Mr Philip Scammell, a former Moussec employee, dropped me a line yesterday tipping me off to a strange incident in 2012 when workmen renovating a property on rue St Claude in Les Riceys, in the Aube region of France, suddenly found gold coins raining down on their heads. Hidden in the space between the ceiling and the floor above were bags containing 497* US $20 coins, weighing 17kg in total. The building was owned by Champagne Alexandre Bonnet and was being adapted as accommodation for grape pickers. But a local historian revealed that up until 1960 it had belonged to Moussec.
|Maison Moussec: 2 rue St Claude still bears the Moussec name|
|The ceiling space that had hidden |
the coins for nearly 100 years
The gold coins, which were sold at Bonhams in Los Angeles in 2013 for $945,000, dated from 1851 to 1928, according to Bonnet CEO Philippe Baijot. The fact that it was US gold, deliberately hidden in the late 1920s or early 1930s, does rather beg the question of whether Rivollier was doing more than simply dodging British import taxes. Was he also trying to bootleg Moussec into the US? Judging by the size of the hoard, he seems to have been doing rather well at it.***
|Was this M. Rivollier's bootlegging loot?|
In any case, Moussec certainly seems to have thrived in Britain. In Approved Cocktails, published by the United Kingdom Bartenders Guild in 1937, there are four references to Moussec as a cocktail ingredient.
|A 1938 aerial photo of Rickmansworth with the site of the Maltings marked|
The Moussec winery was situated in what was once known as The Maltings in Cloister Road, Rickmansworth. I started as a Technical Assistant on October 1st 1962. The Works Manager was Mr Ian Marshall, the Chief Chemist was Mr George Young and the production chemist Colin (?).
My responsibility was the fermentation of the grape juice imported in the form of concentrate from the company’s plant in Les Riceys in Aube, France. The concentrate was stored in concrete vats situated underground at the front of the winery in Rickmansworth. It was re-diluted using spring water from under the factory (?) and then fermented using yeast which had been extracted from a successful spontaneous fermentation in the Paris laboratory of M. Rivollier and then stored on agar plates in the laboratory.
Following a short break as a Research Assistant at Schweppes Research Laboratory in Hendon, London, from 15th October 1965 until 30th April 1966, I returned to Moussec where I was engaged in research work on wine pigments until 15th September1966.
Other documents show that Moussec was sold in 1969 to Reckitt & Colman, and the Rickmansworth plant was subsequently closed to amalgamate all of R&C’s production. In 1982 the brand was extended to two still wines, made from French and Italian grape concentrates and labelled simply as “Mellow Red” and “Medium Dry White”, with packaging described by the product manager, in an article in Harper’s from 1984, as “modern and informal without being pretentious”. This shows how even by the Eighties there was still a perception that wine was complicated and elitist and producers were struggling to find ways to make the man in the street feel it was for him. In any case this shows that the original sparkling Moussec was still being produced in 1984.
* Seriously, 497? Surely 500 would have been a nice round number? I wonder if the last three were “accidentally” lost. As it happens, under French law the hoard is split between the landowner and the finder, one of the workmen.
** Annoyingly for him, a few years later in 1927 the legal definition was changed to include the Aube.
*** Cutty Sark whisky was allegedly created for the US market in 1923—in the middle of Prohibition. Which is to say that it was created to be bootlegged into the country. However, filmmaker Bailey Pryor, who has made an Emmy-award-winning documentary about the famous rum runner Bill McCoy, the man said to have smuggled Cutty Sark, tells me that this is baloney. A source high up at Berry Bros. & Rudd, who invented the blend, told him that the bootlegging story was made up years after the event. And it’s true that no photos seem to exist of McCoy with any Cutty Sark, although there are photos clearly showing crates of Gordon’s Gin, for example. Moreover, McCoy’s bootlegging career actually ended when he was captured in November 1923. Although imprisoned for only nine months, he did not return to rum-running again.
Interesting....I have, sat next to me a sealed and therefore unopened 94ml bottle of Moussec British Wine Dry Sparkling, I read the Rickmansworth story and saw the mats on ebay, but nothing else, I know not the age but placed it on ebay under my ebay title of wuggywoo and received no interest or comment, so still have no idea of it's age or value....ReplyDelete
Back in 1969 I found a pub in Cannington, Somerset which had a large quantity of the stuff. It seemed that they had been talked into it by a salesman and we’re stuck with it. I gained many good customer points by working my way through it over the next year until I left the SFI.ReplyDelete
It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.Delete
Interesting thread, so I thought I'd add my experience of the factory. I used to live in The Cloisters, where the factory was based, and as a young student did P/T holiday work there, around the late 1960's and early 1970's. It was a unique place to work as the tasks were very repetitive and mainly unskilled, such that the workforce changed jobs approximately every hour or so moving along the production line. I recall it being hot and humid working on the bottle cleaning and steaming plant, the labelling area was very tedious while watching the bottle filling level even more so. The workers were operating a type of production line, around the building. Staff used to pinch the odd bottle and take it to the toilet and drink the product - there was even a bottle opener on string attached to the toilet door! Not a well paid workplace, but at least you could get part time holiday work easily in those days. I recently visited Rickmansworth, and the road, where the factory used to be, it has been demolished and now an apartments block is there! Further evidence of the decline of UK manufacturing, sad in many respects. Interesting to see the aerial photo as I recognise the area and buildings!ReplyDelete