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BOLLINGER – Superb Champagnes From A Reputable Producer
Among champagne lovers, the name Bollinger evokes memories of excellence, and anticipation of future bottles still the be produced with loving care. Although the house (in Champagne producers are called house, rather than winery) is known as Bollinger, it was founded by Athanase-Louis-Emanuel de Villermont, born in 1810 to a family with vineyard holdings in Ay, Bouzy, Cuis and Verzenay. He studied at the French Naval Academy to become a officer, but never practiced the profession, although he serves in the King’s army.
Circumstances forced him to sell the wines of his family’s vineyards in England, which even then was a respectable champagne market.
Joseph-Jacob-Placide Bollinger was born in Wuerttemberg in 1803 to a senior legal official and his wife belonged to minor nobility. He landed in Champagne and joined de Villermont’s company to learn the trade in 1822. Soon after, Bollinger joined the company.
Antoine Mueller was the winemaker of Veuve Cliquot and married to the daughter of Ruinart, another famous champagne house. Eventually, Mr Mueller set up his own champagne house. Through a mutual friend he arranged young Bollinger to return to Germany to sell his wines in the then independent kingdom of Bavaria, Saxony, Hanover, Wuerttemberg and the Netherlands.
Bollinger was made world-famous, and, became a formidable champagne house of quality by Madama Lilly Bollinger who had to take over the management after her husband’s premature death in 1941. The war years were difficult. There was a severe shortage of fertilizers, fungicides, pesticides and spare parts. German army officers helped themselves to all the Bollinger champagnes they could put their hands on.
The company lost an important market in Germany, but eventually the house was allowed to export to Switzerland, the Netherlands, Italy and distribute in France. Both the US and UK markets were closed.
Due to fuel shortages Mrs Bollinger was forced to inspect her vineyards riding her bicycle, which eventually became her trademark.
She emphasised quality above everything else and acquired 100 – 90 percent rated champagne vineyards to ensure a steady supply of high quality fruit. She was also an excellent ambassador of champagne, promoting not only her wines but also of her beloved region of Champagne.
Madame Bollinger was known to say: “I never drink champagne, except when I am thirsty, or depressed, or joyous, or want to celebrate another day of life or want to relax.”
Under her management, Bollinger quality reached unprecedented levels of refinement, and continues to this day. The house philosophy is that champagne is a blended white, sparkling wine derived from black and white grapes. There is no rose Bollinger.
The company owns a little more than 100 hectares of prime vineyards in Ay, Bouzy, Verzenay and Cuis, but also buys fruit from selected growers on contract.
Bollinger produces only four champagnes: Carte Blanche (sweet for the South American markets); Vintage; R.D (recently disgorged); and Vielles Vignes Francaises from pre-phylloxera vines.
As can be ascertained, no effort is spared to produce quality champagne, by limiting the brands. Those familiar with the Bollinger style are convinced that there are only a few champagne houses that so consistently follow policies set by Madame Lilly Bollinger.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu