On the blogby Alfred
December 5 2019

The Bollinger Champagne domain

by Pasquale Charland

We are in December, the snow is everywhere already and it feels like winter more than the fall. Who says winter says… Christmas and the new year, which is just around the corner. This beautiful period of festivities requires good preparation. A Great opportunity to add sparkling wines to our holiday menu.This time, we are talking about champagne, this divine nectar! On my last trip that brought me there last May, I toured the most important and prestigious domains. Yes, champagne is a beverage often drank for special occasions, but drinking less often is perfectly fine when enjoying excellent products.

The first domain I stopped at was Bollinger, in Aÿ near Epernay. A story that begins with Athanasius Villermont, the youngest of a noble family with a bright future, notably as a great soldier who distinguished himself during the American Revolutionary War. He finds himself heir to the vast domain of the family, and immediately sees the great potential of Champagne wines; but his standing as an aristocrat forbid him to commerce. It was then that he met Joseph Bollinger, a traveler who left his native Germany to pursue a career in the champagne wine business. This was followed by another important meeting of Paul Renaudin, a resident of the region fascinated by the world of wine. It is in 1829, on February 6th, that the Renaudin-Bollinger & Cie. is founded. Joseph Bollinger dealt with sales, Paul Renaudin with the cellar; this is how Athanase founded this domain that will live on through the centuries.

In 1837, Joseph Bollinger married Louise-Charlotte, daughter of Athanasius. It is their sons, Joseph and George, who will take over. Through the different difficulties the two brothers had to face, Bollinger nevertheless gained a good reputation and extended their vineyard. Jacques Bollinger, son of Georges, inherited the head position of the domain in 1920; at 24 years old, this represents a heavy responsibility. He stands with courage, with the help of his cousins; the strength of the Bollinger domain lies in the strength of family ties … Elegant and knowledgeable, speaking English with ease, Jacques reinforces the foundation of Bollinger across internationally. Wisely, he guides the domain through the difficulties of the economic crisis and the Second World War; as they mayor of Aÿ, he is committed to protecting his village that represents so much for him.

And then the story continues, bringing with it the presence of a woman, something unusual at this time, but is still a particularity in champagne. By marrying Jacques Bollinger in 1923, Elisabeth Law of Lauriston-Boubers, a young Scottish girl, she also linked her destiny to that of the domain, a job that she will embrace with ardor and passion. When she loses her husband, she is only 42 years old and the war is still raging. Without hesitation and with great dignity, she takes up the torch. “Madame Jacques”, as she is often nicknamed at the domain, then pours in all her energy without counting. Her natural grace and charm will work wonders on her numerous travels abroad. Bold in business, perfectionist at the extreme, she only tolerates excellence, and she does not hesitate to innovate: it is her that created the very original vintage Bollinger R.D. The familiar image of her silhouette traversing the vineyard on her bike remains engraved in everyone’s memories.

With her great instinct, Madame Bollinger knew how to surround herself well. Around family members, she chose the most suitable person to take over. First, she decided to teach the inner Claude d’Hautefeuille, husband of her niece. He became a Director in 1950, bringing forth an ambitious modernization, while maintaining the quality requirements of Bollinger. Mrs Bollinger entrusted him with the Presidency in 1971, remaining very present until his death six years later. Christian Bizot, nephew of Madame Bollinger, succeeds Claude in 1978. An endured traveler, he leaves, just like his “Aunt Lily” did before him, to meet sommeliers, restaurateurs, wine merchants to make them discover the wines of the domain.

In 1994, the head that is placed in charge of the domain is none other than the great-grandson of Joseph Bollinger. After starting his career in Chile, Ghislain de Montgolfier continued the development of the domain, always aiming for excellence. He continued to voluntarily limit the volumes of products in order to progress on the path of quality, without betraying the Bollinger spirit.

In 2008, a new President was appointed and, for the first time, he is not a member of the family: Jérôme Philipon, an impressive Champenois coming from major industrial groups. In 2017, he becomes Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the family holding company and Charles-Armand Belenet is appointed Managing Director of Champagne Bollinger. It is with him that we preserved all the craftsmanship, while integrating the best of innovative technologies with the aim of pursuing the commercial and qualitative development of the brand. 

The house in Aÿ still resonates with the presence of Madame Bollinger. In the elegant simplicity of the place, in the delicacy of each detail, one finds its discreet refinement. Between the high walls of the garden, the sounds of the village seem to fade: everything here breathes calm and beauty, time seems to stop.

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