Bollinger

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Bollinger champagnes exemplify class and tradition. Based in Ay for nearly 200 years, the house pays scrupulous attention to the fine details and is dedicated to ensuring the highest quality in its wines. It has a long and trusted history as one of the most single-minded and steadfast houses, which is probably one of the reasons it is the favourite champagne of Agent 007, James Bond.

16 Rue Jules Lobet, Ay. +33 3 26 53 33 66

The Wines

We agree with Peter Liem, who describes the wines of Bollinger in the following way:
“Bollinger's champagnes are often known for their richness, but whenever I taste one, it’s usually its fineness that I notice first and foremost. The wines are always suave and impeccably polished—it’s unsurprising that Bollinger is James Bond’s champagne of choice, although personally I find it more appropriately suited to Sean Connery than to Daniel Craig—and they are capable of tremendous complexity and depth of character.”  (champagneguide.net)

Bollinger Special Cuvee NV

60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, 15% Meunier. Over 85% of the fruit comes from Grand or Premier Cru vineyards. The varieties and plots are vinified separately in both stainless steel tanks and oak barrels (approximately one-quarter to one-third of the blend). Typically two base years are used, to which is added 5-10% of reserve wines from magnum. The wine is aged for 3 years before release. The dosage is 9g/L.

Bollinger Brut Rose NV

62% Pinot Noir, 24% Chardonnay, 14% Meunier. Over 85% of the fruit comes from Grand or Premier Cru vineyards. This is the newest wine to the range, only created in 2008. As with the Special Cuvee, the grapes are vinified separately in stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. 5-10% of reserve wines are used, and the colour is derived from the addition of 5-6% four-month-old Pinot Noir. The dosage is 8g/L.

Bollinger La Grande Annee

A blend usually consisting of around two-thirds Pinot Noir and one-third Chardonnay, entirely from Grand and Premier Cru villages. This is a vintage wine, and the varieties and parcels are each vinified separately in aged oak barrels (five years old minimum). The Grande Annee ages for at least five years in the cellars. The dosage is 7-8g/L. 

Bollinger La Grande Annee Rose

An amplification of the Grande Annee. It, too, has around two-thirds Pinot Noir and one-third Chardonnay, but with the added nuance of an exceptional red wine from La Cote aux Enfants, a Grand Cru vineyard of less than 1.5 hectares. This vintage wine is only made in the best years. Vinification takes place in old oak barrels. Aged for six years on the lees. Dosage is 7g/L.

Bollinger R.D.

Since the 1952 vintage, under the guidance of Madame Bollinger, a portion of the Bollinger Grande Annee is held back for disgorgement at a later date, which becomes the R.D. (‘Recemment Degorge’ or Recently Disgorged). It is usually disgorged 8-20 years after the vintage.  The R.D. dosage is 3-4g/L.

Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Francaises

100% Pinot Noir from ungrafted vines. Very few ungrafted vines still exist in Champagne. Almost all were grafted onto American rootstock following the devastation of phylloxera. However, three of Bollinger’s Grand Cru parcels survived unscathed: Chaudes Terres and Clos St Jacques in Ay, and Croix Rouge in Bouzy. Unfortunately, the ungrafted vines at Croix Rouge were lost to phylloxera in 2003, leaving just two ungrafted parcels today.  These plots are worked in the traditional way, by hand and sometimes with the help of a cart horse.  The Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Francaises (‘French Old Vines’) was first made in 1969, and is only produced in the best vintages. 

Bollinger La Cote aux Enfants

This Coteaux Champenois is a still red wine made from Pinot Noir grapes from the tiny, organically farmed Grand Cru ‘La Cote aux Enfants’ (the Children’s Hillside) vineyard. According to legend, the hillside is so steep that only children can climb it.  The wine is only made in the best years and is aged for eight months in old oak barrels. Only a few thousand bottles are produced in a given year.

History of the House

In 1650, the ancestors of the Comte de Villermont settled in the village of Cuis. Exactly 100 years later, the Comte purchased an estate in Ay that is still the home of Bollinger today. At that time, his family was already using grapes from their estate vineyards to produce a sparkling wine. 

In 1829, the Comte entered into partnership with Jacques Bollinger and Paul-Joseph Renaudin to establish the house, then known as Renaudin-Bollinger & Cie. A few years later, in 1837, the Bollinger and Villermont families came even closer when Jacques Bollinger married the Comte’s daughter, Louise-Charlotte de Villermont.

A decade after the marriage, Jacques Bollinger bought all the company shares held by the Comte and restored Renaudin-Bollinger to a privately owned business. In 1851 Paul-Joseph Renaudin passed away, and three years later the house came under the sole ownership of Jacques Bollinger (although the name remained unchanged until the 1960s out of respect to his former partner).

All during this period, Bollinger and Renaudin had been focused on selling their wines to key export markets, including Great Britain and Germany. They were among the first champagne houses to produce a drier style of wine that found great success, especially with the British market. 

