The underground world of the House’s cellars reveals the full importance of time at Bollinger’s. 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; Special Cuvée champagne will remain there for at least three years and vintage cuvees 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 is one of only a handful of the remaining family-owned prestige champagne houses. Founded in 1829, Bollinger attained legendary status in its pursuit of perfection: its renowned Charter of Ethics and Quality was published in 1992 by Christian Bizot and Ghislain de Montgolfier, when the syndicate of Grand Marque houses was not ready to accept the stringent criteria as a guideline for all houses. Bollinger decided to stick with the Charter and its own values, which respect not only quality, but also family, the region and tradition. In an age of increasing champagne production and giant champagne houses, Bollinger has been able to keep its scale small. Export manager Philippe Menguy explains:
“Every year we produce two million bottles of champagne, even though we could sell four million. We have 12 million bottles in our cellars, which is a six-year inventory. We own and cultivate a majority of our grape needs, so we’re not dependent on purchased grapes.”
Christian Dennis sheds light the role that Vieilles Vignes Françaises (VVF) plays in the house portfolio: “Wine is produced in minimal amounts only during the best champagne years, averaging out to 3,000 bottles. This accounts for only 0.15% of our gross production! The hand craftsmanship that this requires and disadvantageous economies of scale make the VVF three times more expensive than our other vintage champagnes. From an economic standpoint, the VVF doesn’t play a major role, but in terms of image it is vital to us. It’s also extraordinary to produce a wine using winemaking techniques which were used before the phylloxera blight. The VVF is thus the epitome of the country’s original champagne style.”