“Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful…”
In theory, it ought to be easy to hate on the Champagne house Bollinger.
They’re big (producing about 3 million bottles annually); they’re kitschy-famous (getting the royal warrant from the UK market in 1884, and then becoming the official Champers of agent 007); they’re fairly corporate (a staggering – and, one imagines, barely manageable – 175 shareholders); they have that other matriarch, the one with the famous and too-oft-cited quote about basically drinking Champagne all of the time (and let’s not forget that Lilly Bollinger originally resisted the release of a rosé, viewing it as “red-light district” wine, which casts serious doubts as to her sanity in my view…); and they have 5 kilometers of cellars under the town of Ay, housing 700,000 magnums full of aging wines (ok, that last bit is actually really cool).
But with Bollinger, we have a clear case of the gimcrack facade belying a core of true vinous substance (rather than the other way around). So… sorry, but the haters are gonna need to shelve that shiz for a few hundred words.
On a rainy day in September, my visit included a chat with Adjoint de Cave Denis Bunner, a young guy who had a my-job-is-really-awesome smile chiseled onto his face in a near-permanent state. He seemed to revel quietly in the history of Bollinger, dating back to when Ay was the epicenter of Champagne production. He described Bollinger as a “living patrimony” to Champagne, thanks primarily to Madame Jacques Bollinger’s tenacity: “She would say, ‘if it’s good for the wine, I don’t care about the cost; we do it!'”…
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Jean-Claude Fourmon – president of the fourth-generation family-owned Joseph Perrier in Châlons-en-Champagne – doesn’t seem at all deterred by the fact that, in the U.S., his brand is probably best known as “that other Perrier” that not-as-many people have tasted.
He’s quick with amusing witticisms, bordering on platitudes if not for his fantastic delivery; things like, “a day without Champagne is very sad” (truer words were never spoken, I suppose), “we all know that Prosecco is a poison” (definitely not true, but funny), “grapes, blend, and dosage make all the difference, the rest is fantasy” (refreshingly honest), and “‘Can I have another glass?’ That is how I measure success!” (not a bad watermark, methinks).
Now, if he were less affable, he might be a bit more worried about the fact that, since they export seventy-five percent of their production, having a lower profile in one of the world’s largest wine markets isn’t ideal. But Fourmon seems to think that history will prevail.
After all, Joseph Perrier has the Champagne traditions that wine geeks love: along with multi-generational family ownership, there’s multi-generational grape-growing supply agreements, multi-generational cellarmasters, equipment that’s reminiscent of a working museum, and a history that puts the brand in lock-step with the better-known Champers houses (in the early twentieth century, they shared the region’s first paper label with those other brands – only the brand names was changed on each at the time)…
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