Just arrived back this morning from two days in Champagne, with Bollinger. It was hectic trip; although the travel there was fairly leisurely, once we arrived we were dashing from one place to the next taking in as much as we could. We saw the pickers at work, the fruit being pressed (using both old and new technologies), the fermentation facilities (steel and oak) and the delivery of pressed juice which went into barrel for fermentation, as well as the storage facilities. Although I understood the principles of making Champagne before this visit, I have certainly developed a much deeper understanding of the process now. For any wine region, visiting the vineyards is a rich experience, but in the company of senior members of the Bollinger team I was able to quiz them not only on the peculiarities of Bollinger’s processes (such as the storage of reserve wines in magnum, under cork) but also get their opinion on the current Champagne controversies, such as the planned vineyard expansion and this year’s yield restriction. On this latter point Jérôme Philipon, Bollinger MD and clearly a supporter of the process, explained it as more of a ‘volume of production’ restriction than a yield restriction; what is harvested beyond the ‘production limit’ must go into reserve wine stocks rather than being bottled and sold as 2009 Champagne or a major component of a non-vintage blend, so there won’t be unused grapes strewn all over the vineyard as some may have imagined.
I also had a chance to pick a few grapes myself (which means when Bollinger 2009 hits the shelves it will be hard to resist making a purchase – even if I did only pick 0.0000001% of the harvest) as well as taste some examples from the portfolio, not just the very consistent Special Cuvée which the Bollinger team drink for breakfast, lunch and dinner (and why not? – it is very good after all), but also several vintages of La Grande Année (rosé as well), RD and Vieilles Vignes Françaises.