Today, luxury is no longer characterised by waste and excess. Rather, it is defined by sustainability and a sense of responsibility. Since the United Nations issued the 17 Sustainable Development Goals in 2016, not only governments around the world have been following them, but also companies and corporations. In September Bollinger CEO Charles-Armand de Belenet presented the so-called “8 Commitments”. Unsurprisingly, this future “development model” of the company for the next 200 years of history is also all under the heading of “sustainability”. The reduction of the CO2 footprint, the increase in biodiversity and the development of a circular economy are on the agenda, as is the opening of an in-house “Bollinger School of Savoir-faire”.
At the same time, the Maison wants to focus its product philosophy. For Bollinger, this means on the one hand underlining its claim as the leading Pinot Noir producer in Champagne. And on the other, to integrate the terroir approach into its DNA. To illustrate this, we took no fewer than three trips to the vineyards that day, one for each Champagne. As a newly combined series, this trio of single varietal Pinot Noir Champagnes now forms a “cornerstone” in Champagne Bollinger’s offering. It starts with the “Villages”, that is, with the PN series introduced three years ago (with the current TX – for Tauxières – 2017). And then goes over the “Plots” with the newly launched La Côte Aux Enfants 2012 to the “Clos”, that is, the legendary Vieilles Vignes Françaises.
An excursion to three locations
Accordingly, the first excursion led to Tauxières. There, vineyard manager Gaël Vuille and Fierfort Berangère from the Research and Development department explained the geological differences between two plots. For example, the Les Jolis plot has a shallow soil with a very gypsiferous subsoil. Whereas deeper, clayey soils with some flint dominate the Vigneulles plot. Accordingly, even within a single locality, the wines are characterized by a wide range. A circumstance that one must always take into account when blending the different base wines.
From there we went to the iconic plot of the house in Aÿ: La Côte aux enfants. In this steep slope, Jacques Bollinger had bought together 100 individual plots in the thirties and created a coherent monopol of 4 hectares. Planted mainly with the “Pinot Moret” clone cultivated at Bollinger, the southern plots (especially Côte Sud) have been producing an Aÿ rouge, i.e. a red still wine, since the late 1980s. The grapes from the northern parcels such as Côte Nord, on the other hand, went into champagne cuvees such as La Grande Année. With the premiere vintage 2012, a single-vineyard Champagne from these northern parcels has now also been introduced.
The topping could only be the Vieilles Vignes Françaises. At Clos Saint Jacques, one of two tiny walled vineyards, we looked at ungrafted Pinot Noir vines, raised according to the age-old “en foules” system. Since the phylloxera crisis at the end of the 19th century, American rootstock vines had been introduced into nearly all of Europe’s vineyards to save viticulture in Europe. Here in Aÿ, in the immediate vicinity of Champagne Bollinger’s headquarters, two plots of old vines had survived, protected by walls. A good half century ago, the British author Cyril Ray had suggested to the then president Lily Bollinger that the grapes from here be vinified separately. This was the birth of the Vieilles Vignes Françaises with the 1969 vintage. Extremely rare and extremely expensive, it is still one of the most legendary cuvées in Champagne.
Pinot Noir Masterclass
The subsequent master class by deputy cellar master Denis Bunner was then also dedicated to Pinot Noir. As a prelude, two Vins Clairs of the 2021 vintage from the two plots of Tauxières Les Jolis and Les Vigneulles clearly showed the differences of their origin. More elegant, more exciting and endowed with more potential the sample from the chalkier soil. More fruity and direct the sample from the deeper soils. The subsequent tasting of PN TX 17 showed clear raspberry and cassis notes. In addition, floral tones and some pastry, a fairly soft acidity and a medium length and complexity (93 points).
According to the designation PN TX 17, the champagne is indeed a single-varietal Pinot Noir. But it is neither a single cru from Tauxières nor a vintage Champagne. The blend also contains base wines from Verzenay as well as reserves from various vintages, including wines from 2009 and 2006 aged in magnums. In fact, the terroir approach should not simply be confused with bottling single-vineyard champagnes. Rather, at Bollinger, for example, it means having a precise knowledge of one’s own different terroirs. Precise soil mapping, for example, allows much more precise blends than in the past.
The La Côte Aux Enfants 2012 then overwhelmed with fullness, complexity and a perfect mouthfeel (96 points). Unfortunately, just 1,000 bottles of this cuvée were filled, of which just 30 will go to Germany. Admittedly, an RRP of 1,090 euros will also ensure that it will be a champagne for “the happy few.” This was followed by a Vieilles Vignes Françaises from the late-ripening year of 2013. With its beautiful acid arc, it balanced the power of the Pinot Noir in a refined way. Sheer elegance (97 points)! The Vintage 1947 presented at the subsequent lunch showed no perceptible mousse in a first bottle, and a very delicate one in a second. Both, however, were lively with a stable texture. The first bottle was somewhat reminiscent of natural wine with dominant oxidative tertiary aromas. In the second, unfortunately, some off-tones had crept in (no rating).
Finally, at the end of the menu, Charles-Armand de Belenet presented the ambitious plans for the conversion of the Maison’s historic property in Aÿ. This largest single investment in the history of the house brings together the different parts of the Maison. Expanded to include a wine hotel with spa and restaurant, it will also create “new exclusive experiences for wine lovers.” This mantra, which has been heard more and more often for some time, is obviously aimed primarily at ultra-premium travelers from the USA and Asia.
It is to be hoped that Bollinger, still family-owned after all, will remember its origins in this project as well and not turn Aÿ into a Disneyland for adults, as has already happened in large parts of the Napa Valley. Architecturally fascinating in any case is the idea of enlarging the barrel wine cellar and opening it up to the vineyards with transparent walls. In any case, everything should be ready in May 2026. If we include a realistic buffer, the Maison will be able to give itself the best birthday present in 2029.
© of photography: Stefan Pegatzky / Time Tunnel images
© of the model and architectural design: Champagne Bollinger