In mid-2018, Alice Paillard took over the management of Maison Bruno Paillard from her father. The charismatic founder of the champagne house is still its president today, but no longer interferes in the day-to-day business. While in past years he welcomed visitors to Paillard’s stand at ProWein, he has left the stage to his daughter in 2023. She uses the appearance for a master class on one of the most important cuvées of the Maison: the Blanc de Blancs.
The headquarters of the Maison, founded in 1981, is located on the outskirts of Reims. Here mainly Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grow. However, the majority of the 32 hectares of vineyards of the Maison are located on the Côte de Blancs further south, the Chardonnay paradise of the appellation: In 1994, Bruno Paillard bought his first vineyard in Oger, and in 2004 he took over 21 hectares with the René Jardin vineyard in Mesnil-sur-Oger, half of which are in Grand Cru sites.
Oger and Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger: the pillars in the blend
Alice Paillard’s master class focuses on precisely these two pillars of production, especially for Blancs de Blancs. Because her father already attached great importance to “pure” champagnes, the base wines at Champagne Bruno Paillard are vinified separately according to parcel and always filled as “Extra Brut”. The simpler origins ferment in stainless steel. The structure-giving sites, on the other hand, separated by individual sites, in small oak barrels.
Alice Paillard brought several of these barrel samples from 2022 to Düsseldorf, including “Route de Oiry” from Oger and “Les Mussettes” from Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger. The latter is ideally situated on the middle slope of the commune, like its famous neighbor “Chétillon”. This produces some legendary single-vineyard champagnes. Compared to its sparse closedness, however, the wine from Oger seems more expressive at the moment. Alice Paillard finds the acidity very strong. But it is clearly more integrated compared to barrel samples, which I tasted with Bruno Paillard in 2016. A sign of climate change?
As much as parcel-specific vinification respects the terroir principle, Bruno Paillard has always been a controversial advocate of the assemblage philosophy. This means that the individual base wines only ever have a serving function in the blend – and are not vinified as separate champagnes. A principle that Alice Paillard also respects. However, the Maison has made an exception since three-star chef Joël Robuchon tasted barrel samples at the Maison. His enthusiasm about the wines from Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger convinced Paillard to make a Chardonnay for him as a white Coteaux Champenois, i.e. as a still wine. To this day, this tiny production goes almost exclusively to starred French restaurants. We get to taste two as-yet-unbottled samples of Coteaux Champenois from Oger and Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger from 2020. The Oger has now become much calmer and more balanced, while the Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger has gained in stature.
The finished assemblage
The final wine of the tasting is a Blanc de Blancs from Champagne Bruno Paillard from the magnum that was disgorged in November 2015. This is a blend of 40 percent each of base wines from Oger and Mesnil with 20 percent Chardonnays from other origins. The very creamy Champagne has aged beautifully. With citrus, yellow stone fruits and pastry notes, it is unmistakably reminiscent of the Côte de Blancs. But above all, after all these years, the grapes from Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger have asserted themselves in the aromatics. Its distinctive chalky saltiness, however, remains in balance thanks to its partners in the blend. A plea for the art of assemblage!
All photos except Bottle Shot: Stefan Pegatzky / Time Tunnel Images