The Cordon Rouge Club

A couple of weeks ago we three monkeys were invited along by Mumm Champagne to an event they were hosting titled ‘An Extraordinary Evening of Adventure with Explorers from the G.H.Mumm Cordon Rouge Club’. At the time we didn’t know anything about the Cordon Rouge club, but being lovers of Champagne and fascinated by explorers (well, who isn’t) we gladly accepted.

One of the key things you quickly learn when working in the wine industry is just how many requests you get from various charities and organisations asking for sponsorship for any number of events. Raffles, dinners, wine tastings, art exhibitions, gallery openings, auctions….you name it, someone will be asking for wine. So, when marketing a wine brand, choosing which charity or event to sponsor is a crucial decision. Ideally it should be something that will attract the right demographic of customers that you are also marketing to as well as having some sort of affiliation in terms of shared values or common goals.

And with the Cordon Rouge club Mumm seem to have nailed it on the head. They founded the club 7 years ago, bringing together a group of extraordinary people – adventurers, explorers, pioneers – to celebrate and promote their achievements and to use their collective power to work with worthy charities and to inspire future explorers.

Mumm has long had an association with explorers and pioneers. The house supported the expedition of Captain Jean Baptiste Charcot who became the first Frenchman to cross Antartica in 1904 – helpfully providing some bottles of Champagne for them to drink on their journey. It is this history that the Cordon Rouge club celebrates. There are now 30 people in the club and we were invited to listen to 6 of them speak of their adventures and travels – with a welcome glass of Mumm as an aperitif.


Drinking Mumm in Antartica in 1904

First up was Neil Laughton, an adventurer who has explored the seven continents by land, sea and air – including undertaking a 10,000 mile journey from London to Timbuktu, which he celebrated completing with – you guessed it – Mumm. But that was really the last bit of product placement for the evening – it wasn’t really about Champagne, it was about celebrating these explorers and listening to their inspiring tales told with humility and just a dash of true British eccentricity.


Neil Laughton after completing his journey from London to Timbuktu

Tom Avery took to the stage next and talked, not of himself, but of the American explorer Robert Peary and his disputed expedition to the North Pole a century ago. After spending 25 years trying to find a route to the pole, and losing 8 of his toes in the process, Peary succeeded in reaching the pole in 37 days in an expedition from Northern Canada in 1909. However, this huge achievement was disputed for the next 100 years – when the next fastest expedition took 42 days and the average was 60-70 days. How did Peary do it? This is what Tom Avery decided to set out and do – to travel the same route as Peary and in the same style to see if it was possible. Tom told us tales of a place that is “basically trying to kill you” with temperatures of -40C dropping to -63C with wind chill. Or, as he put it, “seriously nippy”. A place where the flow of ice could mean you went backwards overnight, having to retrace the same steps you took the day before. Tom travelled as Peary had with husky dogs and sleds and eventually made it to the North Pole, beating Peary’s time by 4 and a half hours. Tom is now one of just 41 people who have reached both the South and North Poles on foot, but listening to him made it clear who he considered to be the true explorer and pioneer – Roger Peary and his team: “the true conquerors of the North Pole”.

This humility continued with our next explorer, Geoff Holt, but for a very different reason.

“Life is an adventure. Life is an expedition. We’re all on it. There are challenges along the way and it’s never easy.”

That is how Geoff’s story began – and we quickly learnt just how huge his challenges were. A passionate sailor, Geoff had crossed the Atlantic 3 times by the time he turned 18 and intended to make sailing his life’s work. That is, until he dived into the sea in the British Virgin Islands and hit the sandy bottom head first – breaking his neck and paralysing him from the chest down. But his story wasn’t about how his life suddenly changed in that instant. Instead, he took us forward to 2007 when he sailed around Great Britain single handed. It took him 109 days to cross those 1,500 miles – despite nearly dying 3 minutes into the sail when he fell overboard and his lifevest failed to inflate. Since then he has also sailed across the Atlantic and been named Yachtsman of the year – and his next adventure is to sail around the world as part of a race where all of the boats are skippered by people with spinal injuries. Incredibly humbling and moving, Geoff was an inspiration to listen to – and a reminder that no challenge is insurmountable, and that life’s expedition must go on.

Inspiring was also the watchword of our next explorer, Wing Commander Andy Green. A fighter pilot in the RAF, Andy holds the landspeed record for his “holiday job” – driving the world’s fastest car. Andy quickly took us through that moment when he broke the speed of sound and completed a 4.6 second mile – achieving a record 763mph. But his message wasn’t about what he had done – it was what he was planning to do in the future. His next adventure is to go over 1000mph in a car and to share that with the whole world to inspire the next generation of young engineers. Within the next two years he plans to stream his attempt at this new record live to classrooms around the world. In his own words he is “not sure what it will look like” – but he wants to create an adventure for all of us.


Andy Green breaking the speed of sound

After the fastest man on earth, it was onto our next explorer, Colonel John Blashford-Snell. “I’m going to talk about something that went two and a half miles a day”. He came to talk about his expedition in the 1970s to bridge the Darien gap in central America to try and complete the pan America highway. He embodied British exploration and regaled us with tales of his team travelling the 250 miles of the Darien gap – and their encounters with swamps, bugs, narcotic smugglers, FARC terrorists and vampire bats “I got bitten by one – I can tell you, its something to avoid”. Their expedition took 100 days but despite making it through the highway was never built – and the gap remains one of the least explored places on the planet.

Our final explorer was Ben Fogle. I always find it disconcerting meeting someone in real life who you know from the tv – that feeling you should go up and say hi before you remember that you don’t actually know them. In many ways Ben came across as a normal (albeit very well spoken) person who had just happened to become an explorer. By his own confession he got an N in A-level geography and was very unsporty at school. He talked about how life has tipping points – single decisions that can change everything. His tipping points have taken him from applying to be on Castaway back in 1999 where he got his break to recently castrating goats with his bare teeth in Namibia. But what really struck me from his talk was his sense of adventure – something that led him to run 7 marathons across the Sahara in a field of endurance athletes after only 8 weeks of training. Something that led him to row across the Atlantic without knowing which way around the oars went before starting off. He summed up the spirit of adventure – the science, bravery and eccentricity of it. And he left us all with the thought that maybe, just maybe we could be adventurers too.

And it turns out there is a chance for you to become an explorer. The Cordon Rouge club have launched a mentorship programme to help someone achieve their dream and have their adventure. The programme is open to anyone over the age of 25 – all you need to do is let them know what your dream is. The winner will receive the benefit of drawing on the expertise of the club and Ben Fogle will help in a training weekend for the expedition. Anyone interested in applying can do so on the Cordon Rouge website –

You’ll have to beat us though, we think an adventure visiting all of the wine regions of the world could be the winning entry!




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