In the beginning, there was Athanase.
Born in Champagne in 1763 to an aristocratic family who was esteemed to be spared the guillotine in the French Revolution, Athanase-Louis-Emmanuel Hennequin, comte de Villermont, enjoyed a brilliant career as a naval officer. After being showered with honours and feted as a great soldier, Athanase conquered the hearts of the people of Aÿ, the town where he finally settled, by protecting them from the rampaging Prussian army, which sacked the region in 1815.
When he finally laid down his arms, he bought his sister’s lands, adding them to his own inheritance to create a vast agricultural estate near Aÿ. As an aristocrat, however, he was barred from commercial transactions, and needed help to sell his wine… He approached Paul Renaudin, a local man and wine enthusiast working for Müller Ruinart, and his friend Joseph Bollinger, the son of German nobles whose love of travel and business had led to France and a specialisation in the Champagne wine trade.
On 6 February 1829, Paul Renaudin and Joseph-Jacob-Placide Bollinger, known as Jacques, went into business with Athanase-Louis-Emmanuel de Villermont to form “a champagne trading firm engaging in the purchase and sale of Champagne wines”. It was agreed that the company would be based at 16 rue de l’Huilerie in Aÿ, in the Villermont family house, for a period of 18 years.