech, founder of the pioneering Cornoníu winery, the art of champagne production. Initially, Freixenet merely fine-tuned the style (more freshness, higher proportion of Chardonnay). But then investments are also made. A new cellar opened in 2007 and the house has a real cellar master in Frank Niçaise.

Abelé has deep and extensive cellars, good for long maturation

In 2018, Freixenet itself was swallowed up by the German sparkling wine champion Henkell from Wiesbaden. Of course, they already owned a champagne house in Épernay with Alfred Gratien. For a short time, the houses ran side by side under the direction of Nicolas Jaeger, Alfred Gratien’s chef de cave. But in July 2019, it became public knowledge that the Centre Vinicole – Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte (CV-CNV) was buying Champagne Henri Abelé. This meant that one of the oldest maisons in Champagne became part of a group of Champagne cooperatives. After CV-CNV merged with its competitor CRVC-Champagne de Castelnau in 2021, Abelé 1757, as it has been known since that year, became part of the newly formed Terroir & Vignerons de Champagne (TEVC) conglomerate. The house is now managed by Marie Gicquel, with Etienne Eteneau as cellar master. Production has recently fallen to 200,000 bottles. However, the targeted sales potential of 400,000 bottles should soon be reached again.


Only the color of the agraffe differs in the classic range at Abelé. Unfortunately – at least from a collector’s point of view – not the capsules themselves.

The Maison does not own any vineyards, instead the grapes mostly come from winegrowers with long-term supply contracts. Tyson Steltzer’s “Champagne Guide” from 2020/21 states that the grapes come mainly “from the Marne, Sézanne, Vitry and Aube”. The house itself refers to the high proportion of Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs as well as Pinot Noir from the Grand Cru commune of Verzy in the Montage de Reims and the commune of Les Riceys in the Aube. Since the new cellar was built in 2007, small batches can be vinified separately. Incidentally, the house works classically with stainless steel and malolactic fermentation. In the case of champagne, the path the new team will take can only be seen after a few years. In any case, Marie Gicquel assured in an interview that the new owner will bring new momentum, but that the house will remain “autonomous”. “With its own suppliers, its own cellars, its cuverie and its distribution channels”.


For a négociant, Abelé is a small house, a “maison ’boutique'” so to speak. Accordingly, the range of six champagnes is fairly slim and, with one exception, quite conventional. It starts with a classic brut (40% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot noir, 25% Meunier), which ages for at least three years and contains between 15 and 20% reserve wines. Its counterpart, the rosé, consists of 30 percent Chardonnay, 40 percent Pinot Noir and 30 percent Meunier. In addition, 10 percent Pinot Noir from Les Riceys is blended. The Blanc de Blancs is made from 100 percent Chardonnay grapes, contains 20 percent reserve wines and matures for at least three years. Of the two earlier vintage champagnes at Abelé, the Cuvée Soirées Parisiennes, introduced in 1988, was produced for the last time in 2006. Neither is there any longer a Blanc de Blancs Millésime (last produced in 2002).

The flagship of Champagne Henri Abelé from the beginning of the 20th century until 1980 was the vintage champagne Imperial Club. After Freixenet took over the house in 1985, it was replaced that year by an unnamed Millésime. This is significantly more ambitious than the non-vintage segment. The 2014 vintage (60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir), for example, spent seven years on the lees.

Abelé’s first prestige cuvée was then bottled in 1986: “Le Sourire de Reims”. Composed in the same proportions as the Vintage, it matures for at least ten years in the cellar. The cuvée alludes to Henri Abelé’s great commitment to the reconstruction of Reims Cathedral after the First World War. His champagnes were the only ones to receive permission to use the famous face of the “smiling angel” on its façade for his champagne house. In 1936, Abelé registered “Le Sourire de Reims” as a trademark. A rosé has been available since the 1996 vintage. It is a Rosé de Noirs from 100% Pinot Noir grapes from Les Riceys that macerate for 72 hours.

The Tasting part 1: The Non-Vintages

The two entry-level champagnes reflect their exterior design in their pure, straightforward style – the result of the 2021 relaunch, which centers around a logo symbolizing the cellar archs. The Brut [base 2018 with reserves until 2015; deg.:10.06.2022] is clean and well-structured, with a pleasantly cool fruit and only restrained dosage – which applies to the entire range. Marie Gicquel revealed in an interview that Freixenet “loved the sweetness of the champagne” and that the dosage was then adjusted. This was just as successful as the stronger emphasis on the Chardonnay. Only the mousse is perhaps still a touch rustic and could be more elegant (88 p.). The Rosé [base 2015; deg.:30.11.2021] continues this line, with a fine bouquet of pears and strawberries, good acidity and an unsentimental finish (89 P.).

