The House of Champagne Bollinger
The continuity of a style
We often hear that the House of Bollinger incarnates a style. Most certainly Bollinger proposes to great wine-lovers something different and unique in champagne. This specific style is bound to a family history that, for generations, chose to stay close to its land whilst ensuring it developed its international reputation.
An Independent House
In times of merging of businesses, the House of Bollinger remains faithful to its tradition. It is one of the last family and independent Houses of the Champagne trade and it intends to continue that way.
A Quality Policy
Heirs of the style, the members of the present management clearly asserted their wish to ensure the continuity of the Bollinger style in a Charter of Ethics and Quality published in March 1992. The Bollinger vineyard estate is the foremost guarantee of the quality and consistency of the House's wines. With 152 hectares (375 acres) of vineyards situated in the best villages, Bollinger is one of very few Champagne Houses to supply two thirds of its own grape requirements. The remainder is assured by long-term contracts with growers who supply Bollinger with grapes or grape must. The House of Bollinger selected a limited number of villages, about thirty situated in the heart of the Champagne area, in the grands crus and premiers crus. The Bollinger style is derived from Pinot Noir grapes. These are grown in the very best crus, particularly in the most famous of these, the grands crus of Aÿ, Bouzy and Verzenay. Primary fermentation reveals the character and style of each individual cru. After the grapes have been crushed, Bollinger retains only the best juice from the first pressing, known as cuvée. The taille, which is produced by the second pressing, is sold off. If, however, the harvest is excellent, the House of Bollinger will keep the taille from the Chardonnay. Primary fermentation is carried out separately for each individual cru and for each grape variety in small tanks or barrels in order to follow the typicity of each parcel of vineyard. Bollinger is one of the last Houses to practice fermentation in wood, in small oak barrels. /shop/branded-champagne/bollinger-champagne.html The House of Bollinger employs the last cooper of Champagne.
The primary fermentation reveals the character and style of each individual cru.
After the grapes have been crushed, Bollinger retains only the best juice from the first pressing, known as cuvée. The taille, which is produced by the second pressing, is sold off. If, however, the harvest is excellent, the House of Bollinger will keep the taille from the Chardonnay.
Primary fermentation is carried out separately for each individual cru and for each grape variety in small tanks or barrels in order to follow the typicity of each parcel of vineyard. Bollinger is one of the last Houses to practice fermentation in wood in small oak barrels.
The House of Bollinger employs the last cooper of Champagne.
To avoid long journeys that would risk the oxidation of the musts, the House of Bollinger has three pressing centres near the harvest sites:
Whenever possible, the purchased grapes are also pressed by the House.
The selection of the musts*
Bollinger uses only the cuvée (the juice of the first pressing) and eliminates the tailles, or subsequent pressings. It therefore requires 1.5 kg of grapes to produce a bottle of Bollinger (as opposed to the industry average of 1.2 kg).
The cellar master carries out a merciless selection when the musts arrive from the winepresses. After tasting and analysing, he sells a portion to other Houses, keeping only those whose aptitude for ageing is in keeping with Bollinger’s needs and standards. Moreover, the cellar master must at this moment make a crucial decision as to which wines will be vinified in wood and which in the small, thermo-regulated stainless-steel vats.
*grape juice prior to fermentation
Bollinger uses only the cuvees
Generally, the average pH of the cuvée, i.e. the first pressing, is between 2.9 and 3.05 and that of the taille, i.e. the second pressing, is between 3.1 and 3.5.
The lower the pH, the more the wine is protected from bacterial attacks and oxidation. Additionally, its ageing potential is improved.
Therefore, the House of Bollinger only keeps the cuvées and sells the tailles.
The first fermentation is done cru by cru, grape variety by grape variety.
To preserve the typicity of each cru, and provide flexibility when blending, the first fermentation is carried out cru by cru, grape variety by grape variety and even marc by marc when the fermentation is done in oak barrels.
Moreover, the House of Bollinger has the flexibility to ferment in stainless steel tanks or in oak barrels which means that the capacity of fermentation is greater than the House's needs.
The vinification of the reserve wines and the wines destined for the Grande Année blend takes place in small oak barrels.
In good years, the quality of the grape musts - cuvées of grands crus and premiers crus - allows the House of Bollinger to ferment its wines in oak barrels which offers many advantages:
• a vinification marc by marc refines the decision of the final blend,
• a vinification in wood enhances the aromatic complexity of the wines,
• a gentle oxidation will increase the ageing potential of the wines,
• the barrels, being old, do not give the wine wood flavour or tannins.
