After lunching on lemony scallops in a natural wine bar in Paris, we arrived at the impressive Bollinger HQ in Aÿ, made more magnificent by a bright blue, cloudless sky. Founded in 1829, the company is one of the last Champagne houses to still be family-owned, remaining under the watchful eye of Madame Lily Bollinger from 1941-1971. The majority of the grapes that go into Bollinger's cuvées come from Grand Cru and Premier Cru villages, as we were soon to find out...
Dropping our bags off, we hopped in a 4x4 and were taken on a tour of the Bollinger vineyards. Unusually in Champagne, the company owns 60% of its vineyards, 60% of which are planted with Pinot Noir and 40% with Chardonnay, as Bollinger favours the richness and body Pinot Noir brings to the blend. The little house you can see in the distance is for the grape growers and pickers to take shelter in when it rains. They also serve as a water source, as each are home to a well.
Striking a pose in front of a very special vineyard: Clos des Chaudes Terres, meaning the clos of warm earth – a walled, ungrafted, 100% Pinot Noir vineyard worked by hand behind Bollinger HQ in Aÿ, which, along with the neighbouring Clos St Jacques, nurture the Pinot grapes for the incredibly special Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Français, of which only 2,000 bottles are made in exceptional vintages.
No mention of Bollinger would be complete without a hat tip to James Bond. At the entrance to the house behind glass is one of the famous Bollinger Bond Walther PPK bullet Champagne coolers made to celebrate the launch of Quantum of Solace. Over dinner, president Jérôme Philipon admitted that Bollinger's association with the secret agent was helping to boost sales of the brand in Asia, and revealed that the company will launch a couple of Bond-branded bottlings this October to coincide with the Skyfall premiere in London.
Having watched Bollinger's award winning master cooper in action, noisily hammering one of their French oak barrels into shape, I took a moment to enjoy the sunshine streaming into the courtyard.
Later that day, we were treated to dinner at Madame Bollinger's house, which has been kept exactly the same as when she lived in it, kicking off the evening with a chilled glass of Grand Cuvée. If you look closely, you'll spot our affable host, Elizabeth Ferguson of Mentzendorff.
I spotted a pair of wild boar heads proudly mounted on the drawing room wall – legend has it that wild boar still roam the forests of Champagne. I failed to spot any on my visit, but I did hear an ominous rustling coming from the woods next to Bollinger's highest vines.