The Blanc de Blancs [base 2018; deg.:05.04.2022], on the other hand, seems rather undefined. A restrained nose dominated by aromas of freshly baked white bread, with a hint of grapefruit. Very vinous on the palate, with soft acidity and somewhat broad. (87 P.) The Chardonnay seems to have suffered the most from the hot 2018 base vintage. In any case, all three non-vintages gained significantly after a day in the opened bottle in the fridge. Even the Blanc de Blancs seemed more focused.

The Tasting part 2: The Vintages

Nevertheless, the Vintage from the cool “Atlantic” summer of 2014 [deg.:05.04.2022] is a mighty leap forward in quality. Apricot and citrus on the nose, plus beautiful brioche notes and almonds. Very fine and clear on the palate, lean and fresh at the same time, but also multi-layered and characterized by autolysis notes. The acidity is almost electrifying, with a nice kick of fruit sweetness at the end. (93 P.)

The Sourire de Reims 2009 [deg.:07.04.2022] then delivers what one might expect: opulence and an almost luxurious texture, with notes of ripe apples, mirabelle plums, peach and pastry cream. But that alone would only be half the pleasure. At the same time, the power of the 2009 vintage has been beautifully balanced, so that despite the pressure and creaminess, there is no lack of freshness (94 p.). Le Sourire de Reims Rosé, on the other hand, is noticeably from the muscular and sinewy 2008 vintage [deg.:07.04.2022]. Like many of its best representatives, it will be a long-distance runner. Which is not to say that the champagne is not already a joy to drink. Deep salmon to copper red in color. Très Pinot on the nose and palate: strawberries, sour cherries, hibiscus and spices such as pimento. Still very fresh acidity on the palate, vinous, complex and with a clear phenolic character – making it a wonderful accompaniment to food. Very distinctive rosé whose development one would like to follow for decades to come (95 P.).

Post scriptum

The history of the House of Abelé is extremely complex. Not only because of the family genealogy, but also because of the company’s history. For example, the name “de Muller-Ruinart. Successeur de Van der Veken père et fils” was often shortened to “Muller-VanderVeken”. The Maison “Abelé – Vander Veken – Henri Abelé, fils et arrière-petits-fils, successeur”, which was created in 1903 from the merger of the two family businesses, was soon known simply as “Henri Abelé”. However, the name was already in use earlier. The description here is also quite abbreviated and hopefully without errors. In recent decades, the house has tended to be overshadowed by the larger maisons and the sources are rather scattered. For this reason, a few pictures will be reproduced here and links to further literature will be provided.

Portraits from left to right: Nicolas Ruinart-Vanderweken (1765-1850). Antoine de Muller-Ruinart (1788-1953). Henri Abelé (1852-1923). Incidentally, he was the first to use the “en glace” disgorging process, patented in 1884. Bottom left: old label by Henri Abelé after 1903. Bottom right: advertisement from: Revue des vins et liqueurs 1937. The genealogy of the houses of Van der Veken, de Muller, Ruinart and Abelé can best be found in the publication “Una carta de Luis de Muller Ruinart de Brimont a su tía Josephine von Muller Schaden” by Borja de Querol de Quadras, even if this itself is not free of errors. On the history of François Abelé in Ludes, who was also the owner of Château Pekin in Épernay, his descendant Edouard Abelé (1921-2015) published the article “Vie et mort d’un château”.

Image rights

All bottle photos and corks: Stefan Pegatzky / Time Tunnel Images
Portrait of Théodore Vander Veken: Cliché Gérondal©Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille
Label: public domain
Company seat: Union des maisons de Champagne
Cellar vault: Champagne Abelé 1757
Historical documents in the Post Scriptum: Top left and middle: C.[amille] Moreau-Bérillon: Au Pays de Champagne. Le vignoble – le vin. Reims 1925. [Source gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France]. Top right: Old capsule Champagne Henri Abelé: public domain. Bottom left: Brochure Champagne Henri Abelé. Viellei et noble maison de Champagne. Reims 1911. Bottom right: Revue des vins et liqueurs et des produits alimentaires pour l’exportation. Paris, Dezember 1937. [Source gallica.bnf.fr / Bibliothèque nationale de France].

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