The barrels are at least four years old, and are regularly repaired by the in-house cooper, the only one in Champagne, yet again keeping the tradition.
The vinification of the wines destined to be blended into Special Cuvée takes place in stainless steel tanks or in small oak barrels.
The fermentations can be done in stainless steel tanks. The thermoregulation of the tanks allows control of the alcoholic fermentation and subsequently the malolactic fermentation.
The choice between stainless steel and barrel is done according to the vintages, the grape varieties and the crus.
The wines are lightly filtered
To preserve the character of the wines and not 'strip' them, the wines are only lightly filtered. The small volume of the barrels enables a natural clarification of the wines. The wines in stainless steel tanks are cold stabilized and gently filtered on Kieselguhr. Sterile filtration is not used.
The first fermentation
This is an essential step for the quality of the wines and their aptitude for ageing.
Bollinger wishes to control all of its production, and this is why its supplying are made in grapes.
The first fermentation takes place cru by cru, cépage by cépage, in small containers in order to enhance the character and identity of each parcel.
Bollinger is one of the very rare Houses to still carry out the first fermentation in wood in small oak casks.
The contribution of the wood is unique: the cask allows the wine to breathe and exchange a controlled oxidation with the outside. The wine concentrates its aromas, protects itself from bacteria and acquires a formidable capacity for ageing: the cask is the life insurance of our great wines.
But not all wines tolerate wood: less powerful or less-structured wines are better off fermenting in vats. The share of wines vinified in wood varies from one year to the next.
Bollinger does not use new casks in order to avoid adding tannins to the wines. Bollinger employs the last full-time cooper in Champagne to maintain its stock of over 3,000 casks.
At that time, it is constant work and care from the winemaking team, which will carry out 2 or 3 rackings (transferring wine from 1 cask to another and eliminating the lees). It is also crucial to regularly fill up the casks to compensate the natural evaporation. A cask will loose on average between 1 and 2 litres a month during the period of vinification. Finally, the casks must be watched carefully in order to follow their evolution and make the right decision at the right time.
True to tradition in Champagne, the House of Bollinger only produces two blends
Unlike many Champagne Houses, Bollinger only produces two different blends: that designed for the Special Cuvée, and that which will become Grande Année. Following the harvest period, Bollinger's decisions on blending are not made before January. The blend for the Special Cuvée is an ideal version of the classic Champagne blend, using the different grapes of a given year from a variety of crus, with the addition of older, reserve wines. This blend necessarily incorporates subtle variations each year whilst remaining consistent to a style. It is, therefore, the hardest of all to make. It contains the full expression of the Bollinger style and the House feels it should be judged on this - its benchmark wine.
The Grande Année blend comes only from a particularly fine harvest. When such a harvest occurs the House selects its best wines, cru by cru and grape variety by grape variety - the key to the particular year. The R.D. is simply a logical extension of this approach taken further by extended the ageing on lees.
The blending decision
In January, following the tasting of the still wines, it is decided what will become of the still wines which rest in tanks or in barrel. Although the House of Bollinger only creates two different blends, the wines can have three destinations:
• 'Special Cuvée' blend
• 'Grande Année' blend
• Reserve wines
The 'Special Cuvée' blend - the perfect expression of the Bollinger style
The 'Special Cuvée' is the most representative blend of the House. It is a subtle marriage of crus and grape varieties, of wines of the year and wines from earlier vintages. The reserve wines, kept in magnums during several years, play a key role.
The blend is re-created in proportions defined every year. Therefore it remains, in consistency and quality, the perfect expression of the Bollinger style.
The 'Grande Année' blend - the expression of an exceptional vintage
When the vintage is exceptional, the House of Bollinger creates a unique blend which expresses the qualities and character of the vintage, hence the denomination 'Grande Année' (great vintage).
Stemming from this same blend, the Bollinger 'R.D.' is the continuity and the fulfilment of 'Grande Année'.
The reserve wines are kept in magnum under real cork closure
Every year, the House of Bollinger will set aside wines of grands crus and premiers crus which best characterise their vintage and bottle them in magnums. This method offers many advantages:
• The reserve wines are kept cru by cru, grape variety by grape variety, vintage by vintage. The character and typicity of each of these elements are therefore very well preserved. As a result, every year, when the decision of the blend is made each year, the House of Bollinger can decide on and use exactly the style of reserve wines required to complement the blend.
• The reserve wines are kept for 5 to 15 years under cork and a slight prise de mousse (quarter of the normal pressure of a champagne bottle) to avoid a premature oxidation and to guarantee the freshness and the longevity of the wines.
