Visiting Champagne Bollinger   
Part 2, in the vineyards of A˙

Close to the Bollinger house, there is a small plot containing each of the permitted Champagne varieties: Pinot Teinturier, Arbane, Pinot Meunier, Gamay, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Petit Meisler, Pinot Noir (both 386 and 743 clones) and Pinot Gris. Most houses use just three of these grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.

As viticulturalist Gilles Descotes takes us through the vineyards, we discuss the issue of sustainability. Champagne as a region has struggled with its non-green image. Part of this stems from the practice of using household waste from Paris as fertilizer. This might have been a good idea in the 1920s, but by the 1960s the nature of this waste had changed, and you can still find bits of plastic and metal debris in the vineyards. This has all stopped, and the CIVC has encouraged the growers in the region to employ more sustainable growing practices, and moved growers away from nuking their vineyards with herbicides.

Gilles Descotes

‘We have reduced herbicide use 50% in the last three years, and our aim is to use no herbicides at all,’ says Descotes. ‘The motivation isn’t so we can boast around the world about what we are doing; we are just trying to do our best.’ Yields in Bollinger-owned vineyards are 10–20% lower than in the rest of Champagne, and in the last four years no fertilizer has been used. ‘We want the best grapes and the best expression of terroir.’ Bollinger recently did lots of soil analysis and found out that their soils were very rich to the point that no fertilization was deemed necessary for 5–10 years.

Sexual confusion is used in 80% of the vineyards (see picture above). This is a method that employs the pheromones of female moths to confuse the male moths who, unable to find their mates, cannot breed. These moths, Eudemis (Lobesia botrana) and Cochylis (Eupoecilia ambiguella) are big problems in vineyards. The only village that Bollinger doesn’t use sexual confusion in is Chouilly, because their plot here isn’t big enough for it to work properly and the other Chouilly winegrowers aren’t interested in it. ‘Winegrowers say it is too expensive,’ reports Descotes. ‘It costs €250/hectare plus labour, whereas insecticides are cheap and just one spray is needed, at a cost of €40–50/hectare.’

Yields in Champagne are large. In 2008 the average yield was 13 000 kg/hectare for Bollinger, whereas for Champagne as a whole it was 14 500 kg/hectare. Growers get paid well for their grapes. The average price for Grand Cru grapes in A˙ was €5.8/kg in 2008. A grower can live quite well off just a hectare of vines in Champagne.

Bollinger now have 163 hectares of vines, which is a lot for a Champagne house, providing for 60% of its needs (the other Grande Marques average about 11%). Descotes estimates that the price of a hectare of Grand Cru vineyards in 2008 was about €1.2–1.3 million, but no one knows exactly what the price would be now. His grandfather was a small winegrower/winemaker and so Descotes owns 14 ares of his own vineyards in Oger.

See also:

Part 1, introduction and the vieilles vignes Francaises
Part 2, in the vineyards
Part 3, in the cellars, tasting wines
A previous report on the wines of Bollinger

Wines tasted as indicated  
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