Bollinger Makes World’s Most Sought-After Champagne
How Bollinger’s rare, delicious Vieilles Vignes Françaises go from field to cellar to some of us
In all of the Champagne appellation just a few small parcels of land were untouched by a phylloxera blight that ravaged European winemakers in Y 1863, ruining more than 6-M acres of vineyards.
Most vintners had to graft American root stock on their vines after the disaster.
Bollinger, HQ’d in Aÿ, France, is one of the few producers spared, and it continues makes wine using techniques that date to the 19th Century.
Bollinger’s planting method is called en foule, meaning “in a crowd.”
In November, almost a year before the next harvest, a 10-person team guides the stems of existing vines back into the soil, where they will take root and grow.
The result is a messy, highly dense plot that can be tended only by hand and intense labor, 1,500 hours a year per acre, compared with 400 hours for a normal vineyard.
These vines are the 1st at Bollinger to be harvested.
In late August or September, about 40 workers pick the plots over the course of a morning. Each vine produces just 2 or 3 bunches of grapes, a yield reflects their excellent maturity.
The grapes are only Pinot Noir and are crushed in a small, ancient, 2-ton press.
The Champagne that eventually winds up in Bollinger’s bottles of Vieilles Vignes Françaises is made only from the cuvée, the 1st and best part of that grape pressing.
One year’s vintage fills up to just 9 bbls.
After resting for a day, the liquid is poured into 100 year old French Oak barrels. Then over about 7 months, a malolactic fermentation lends the wine a creamy effervescence.
Bollinger uses aged barrels to eliminate any oak, toast, or tannin notes, going so far as to maintain a cooperage to repair their barrels instead of buying new ones.
Those 9 bbls are then transferred to Bollinger’s cellar.
Unlike most wineries, which use metal caps, Bollinger stores its pressings using natural corks, allowing each one to develop in a slightly different way.
But when it comes time to disgorge the accumulated sediment, Bollinger removes the corks by hand, a task most wineries accomplish mechanically.
The wines will remain in the cellar for 8 to 12 years at 64F.
Sometimes Bollinger does not release a vintage at all because of low yield, or if it does not meet the winemaker’s standards.
The Y 2001 vintage was never sold to the public, and when Bollinger does release one, the number rarely exceeds 3,000 bottles, all of which sell almost immediately.
Older vintages often go for upwards of $5,000 a bottle, the most recent one available is from Y 2005 is selling at $975
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