Bollinger is one of the most renowned and coveted Champagne Houses in the world, famous for its Pinot-Noir-dominant wines, in particular La Grande Année and the rare Vieilles Vignes Françaises (from pre-phylloxera vines).
Bollinger can trace its roots in the Champagne region back to 1585 but it wasn’t officially founded until 1829, when aristocrat Athanase de Villermont inherited a sprawling estate in Aÿ. Forbidden to enter the trade because of his status, Villermont employed wine merchants Joseph Bollinger (who later married Villermont’s daughter) and Paul Renaudin to form Renaudin-Bollinger. Renaudin died in 1851, leaving no heir, but his name stayed on the label until the 1980s.
Bollinger is one of the last remaining Champagne Grandes Marques under family ownership. One of its most renowned owners was Lily Bollinger (famously pictured cycling through vineyards) and quoted as saying of Champagne: “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.” Beyond these iconic images, Lily Bollinger heavily influenced the Champagne House during her 30-year tenure (1941-1971), deciding to vinify plots separately and introducing both the Vieilles Vignes Françaises cuvée and its late-disgorged bottling, “R.D.”.
While most of the region’s vineyards were devastated by phylloxera at the end of the 19th century, Bollinger had a few small, walled plots on sandy soils that somehow survived, remaining ungrafted to this day. The vines in these three Grand Cru sites – Clos Saint-Jacques, Chaudes Terres and Croix Rouge – are planted at high density (30,000 per hectare), grown traditionally following the provignage “layering” method and trained vertically, producing very low yields. English writer Cyril Ray suggested Lily Bollinger produce a special cuvée from these plots of Pinot Noir; she did so in 1969 (the year of her 70th birthday), and the House released the first vintage of Vieilles Vignes Françaises in 1974. With tiny production, the Blanc de Noirs is one of the region’s most collectable wines. Unfortunately, Croix Rogue in Bouzy succumbed to phylloxera in 2004 because it had not been enclosed with walls like Clos Saint-Jacques and Chaudes Terres in Aÿ, so the wine has only included fruit from the other two sites since.
In 1963, Lily Bollinger released a small quantity of “Réserve 1947” on the US market via her New York agent, fulfilling a request for something to compete with other prestige cuvées. The wine saw extended time on lees and then a lower dosage at disgorgement. While aged Champagne was at the time unfashionable, the wine was a great success – and R.D. – standing for “recently disgorged” or “récemment dégorgé”, and now trademarked by the House – was born in 1967, when the 1952, 1953 and 1955 vintages were released. The wine is the same as the Grande Année, just with longer lees-ageing.
Today, the Champagne House owns 179 hectares of vines – 85% of which are Grand and Premier Cru – covering Aÿ, Avenay, Tauxières, Louvois Verzena, Cuis and Champvoisy. A total of 60% is planted with Pinot Noir – the same proportion of the grape variety in Bollinger’s benchmark non-vintage, Special Cuvée blend.
The House also boasts an enviable library of reserve wines, with 800,000 magnums. A resident cooper is tasked with tending to more than 4,000 small casks in its cellars. All of Bollinger’s wines are aged for two to three times longer than required by appellation regulations.
Pinot Noir defines the house’s style which is rich and powerful yet elegant, further emphasised by the use of oak (with a significant proportion of the base wines barrel-fermented).
In 2020, Bollinger introduced a range of single-site Blanc de Noirs wines, PN, which aim to showcase a different Cru from a particular vintage. The first release was PN VZ15, from 2015 and Verzenay, followed by PN VZ16.
In addition to its vintage wines, Bollinger releases a small number of limited editions. In 2021, Bollinger marked the 40th anniversary of its partnership with the James Bond franchise with its 24th wine, a limited-edition Special Cuvée for the No Time to Die film.
Champagne Bollinger also produces a 100% Pinot Noir still wine from Coteaux Champenois called La Côte aux Enfants after the single vineyard in Aÿ.
In April 2021, Bollinger acquired Ponzi Vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.