STUDY
The
No.08
Sabrage and Sabotage – the Life of Comte Robert-Jean de Vogüé

Our latest half-hull is a mid-twentieth century shipyard engineers model of Eryx II

Research revealed the yacht was commissioned by Comte Robert-Jean de Vogüé, a fascinating character that witnessed glamour, conflict and liberation in equal measure throughout his life. Read on for a glimpse of his life story.

Article Continues

Sleek from afar and covered in original pen and ink annotations, Eryx II was the last ever vessel designed in full by Charles Ernest Nicholson and is a joy to have in our shop.

While the marks across the hull shed light into the shipbuilding process, it was the pencilling on the back – ‘For J. De Vogue’ – that piqued our curiosity.

Born in 1896 in the Centre-Val de Loire region of France, Robert-Jean de Vogüé enlisted for the French military at the outbreak of WWI. Having fought with distinction he forged a career in the forces in the years following the conflict, marrying the stylish Ghislaine d’Eudeville, heiress to the Moët fortune, in 1924.

At the conclusion of his military career in 1930 he took over as Moët & Chandon’s Managing Director and one of his first acts as MD was to introduce the first ever commercially available prestige cuvée, a 1921 vintage sold from 1936 onwards. The name ‘Dom Pérignon’ was chosen, the title given to Moët by Francine-Durant Mercier when she married Paul Chandon in 1927. It was de Vogüé that turned it into one of the most prestigious names in Champagne, with an appeal that endures almost a century later.

De Vogüé used his position on the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) to secure the liberation of seven hundred French prisoners of war from the Nazis.

“Despite his abstinence, Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest cellar in Berchtesgaden contained roughly half a million bottles of the finest vintages of Bordeaux and Burgundy, rare ports and cognacs and massive quantities of Champagne.”

As de Vogüé began to market his latest cuvée, France’s wine-making regions were thrown into crisis by Hitler’s occupation in 1940. Despite the workers and materials lost in the French war effort, the Nazis were keen for vineyard production to continue. Leading Nazi figures such as Hermann Göring and Joseph Goebbels were well known wine collectors that saw the consumption of French bottles as a way of flaunting their victory, with millions of bottles stolen from the Champagne region in the first few weeks of the occupation. Despite his abstinence, Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest cellar in Berchtesgaden contained roughly half a million bottles of the finest vintages of Bordeaux and Burgundy, rare ports and cognacs and massive quantities of Champagne.

To manage the flow of alcohol back into the Motherland, Hitler installed a ‘weinführer’ in each of the winemaking regions. Champagne was placed under the control of Otto Klaebisch, previously a wine merchant and known to many in the trade, but his prior connections did little to weaken the demands he placed on the winemaking industry.

Finding them almost impossible to meet, the wineries formed the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) in 1941 and elected de Vogüé as their negotiator-in-chief. Citing their importance to Champagne’s production, de Vogüé used this position to secure the liberation of seven hundred French prisoners of war from Klaebisch.

Defending his countrymen from the weinführer was not de Vogüé’s only act of defiance against the Nazis. He was also an important figure in the Eastern French Resistance throughout the war, leading the branch in Épernay where a bust still stands honouring his memory.

The Resistance were the first to notice that major German offensives were often preceded by large orders of alcohol. The New York Post describes how “in one instance, the Germans ordered that the French bottles be specially corked and packed in order to be sent to a very hot country. The French passed this information along to British intelligence just before the Nazi campaign in Egypt began.” 

Almost inevitably, de Vogüé’s double life aroused the suspicions of the Gestapo. On 24 November, 1943, he was arrested in the office of Otto Klaebisch and incarcerated alongside fellow Resistance fighter Robert Tritant, leader of the CDLR group in Châlons. De Vogüé confided in Tritant, unaware their cell was bugged, and was sentenced to death for his actions at a hearing in Reims, the unofficial capital of the Champagne region.

This time a prisoner himself, de Vogüé was relying on others to save him from execution, and five days after his arrest, the secretary of the CIVC, Maurice Leflond, issued a strike order for the workers of the Champagne region. Facing the possibility of their glasses running empty, the Nazis sent de Vogüé to various concentration camps including Karlsruhe, Rheinbach, Ziegenhain, and Rheinberg, where he clung to life until the war ended in May 1945. The German surrender papers were even signed in Reims.

Upon his release, de Vogüé resumed running Moët & Chandon and split his time between the vineyards and the sea. His enthusiasm for yachting was not confined to Eryx II – his first Nicolson acquisition was 1923 yawl Barbara, sailed out of Cannes into the Mediterranean, with Eryx and Eryx II following in 1959 and 1964 respectively.

De Vogüé passed away in 1976 and Eryx II has covered thousands of miles since, currently available for charter in French Polynesia. We are proud to have played a small part in the schooner’s story.

Shop our half-hull model of Eryx II here.