The grands crus and premiers crus constitute the main elements of the Bollinger blends.
The blends of the House of Bollinger originate from approximately 30 different crus from the departement of Marne, including 10 grands crus and 14 premiers crus The grands crus and premiers crus dominate the blends and guarantee the structure and ageing potential of the wines produced by the House.
Pinot Noir from grands crus et premiers crus constitutes the base of the Bollinger's blends
The Pinot Noir from grands crus and premiers crus gives vinosity and complexity to the blends. Chardonnay adds its mark of elegance and finesse. In the Special Cuvée blend, the Pinot Meunier gives the freshness.
Grape Variety Grande Année Blend Spécial Cuvee Blend
Pinot Noir 65% 60%
Chardonnay 35% 25%
Pinot Meunier 0% 15%
The reserve wines
At each grape harvest, Bollinger selects a share of the wines coming from the grands and premiers crus vinified in casks. They are bottled, then kept in magnums under a light prise de mousse.
Bollinger thus has at its disposal a formidable ‘library’ of more than 300,000 magnums kept cru by cru, cépage by cépage, year by year. They have an ageing potential of five to twelve years. They are stopped with cork.
This method is absolutely unique in Champagne and guarantees the perfect continuity of the Special Cuvée style.
Extended ageing in the cellars enables full development of aromas.
The Bollinger's champagnes age in the cellars far more than is required by the Appellation rules. Another particularity in the case of the Grande Année is that the House of Bollinger prefers cork stoppers to crown-caps.
The House only uses selected and traditional yeasts.
The blends are bottled in April/May in bottle, magnum and jeroboam sizes. Yeasts and sugar that provoke the second fermentation (or prise de mousse) are added. After many years of research, the House has decided to use only selected and traditional yeasts. The new generations of yeasts (agglomerated yeasts and encapsulated yeasts) are not satisfactory. The agglomerated yeasts have a tendency to develop reductive flavours and the encapsulated yeasts require a sterile fermentation.
The Grande Année is bottled under real cork, the Special Cuvée, under crown-cap.
After bottling and prise de mousse, the wine goes from an oxidative state to a reductive state: it is protected from oxygen by the cork and rests in contact with the carbonic gas generated by the second fermentation. During ageing, to develop flavours and aromas, the wine must be sheltered from contact with oxygen as much as possible, hence the importance of the seal.
By comparing the evolution of an identical wine kept under cork and under crown-cap, one notices that after three or four years of ageing on the lees, the oxidation is similar. After four years, this oxidation is more pronounced in the wine under cap. With time therefore, real cork offers a much better protection than a cap and guarantees freshness of the long ageing wines.
Consequently, the Grande Année and the reserve wines will be bottled under real cork and the Special Cuvée under crown-cap.
A long ageing on the lees
After the prise de mousse, the yeasts contribute to the ageing of the wines by releasing the aroma precursors that develop the flavours. This is called yeast autolysis. The more complex the wine, the more it needs time on the lees to reach a perfect balance.
That is why, when the rules of the Appellation require only a minimum of fifteen months on the lees for non-vintage wines and three years for vintage wines, the Bollinger's wines will age on their lees much longer:
Minimum ageing on the lees
Spécial Cuvée 3 Years - Grande Année 5 Years - R.D. 8 Years
Riddling and disgorging
When the wine has completed its ageing cycle, the sediment must be eliminated. This is the riddling operation and is always carried out by hand for La Grande Année and the R.D.
Disgorging consists of freezing the bottleneck to trap the sediment in an ice cube to expel it. Then comes the dosage.
At Bollinger, the dosage is always quite low: 6-9 grams of sugar per litre for the Special Cuvée and La Grande Année. R.D. is an extra-brut dosed between 4 and 5 gr.
After disgorging, Bollinger wines rest in the cellar for a period of several months: 4-6 for the Special Cuvée and La Grande Année, a bit less for the R.D.
Bollinger does not ship its wines until they are ready to be consumed
The disgorgement and the dosage
The use of the cork closure for the ageing of the Grande Année requires a manual disgorgement.
A light dosage maintains the balance of flavours
So as not to alter the balance and the flavours in the wine, the House of Bollinger adds only a small amount of sugar or 'liqueur de dosage' after disgorgement. It makes Brut wines lightly dosed (for Special Cuvée and Grande Année) and Extra-Brut wines very slightly dosed (for R.D.).
The wine rests for a minimum of three months before shipment
This last stay in the cellars allows the wine to assimilate its liqueur de dosage and to settle after the shock of disgorgement. The R.D. is the exception. This wine is indeed, disgorged by subscription demand twice a year.