Entering the Bollinger cooper’s workshop (the last resident cooper of the Champagne region) is like stepping back through time. His neatly organised tools hark back to another age. Cooperage is a highly skilled craft: each one of Bollinger’s 4,000 aged barrels, of which some are nearly 100 years old, requires great attention. Wood, like wine, is a living material, and the cooper must carefully examine each stave to repair any that look likely to cave in. When barrels are not being used they must be filled, dried and mended using traditional methods. Learning to maintain this legacy in perfect condition requires rigorous training, which is why cooperage is a craft that must be passed on to younger generations. Bollinger attaches great importance to preserving this valuable expertise.
Gilles Descôtes is Bollinger’s Cellar Master. This profession requires the utmost accuracy from the moment the harvest is over he monitors the wines from each cru and each plot, getting the feel of their specific characteristics. He chooses the finest wines to be vinified in old oak casks, a practice which has almost disappeared in champagne production. The micro-oxygenation process delicately reveals the wines’ complexity and gives them an extraordinary capacity for aging. With patience and thoroughness the Cellar Master prepares each wine for the Tasting Committee when the moment comes to assemble the year’s blend. He also adds carefully preserved reserve wines, which provide an almost infinite palette of nuances and character. The Cellar Master must not simply be talented; he must also be highly intuitive in order to sense how wines will develop so that today’s blend will achieve perfection in the future.
Bollinger’s vineyard director decides how the vines should be managed. However, each vineyard manager adapts these guidelines to his own terroir, for every plot has unique characteristics. In Aÿ, prairie flowers are planted to bloom amongst the vines, whereas in Verzenay wheat is sown. In Pinot Noir plots, destined for making red wine, priority is given to reaching optimum maturity: green harvesting techniques are always used and the grapes are harvested later. Winegrowers who provide the House with additional supplies of grapes apply the same ethic of excellence to working the vines. The maturity and health of their grapes are closely monitored. Bollinger maintains a special relationship with these winegrowers, many of whom have been faithful suppliers for several generations. The House can be absolutely sure that their grapes are produced using diligent and precise methods which guarantee the quality of the wine.