Upon Jacques Bollinger’s passing in 1884, his sons took over the company, first Joseph, soon followed by Georges. The brothers had to face extremely difficult times, including the devastation of the vineyards by phylloxera. But they succeeded in further raising the profile and quality of the wines, and even expanded their vineyard holdings.  

The reins then passed to George’s son, Jacques, who at the tender age of 24 assumed responsibility in 1920.  With help from his cousins, he too built on the advancements of his father and grandfather. Later, as mayor of Ay, he enjoyed great influence and authority in the locale. 

In 1923 Jacques married a Scottish lass, Elizabeth (Lily) Bollinger, whose business acumen was a tremendous asset. It was she who took control of the house when Jacques died in 1941. World War II was raging, and yet, Lily, at age 42, was devoted to the company. She worked tirelessly to implement strategies that would bring the house and the wines much acclaim. 

After the war, Lily built the estate vineyards up to their present level of 164 hectares, with purchases of plots in Ay, Grauves, Champvoisy and Bisseuil. She also represented the company around the world, where her charm and cheerful personality were warmly welcomed. 

Lily was a great believer in progress and innovation, and it was her motivation that led to the creation of Bollinger R.D. by holding back some of the Grande Annee for later disgorgement.

To ensure the house continued to flourish, Madame Bollinger began training her niece’s husband, Claude d’Hautefeuille, to skillfully run this business. He became director in 1950, and she appointed him Chairman in 1971, just six years before she died.

In 1978 Madame Bollinger’s nephew, Christian Bizot, took over from Claude. He proved to be an excellent Chairman, taking after his famous aunt in his devotion to speaking with sommeliers and wine merchants around the globe and befriending them with his easygoing personality.   

The novelist Ian Fleming was one of Bollinger’s most famous fans. In his fourth Bond novel, Diamonds Are Forever, Bollinger makes its first appearance as the champagne of choice for the British secret agent 007. The relationship grew when Christian Bizot met and became good friends with Albert R. Broccoli, the producer of the Bond films. To this day, James Bond’s champagne of choice is Bollinger.

In 1992, Christian created the house’s famous ‘Bollinger Charter of Ethics & Quality’, which outlines their very strict standards and commitment to producing the highest quality champagne. These have since been renamed the Bollinger ‘Ten Commandments’, which state: 

  1. Bollinger produces all of its wines.
  2. Bollinger guarantees consistency in the style of its wines through large vineyard ownership.
  3. Bollinger favours Grands and Premiers Crus.
  4. Bollinger uses primarily Pinot Noir as the base of its blends.
  5. Bollinger uses only the cuvee (first pressing) in its wine production.
  6. Bollinger carries out the first fermentation of its wines in oak barrels.
  7. Bollinger keeps its reserve wines in magnums.
  8. Bollinger allows for a very long maturation time.
  9. Bollinger ages its reserve wines La Grande Annee and R.D. under traditional cork.
  10. Bollinger implements a very low dosage.

In 1994, the great-great-grandson of the house’s founder assumed the helm of the business. Ghislain de Montgolfier’s expertise led him to become the head of the Board of the Union des Maisons de Champagne and co-chairman of the Comite Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC).

In 2008, for the first time in the company’s history, control was passed to a non-family member. Bollinger is never afraid to try something new if it is in the best interest of the house and its wines. Jerome Philipon is originally from the Champagne region, and comes from a background of working with large industrial organizations. He shares the vision, passion and drive that has been the cornerstone of this house since its inception.

Gilles Descotes took over from Mathieu Kauffmann as chef de cave in June 2013. Descotes, says Philipon, was the natural successor, since he had been working at Bollinger for a decade - progressing from assistant production director to director of vineyards and supply, before being named technical director in 2012. Gilles is now in sole control of blending for the full Bollinger range, as well as grape supply and vineyard management. 

Vineyards and Winemaking

The estate-owned Bollinger vineyards are located mostly in Grand and Premier Cru villages, and account for almost two-thirds of their total production needs. The remainder is purchased from local growers. 

In the cellar, only the first pressing is used, and fermentation takes place in both stainless steel tanks and oak barrels. The grape varieties and many of the different parcels are vinified separately, and it depends on the wine as to which fermentation vessel is used. Malolactic fermentation is always carried out for wines that ferment in stainless steel, but for those fermented in oak, malolactic only takes place if it occurs naturally. 

The Bollinger cellars contain 600,000 magnums, used to hold reserve wine for the blends. This is an extremely labour-intensive method, but Bollinger’s commitment to quality means they are not interested in the easy route, and prefer to use the options that best suit the wines. The magnums of reserve wine are stoppered under cork, and offer the chef de cave a top quality array of base wines from which to create his blends. 

Bollinger also performs riddling (remuage) by hand, and has a resident cooper to care for the barrels