Champagne Bollinger

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The story began with Athanase de Villermont, the youngest son of a noble family with a brilliant destiny. A great soldier who shone during the American War of Independence, he inherited an extensive estate from his family in the Aÿ area. He immediately foresaw the extraordinary potential of the wines of Champagne, but as an aristocrat he was forbidden to become involved in trade. He then met Joseph Bollinger, a widely travelled German who had left his country of birth to learn about the Champagne wine trade, and Paul Renaudin, a local man who was fascinated by the world of wine. The firm of Renaudin-Bollinger & Cie was founded on 6th February, 1829. Joseph took care of sales and Paul of the cellar. Athanase had founded a Champagne house that was to endure through the centuries.

Joseph Bollinger married Louise-Charlotte, daughter of Athanase, in 1837. In time their sons, Joseph and then Georges, took over the business. From the phylloxera crisis to the turmoil of the Great War, they were to face some of the house’s greatest challenges. Under the guidance of the two brothers, Bollinger nonetheless gained great renown and extended its vineyards considerably. In 1920, Jacques Bollinger, son of Georges, found himself at the helm: a weighty burden for a 24-year old. He faced the challenge with courage, aided by his cousins Pierre and Yves Moret de Rocheprise; for the strength of Bollinger also lies in its powerful family ties. Sophisticated, cultivated and a fluent English-speaker, Jacques increased Bollinger's prominence across the Channel. He guided the house with great wisdom through the difficult years of recession and the Second World War, and as Mayor of Aÿ he was committed to protecting his village.

When Scotswoman Elizabeth Bollinger (born Law de Lauriston-Boubers) married Jacques in 1923, she was also to become passionately involved with the house’s destiny. She was only 42 when she lost her husband at the height of the war. Without hesitation and with great dignity she stepped in to take up the torch. "Madame Jacques”, as she was known within the house, threw herself heart and soul into her new role. During her many visits abroad her natural grace and charm worked wonders. Cheerful and witty, Madame Bollinger was nonetheless a formidable strategist. A dauntless businesswoman, she was also a perfectionist who would tolerate nothing short of excellence. She was always ready to innovate, and she was the driving force behind the highly original Bollinger R.D. cuvée. The familiar image of her cycling through the vineyards is imprinted in everyone's memories.

With her customary common sense, Madame Bollinger gathered around her those family members who were most able to follow in her footsteps. Firstly she taught Claude d’Hautefeuille, her niece’s husband, the ins and outs of the family business. In 1950, he became a director and launched an ambitious modernisation programme whilst respecting Bollinger’s quality requirements. Madame Bollinger appointed him Chairman in 1971, but she remained closely involved until her death six years later. Madame Bollinger’s nephew, Christian Bizot, took over from Claude in 1978. A great traveller, like his Aunt Lily before him he made a point of meeting with sommeliers, restaurant owners and wine merchants to promote the house’s wines. A great chairman, he was well known for his outspokenness and informality.

In 1994, it was none other than the great-great-grandson of founder Joseph Bollinger who was to become head of the house. After starting his career in Chile, Ghislain de Montgolfier continued to develop the house with the pursuit of excellence as a guiding light. He continues to maintain a policy of voluntarily limiting amounts produced to increase quality, while remaining true to the Bollinger spirit. A tireless worker, Ghislain has a great sense of humour and combines scientific rigour with enthusiasm for success. In 2007, his technical expertise led him to be elected as head of the Board of the Union des Maisons de Champagne and co-chairman of the Comité interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne.

In 2008, for the first time in its history, the house placed its future into the care of a chairman who was not a family member. Their choice fell on Jérôme Philipon, originally from the Champagne region, who had led an impressive career with large industrial groups. The choice might be unexpected - but Bollinger has never hesitated to reject conformity for the good of the house and its wines. With the Bollinger family’s support, Jérôme Philipon has extended his predecessor’s programme of modernisation and investment. With him, the house has continued to preserve its traditional expertise while incorporating the best of new technologies for the future development of the brand, both in terms of quality and commercial growth.

Bollinger has created prestigious Champagnes with character, distinguished by their elegance and complexity, since 1829. These outstanding wines are the result of rigorous attention to detail, for Bollinger accepts nothing less than excellence. Each and every detail represents a quest for a certain form of perfection. This uncompromisingly independent spirit exemplifies the inimitable elegance for which the Champagne region is renowned and which so impressed the court of England that the house has been awarded the Royal Warrant since 1884.

