Champagne Bruno Paillard
Visiting the Champagne region, part 2

bruno paillard

Maison Bruno Paillard is the second visit of this trip. It's a cold April morning - unseasonally cool - and we find his eponymous Champagne house off a dual carriageway (albeit called the Avenue de Champagne in Reims), looking like an industrial unit. There's nothing fancy about this place. It's about the wines.

He greets us warmly, and is an entertaining, busy host. This is a very old region, he says. The vineyards were brought here by Julius Caesar. We go back 20 centuries. But he points out that the oldest wine region in the country is Provence, founded by the Greeks.

For the first 17 centuries Champagne produced still wine. The revolution of Champagne as a sparkling wine goes back to Louis XV. In 1728 he wrote a law that authorised the Champenois to sell their wines in bottles. 'Hence it made it possible to create Champagne.' This explains why the oldest Champagne houses were founded at this time. Ruinart is the oldest in Reims, from 1729, and Chanoine was in 1730.

Maison Bruno Paillard is the newest Champagne house, founded in 1981. Paillard has made an emphasis on acquiring vineyards. 'Every cent we make is reinvested in vineyard purchase,' he says. They now have 89 parcels in 14 crus, totalling 32 hectares. This covers 60% of requirements. 'Still, it is important for me to keep grape contracts with original growers,' he says. 'We have a strong base of family growers who we have grape contracts with.' This is vital because there's currently enhanced demand for Champagne grapes.

'It protects us from the grape war,' says Paillard. 'In Champagne there is a huge group which makes half the turnover and 80% of the profits: LVMH. They are hugely dominant.' He says that they are at war over grape sources with Pernod Ricard, Piper and Pommery. 'We see the shells going this way and that way, but we are relatively protected. It is impossible to gain more grape contracts so for the long-term safety of Maison Bruno Paillard it is necessary to own vineyards.'

Paillard doesn't use herbicides, but works the soil. 'My daughter works where she has children. We don't want to poison our soils; we also want to oblige the roots to go vertical. If you keep the soil flat with herbicides then the roots will remain lazily horizontal and stay on the surface. If you work the soils four times a year the surface roots are constantly destroyed. It is very important for the minerality.'

20% of the base wines are fermented in barrels. We had a look at barrel samples of base wines. Bruno Paillard insists that he only assesses base wines by nose only. He does the composition along with chef du cave Laurent Guilot, but it is Bruno's nose that decides. The assemblage is done in June in a large tank with a propeller that mixes everything.

The wines, once bottled, are kept at 10.5 C, with controlled humidity and only sodium lights so there is no UV.

'Disgorging is surgery,' says Bruno. 'You open the bottle, remove something, you put something in and close it. What does your wine need after? A convalescence period.'

These are some of his thoughts about the characteristics of the different varieties and sites.

  • Chardonnay: more white flower than citrus fruit; fresh almond

  • Pinot Noir: red berries, red flowers

  • Pinot Meunier: more exotic fruit, with banana, mango and pineapple. Softer and more rounded

Chardonnay from

  • Chouilly: citrus

  • Cuis: citrus/apple

  • Mesnil: more power 

Pinot Noir

  • Mailly: little red berries

  • Verzenay: pear, white redcurrant

  • Bouzy: wild strawberry, richer

  • Chigny: nervous, citrus, raspberry

Pinot Meunier   

  • Rilly: very exotic and fruity

  • Chigny: very fruity and exotic

  • Fetigny: pear and some peach

 

The Paillard Premier Cuvée is the house NV blend and is half of production. Rosé is 22% of sales. Then there are the vintage wines and the Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru.

'We never really change the composition fundamentally,' he says, speaking of the Premier Cuvée. 'It is like a symphony. I would compare the different crus to the different musicians of an orchestra. Maybe the first violin is off form: how do you cope with that as a conductor? You might talk with the second violin and see who is capable of taking over. When I make the composition of the premier cuvĂ©e If one cuvee is not at the right level I need to do fine tuning to see who is capable of delivering the right notes.'

Champagne Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée Extra Brut NV France
Disgorged September 2015. Until seven years ago this had 7.5 g/l dosage; this has since been reduced to lower than 6 g/l. Highly aromatic with fresh white peaches, some pear and subtle toast character. Very fine and citrussy on the palate with hints of cherry and brioche alongside the citrus fruit. Zesty and refined. 91/100

Champagne Bruno Paillard NPU 2003 France
NPU stands for Nec Plus Ultra, and this gets a 3 g/l dosage. This was the famously hot vintage, but Bruno has produced something special, in a year when another challenge was very little Chardonnay because of frosts. Distinctive creamy, toasty nose with fine pear and white peach fruit. Rich, taut, nutty palate with cherries, pear and quince. Complex, broad and intense with hazelnut, pear, cherry and some delicate savouriness. Hints of fennel and white pepper. 95/100

See also:

Visiting Champagne JL Vergnon
Champagne Charles Heidsieck
Veuve Clicquot Cave Privee Champagnes

Wines tasted 04/16  
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