Wed | Dec 7, 2016

Adventure in wine country - Day 4: Bollinger Champagne

Published:Sunday | December 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Mike among the old vines. - Contributed
A Bollinger tasting. - Contributed
Mike's pick - Bollinger Special Cuvée.- Contributed
The House of Bollinger - Contributed
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It's adventure in wine country! Over the next few months, join Outlook as we relay the adventures of CPJ's CEO Tom Tyler and Mike Turner, wines category manager, as they travel across France to some of the world's finest wineries.

The adventures of Tom Tyler (CEO of CPJ) and Mike Turner (wines category manager, CPJ) as they travel across France to some of the world's finest wineries. 4 Days, 4 Wineries.

Chateau Bollinger

The story of Bollinger is one of nobility, adventure and passion. It began with Athanase de Villermont, the youngest son of a noble family. Shortly after the American 'War of Independence', he inherited a vast estate from his family in the small town of Ay. He immediately recognised the extraordinary potential of the Champagne region, but as an aristocrat, was forbidden from becoming involved in trade. Luckily, a few years later, he met a widely travelled German by the name of Joseph Bollinger, and Paul Renaudin, a local wine enthusiast working for Ruinart.

The three men pooled their resources and knowledge to establish the renowned Bollinger Champagne in 1829. The house was founded on the principle of quality - for the terroir, grapes and ultimately, wine. Through the years, the house has followed the direct lineage of the Bollinger family. The descendants have maintained the prestigious company through immense challenges, including the 'Phylloxera Crisis' and both World Wars. Arguably, the most famous successor of the winery is Madame Bollinger.

Born Elizabeth Law de Lauriston-Boubers of Scotland, she married Jacques Bollinger in 1923. A woman of fortitude, intellect and grace - she proved to be an invaluable asset. She was only 42 when Jacques passed away at the height of the war. Without hesitation, she threw herself - heart and soul, into her new role. Her charm and strength became the backbone of the company.

Madame Bollinger left the company with a last quote for champagne lovers all over the world - "I drink it when I am happy and when I'm sad. Sometimes I drink it when I'm alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I'm not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it - unless I'm thirsty."

Our day at Bollinger

Team CPJ: Tom Tyler & Mike Turner (CEO & wines category manager at CPJ).

Team Bollinger: Guy de Rivoire (international sales director, Bollinger).

Where: Bollinger Winery, Ay, Champagne.

Our day at Bollinger begins on the outskirts of Reims, in the small town of Ay. It is one of a cluster of small villages running along the central valley of Champagne. Our host for the day is Guy de Rivoire. As international sales director of Bollinger, he truly is a man of the world. This is perfectly reflected in his indistinguishable accent - throughout the day, his lilt riffs from English to French and even South African! Regardless of accent, his knowledge of Bollinger is impeccable.

Today's tour feels different from the rest. We are not in a courtyard, winery or even house. We are simply meandering through the streets of Ay. The buildings are old, humble and gorgeous. It feels as if we are walking through a collage of postcards. Little do I realise that a number of these buildings are actually owned by Bollinger. Even more unbelievable is that all of them are inter-connected like arteries, by the very cellars the Champagnes are aged in. We make our way through a building and descend into the now-familiar site of a Champagne cellar.

I immediately notice something unique. Unlike other Champagne brands, Bollinger does not seal its aging wines with a bottle cap, but with a cork. This is the first of many practices that separate Bollinger from the rest. The winery is famous for producing the vast majority of its own grapes. The vines are spread over 164 hectares in seven primary vineyards, all of which are Grand or Premier CRU classified. Even their blending is distinctive, with Pinot Noir accounting for 60 per cent of the Special Cuvée. This adjustment results in greater power and complexity in the wine. Guy explains, that, above all else, "Bollinger is a fine wine."

Our tasting for the day takes place in the house of Madame Bollinger. As we walk through the halls, I'm compelled by the wealth of heritage surrounding me. Art, furniture and family heirlooms cement the overwhelming legacy that defines this incredible family and winery. I cannot think of a better place to abide to Madame Bollinger's motto for champagne ... .

Highlight of the day

Among the vast estate of vineyards owned by Bollinger, there are two plots that stand above the rest. The Clos Saint-Jacques, and Chaudes Terres. Unlike most vineyards, the vines are ungrafted, entirely tended by hand, and most important, are some of the only vines in Champagne that never succumbed to the infamous Phylloxera epidemic. Phylloxera are small aphids (insects) that feed on the roots and leaves of grapevines. In the late 19th century, France was plagued by Phylloxera. It destroyed thousands of acres of vineyards. The solution eventually came from North America, where pest-resistant vines were grafted into French vines.

This is what makes these two plots in Bollinger so special. They are a preservation of the past, completely authentic, and a landmark to the prestige of this famous house.

Mike's pick ...

Bollinger - Special Cuvée

An icon among non-vintage champagnes.

The Special Cuvée is the result of delicate blending between Grand and Premier crus 'harvest grapes', and reserve wines aged for over 15 years. The wine is brilliant gold in colour, with very fine bubbles. What immediately sets this champagne apart is the intense perfume on the nose - complex, aromatic and completely intoxicating. The palate is a subtle combination of structure, length and vivacity. The entire experience resonates the incredible quality of Bollinger Champagne.