The house’s 165 hectares are planted with 85% of Grand Cru and Premier Cru vines, spread over seven main vineyards: Aÿ, Avenay, Tauxières, Louvois et Verzenay are planted with Pinot Noir, Cuis with Chardonnay and Champvoisy with Pinot Meunier. Bollinger is one of a very few Champagne houses to grow the majority of its own grapes for its blends. Pinot Noir represents 60% of the house’s vineyard area, corresponding to the exact proportion of this demanding grape variety in the Special Cuvée blend. Complex and powerful, it provides Bollinger wines with their remarkable structure. Another of Bollinger’s distinctive features are two plots, the Clos Saint-Jacques and Chaudes Terres, which have never succumbed to phylloxera. These ungrafted vines are entirely tended by hand and are propagated using a form of layering called provignage, thereby providing the means to preserve this extraordinary heritage from which the very exclusive Vieilles Vignes Françaises cuvée is produced.

The Bollinger vines are an integral part of the geography of the Champagne region, their straight rows, which count for some of the most tightly planted in the world, creating a highly recognisable landscape. To preserve this harmony, the house constantly improves its vineyard by replacing iron stakes by pine posts, planting flowers and installing pristine boundary markers. Bollinger also supports sustainable vinegrowing by grassing over the ground, using biological pest control, significantly reducing the use of herbicides and recycling pruning waste. Planting hedges and orchards helps to preserve biodiversity, while the 4 hectares of the Côte Aux Enfants vineyard are managed organically. Bollinger is the first Champagne house to obtain High Environmental Value certification, marking the strength of its commitment to protecting the vineyard.

The underground world of the house’s cellars reveals the full importance of time at Bollinger. After primary fermentation in small stainless steel or wooden casks, the wine is bottled in the spring and taken down to rest in the pervading silence of the chalk cellars. The Special Cuvée will remain there for at least three years and vintage cuvées for much longer. It is this long period of rest that develops the extraordinarily delicate aromas of the wine and gives the bubbles their smooth texture. Each year, some of the very best wines are added to the house’s exceptional collection of 700,000 reserve magnums which are kept for blending Special Cuvée. Stoppered with natural corks during a light secondary fermentation, these magnums enable each wine, from every cru and every plot, to reveal the infinite subtlety of their bouquet and to develop their full complexity while being protected from oxidation. This is a luxury that gives Bollinger the opportunity of letting wines mature over many years before being used. The art of using reserve wines has reached absolute perfection!

Bollinger’s pursuit of excellence does not stop with the winemaking process. Riddling and disgorging of all vintage wines, with their natural cork stoppers, is still carried out by hand. The house has always striven to keep the natural balance of its wines and adds very little extra sugar. Bollinger is also uncompromising in its choice to allow bottles to rest for three months after disgorging to give the wine all of the time it needs to stabilise. The finishing touch is given in a brand new building at Oger, set in the Côte des Blancs vineyards, where modern technology and perfection go hand in hand. Here, amidst the bustle of machinery, the bottles are at last clad in the house colours. Labelled and packaged, they are finally ready to be shipped to clients the world over.

Bollinger does not seek to produce vintage cuvées at all costs. It is only done when a grape harvest turns out to be absolutely exceptional: grapes must be perfectly ripe and present an ideal balance between sugar and acids. The house’s uncompromising commitment to according vintage status to only the very best of years has given rise to the name of this outstanding cuvée. La Grande Année and La Grande Année Rosé, the house’s prestige cuvées, are cogent demonstrations of a vintage year’s extraordinary qualities. Vinified exclusively in casks, they illustrate Bollinger’s interpretation of a grape harvest. The outstanding Bollinger R.D. cuvée takes these vintages to an even higher level with a remarkably long period of ageing on its lees. This is a Champagne that truly demonstrates the advantages of the passing years.

Because quality is anchored in the precision of each movement to be carried out, every stage of production of Bollinger wines is marked by a specific action. Passed on and perfected from generation to generation for nearly two centuries, these production secrets are one of the house’s greatest assets. Bollinger never yields to the easy option: wherever ancestral techniques have proved to guarantee the highest quality, they are preserved however challenging this choice might prove. Hand riddling, reserve magnums and vintage cuvées stoppered with natural corks, and a resident cooper: the house proudly perpetuates ancient skills and valuable crafts. Indeed, Bollinger is the first Champagne house to obtain the highly respected Patrimoine Vivant (living heritage) seal of quality which recompenses exceptional craftsmanship and skill.
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