Bruno Paillard may have had a short history compared to many Champagne houses in the region, but his courage and ambition to change the quality of sparkling wines in the region have hailed him as a latter-day pioneer. Throughout the 1970s, when many families sold their houses to the large groups, Paillard, who worked for his father’s grape broking business for six years, noticed increasing homogenization of styles as a result of mass marketing and sales in supermarkets. Not content with the changes and direction that Champagne was heading towards, he sold his Mark II Jaguar in 1981 for 50,000 Francs (approximately $3000 USD at the time) and setup his own house with a vision to produce wines of the highest quality.
Armed with inside knowledge of the best crus and growers, it wasn’t long before he attracted the praise of wine critic Hugh Johnson, describing it “a small but prestigious young champagne house with excellent silky vintages and non-vintage!”.
He purchased his own vineyards in the mid-1990s, focusing on sustainability and biodiversity. Roses were planted near to all his vineyards which support bee populations and help to pollinate vines in addition to acting as a natural mildew detector due to its increased sensitivity to this disease.
His success supported the quick expansion of vineyards to a full 32 hectares today across the best of Champagne’s Crus, notably Le Mesnil sur Oger, Oger, Cumières and Verzenay. These vineyards now represent approximately 50-60% of his total production of 400-500,000 bottles a year.
In 1983, he made a revolutionary step, becoming the first Champagne producer to put their disgorgement date on their labels, earning him the nickname of “the disgorgment kingpin” by award winning wine journalist Jane Parkinson. His reasoning was simple - to give the consumer knowledge of what stage of its evolution their champagne is in. “In Champagne, we do not use the word ‘disgorgement’, we use the word ‘operation’. This is what disgorgement is – an operation on the wine. As such, after surgery, the wine needs a period of convalescence before it can be enjoyed. The younger the wine, the faster it will recover” Paillard explains.
From grape to glass, the champagnes of Bruno Paillard remain one of the highest quality expressions in the region. Freshness is preserved by crushing grapes once harvested at press houses near to each vineyard, and only the free run juice from the first pressing is collected and transported to their winery in Reims. The dedication to quality extends even into the subdivision of tanks into their origins, from different villages, grape varieties and even their individual parcels. With extensive maturation, they keep dosage to a low 6 grams per liter maximum for each cuvée.
Thus, with their meticulous winemaking, three styles are produced. Multi-Vintage blends, with 50% reserve wines consisting of 25 vintages dating back to 1985. Next, are their single vintage expressions aged on lees for an impressive 8-9 years before disgorging.
Their prestige cuvée, Nec Plus Ultra (N.P.U), Latin for “nothing further beyond” is produced only in the greatest vintages exclusively from Grand Cru villages. Aged for over 10 years on lees, this is the ultimate expression of Bruno Paillard’s luxurious champagnes, and is also the driest at 3 grams per liter. So far, only five vintages have been produced – 1990, 1995, 1996, 1999, and the latest 2003. Awarding the latest vintage 96 points, Stephen Reindhart of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate describes it as having “lots of energy and finesse, is full tension and develops a very persistent length. A fascinating, atypical 2003 vintage Champagne from that extremely dry and hot year”.
With this revolutionary champagne house now at 37 years of age, Paillard is joined by his daughter Alice in 2007, who is inheriting her father’s vision for pure, high quality champagnes.