From the very moment that Athanase de Villermont recognised the unparalleled potential of his family estate, the prestigious Maison Bollinger has been synonymous with excellence in Champagne. The property has been passed down from generation to generation for nearly two centuries, with each new family member contributing a unique ingredient to the business, just as each parcel of vines and reserves combine to form the House’s exceptional cuvees. Led by Jerome Philipon since 2008, the team seeks to combine modern technologies with the ancient winemaking know-how that is the Bollinger family legacy.
A History of Family Legacy
The history of this prestigious House of Champagne can be traced back to Athanase de Villermont, a young nobleman and celebrated veteran in the American War of Independence, who inherited his family’s great estate in the region of Ay. As an aristocrat, our protagonist was not permitted to work in the wine trade profession he so adored. Instead he brought together a local man named Paul Renaudin and Joseph Bollinger, a German native who had moved to Champagne to learn about winemaking. Together the three men founded Renaudin-Bollinger & Cie in February of 1829, with Joseph managing sales while Paul focused on winemaking. In 1837, Bollinger married Louise-Charlotte, the daughter of Athanese. Their sons, Joseph and Georges, took over the family business, furthering the house’s reputation and extending its vineyards. In 1920 the property passed to Jacques, son of Georges, who managed the estate with help from his two cousins and strengthened relations with the British market.
In 1923 Elisabeth Bollinger married Jacques and, when she lost her husband to the war, took over the business. A hard-working perfectionist and well-travelled businesswoman, Madame Bollinger truly became the face of the company, and was also the driving force behind the House’s signature R.D. cuvee. In 1950, Claude d’Hautefeuille, Madame Bollinger’s niece’s husband, became the Director and embarked on a quest to modernise the business. In 1978, her nephew, Christian Bizot, took over. During his management of the family business, Bizot placed great emphasis on promoting the House’s cuvees to sommeliers, restaurateurs and wine merchants around the world. In 1994, the great-grandson of Joseph Bollinger, Ghislain de Montgolfier, became head of the House. He was also elected as head of the Board of the Union of the Houses of Champagne and co-chairman of the Champagne Committee. The year 2008 saw the first non-family-member Chairman of the House, Jerome Philipon. With Philipon at its helm, the House continues its aim to balance modernity and tradition, blending new technologies with almost 2 centuries of winemaking know-how in Champagne.
On the Vineyards of the Estate
The estate spans 165 hectares, planted with 85% Grand Cru and Premier Cru vines over seven vineyards. The vineyards of Ay, Avenay, Tauxieres, Louvois and Verzenay are planted with Pinot Noir, while Cuis is dedicated to Chardonnay and Champvoisy to Pinot Meunier. In total, the very demanding Pinot Noir represents 60% of the House’s own vineyard yield, which corresponds exactly to the proportion of this grape variety in the House’s signature Special Cuvee blend. The beautiful structure, complexity and power for which the cuvees of Bollinger are known can be attributed, in large part, to this singular variety. The estate also boasts two plots, Clos Saint-Jacques and Chaudes Terres, which have never been affected by phylloxera. Theses precious vines are cared for manually with a form of layering called provignage and used to produce the very exclusive Vielles Vignes Francaises (“Ancient French Vines”) cuvee.
While Vineyard Director determines the overarching guidelines for how the vines are tended, the Vineyard Manager of each vineyard adapts these to suit the unique characteristics of each vineyard plot. For example, prairie flowers are grown alongside the vines in the vineyard of Ay, while wheat is sown in Verzenay. Techniques like green harvesting are given more importance in the vineyards specialized in Pinot Noir, since it is most important for these grapes to reach optimal maturity before they are harvested, later than the others.
Winemaking Savoir-Faire at the House of Bollinger
To ensure consistency in the signature style from one year to the next, Bollinger boasts an exceptional collection of over 700,000 reserve magnums, more than any other Champagne House. This enormous variety of ingredients leads to a complex and precise combination of aromas in the wines. Cellar Master Gilles Descotes has decided to vinify the crus of highest quality in the House’s collection of 3,500 aged casks, a practice now rare in the Champagne region. The wines are then left to mature for twice as long as required by the appellation in order for them to reach their full potential. Micro-oxygenation reveals the personality of each wine and lends the finished product a remarkable potential for ageing. The exact winemaking process at the House remains a secret, however, passed down from generation to generation for close to two centuries.
Although the estate has adopted more modern technologies throughout the years, the team has made sure to stay as close to tradition techniques as possible, even when this has been challenging to do. These techniques include manual riddling, the use of natural corks to stop reserve magnums and vintage cuvees, and the employment of a resident cooper, who carries on the tradition of barrel-making at the estate. These profound efforts to remain traditional has led the House to become first in Champagne to earn the prestigious title of Patrimoine Vivant (Living Heritage).
Focus on 2 of our Favourites from the Bollinger House of Champagne
Bollinger Special Cuvee
The Special Cuvee from Bollinger Champagne House results from a blend of harvest grapes (85% Grands or Premier crus) and reserve wines, part of which have been aged in magnums for 5 to 15 years. This wine is straight-forward, marked by a great intensity, length and incredible refinement. With this beautiful wine, Bollinger signs off on the best non-vintage cuvee that the Champagne region can offer.
Bollinger Brut Rose
The Brut Rose from Bollinger Champagne House is a unique blend, 85% of which comes from Grand or Premier cru plots, dedicated to the production of this wine. Only 5% of this wine is used in the Special Cuvee blend. The grapes are harvested manually and carefully selected before pressing and cold pre-maceration. The blend is based on two crops, either fermented in small stainless steel containers or in old oak barrels. This brilliant rose champagne is aged twice as long as the minimum ageing period that is required by the appellation. After disgorgement, the wine rests for a period between 3 to 6 months.