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Saturday, January 13, 2018

Our trip to Champagne and tour of the House Bollinger

My husband is a HUGE champagne fanatic. It’s always his go to libation and it can be quite funny when we go out and I order a bourbon on the rocks and the server automatically sets my drink down in front of him and we have to politely swap.

I did however develop an appreciation for the bubbles after Steve and I attended champagne school at Barry Bros and Rudd a few months back that left us both really wanting to visit the Champagne region asap. So for a little New Years getaway we packed up the pups and headed for the rolling valleys where the good stuff is made.


The first place we stayed in was a little village called Ay which is south of Reims and is pretty much the center of all the vineyard and big champagne house action. We loved our long walks through this picture perfect town. It felt like nothing has changed there since the early 1800’s and every corner you turn is another sweet reminder of simpler times. We didn’t realize that appointments to visit all the champagne houses and cellars had to be made well in advance but luckily we received an extraordinary invitation from House Bollinger!

We arrived at the glorious gates at 10:30am for our 3 hour private tour. Our incredible guide, Caroline, started out with a brief history of the Bollinger family then walked us over to a gated tiny plot of land containing the only remaining grape vines that weren’t effected by an insect called phylloxera that completely destroyed all other crops in champagne in the early 1900s. The bottles of champagne made exclusively from this plot are extremely special because you’d be drinking from the same vines and soil as they did nearly 200 years ago! It’ll cost you €900 to go back in time but I’m sure it’s worth every sip.

Next we went over to where they keep all the oak barrels of aging wine and learned all about how they make the barrels (without glue or screws!), the process of aging the wine before it’s put into the champagne bottles and the insane job of the “Cellar Master” who’s duty it is to sample from these barrels almost everyday and decide when they’ll be done aging and what other barrels they’ll be mixed with to created the classic Bollinger taste.

Once the formula is correct the wine is bottled in magnums and put into the underground cellars which is where we went next. The Bollinger cellars or “caves” are a network of underground tunnels spanning over 6km. The tunnels are maze like which helped them to hide a lot of the bottles when the nazis invaded during WWII. We spent a good hour wandering the seemingly endless walls of champagne bottles as Caroline explained the unbelievably complex process of these final stages. I definitely understand the hefty price tag on a bottle of Bolli!

We finished our tour with a tasting of Special Cuvée, Bollinger Rosé and La Grande Année 2007. We happened to have a bottle of the 2007 at home saved for a special occasion so it was pretty cool to get a sneak peak. All in all this tour was the highlight of our trip to Champagne and we left feeling in awe but also extremely fortunate because this isn’t a tour that’s open to the general public, it’s by special invitation only to food or wine professionals. Gotta love the perks of my job!

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