Champagne Bruno Paillard
Meeting the man who started his own Champagne house

Back in 1981, Bruno Paillard did something unusual, and ambitious. He started a new Champagne house. 'I was 27 and not very conscious of the difficulties,' he says. 'It is the kind of thing you don't do when you are older.'

He sold his Mark II Jaguar for 50 000 Francs (around £5000 at the time), and this formed the working capital of the company. He borrowed money from the bank and bought some grapes, renting winery space to process them.

Bruno Paillard had been working for six years for his father's grape broking company, and this gave  him the inside knowledge he needed to get hold of the right sort of grapes at the right price. 'I selected good grapes from interesting places where I would work with the particular minerality of chalk sub soils,' he says.

'The environment of Champagne was changing a lot at the time,' Paillard recalls. In the 1970s many family businesses had been sold to big groups. There was less family involvement, and at the same time interest rates were very high. According to Paillard, this led to the emergence of managements who were very finance orientated, and this in turn led to changes in the flavour of the wines.

They were made quicker using more oxidative processes, and the dosages were too high. Also, at the time there was the emerging power of the supermarkets, which changed the way Champagne was distributed. Paillard thinks the wines began to look similar, and communication from the houses became fashion-oriented rather than about the wines.

'Those who chose this way were right economically,' he notes, 'but I had a more romantic view of Champagne.'

'I chose the opposite road,' says Paillar. 'A family-owned house, practicing long maturation, using low dosage, and choosing selective distribution.' This is how Champagne Bruno Paillard was born.

It is, he claims, unique among Champagne houses, in that his name is on the bottle, he is the owner, and he creates the blends.

'I am not the winner,' he says, 'but I have shown that it is possible to take the north face road that reflects the truth of Chamapgne, the truth of terroir.' 

He reckons that they are ranked around 30 in terms of size of Champagne house, with a production of just under 500 000 bottles annually. The non-vintage wines have a high proportion of reserve wine in them, ranging from 28 to 50%.

Although Paillard uses a low dosage, he's no fan of zero dosage/non-dosage Champagnes. 'The category is dead,' he says. 'It was killed by growers' Champagnes released far too young. Customers didn't like it and I am not sure that I like it.'

But because of his emphasis on controlling distribution (to high-end restaurants and specialist wine shops), he supplies around 420 Michelin-starred restaurants, which is remarkable given the size of production.

In terms of style, he aims at 'purity, minerality and ageing capacity.' Just first pressings are used and Paillard targets vineyards that have chalky subsoils. The cellar has 110 steel tanks and also 500 barrels, which are bought second-hand from Denis Dubordieu and the Perrin family in Bordeaux.

Paillard designed a special bottle shape. This is because he had previously worked as a broker, and he wanted to make it clear that he wasn't buying sur latte, a practice he strongly disagrees with (this is when a Champagne house buys wines in bottle from other sources and then disgorges them and puts their own label on them). However, his bottle shape – he feels – was recently copied by a well known Champagne house, something which he is furious about but thinks there is no point in legal action. 

I asked about RD (recently disgorged) Champagnes, and soon wished I hadn't. 'Are you provoking me?' was the response. 'Old wines tasted soon after disgorgement don't work,' says Paillard. He likens the disgorgement procedure to surgery. You survive surgery better if you are young than if you are old, and you need a long time to recover from surgery. 'The longer on the lees, the longer is needed after disgorgement.'

Champagne Bruno Paillard is 100% family owned, and there is a succession plan: his daughter Alice is taking over from him. She is now the main shareholder and is the future CEO.   


Champagne Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV France
Bruno Paillard describes this as 'a concentration of our philosophy', and says 'you can almost smell the saltiness of the chalk.' It spends a minimum of 4 years on its lees. Mainly Le Mesnil and Oger, with some Cramant, Chouilly and Avize.Very precise, with pure lemony fruit. Lovely precision and purity. Tight and lemony, with potential for development. Serious. 94/100

Champagne Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs 2004 France
From a classic vintage. Some toast and ripe almond notes, as well as a bit of honey, but the dominant theme is the fresh, citrussy fruit. Lively and pure with good acidity and fine toastiness. 94/100

Champagne Bruno Paillard Assemblage 2004 France
Tight and precise with citrus, some toasty richness and good structure. Fine and expressive with lovely pure citrus fruits. Precision as well as texture here. 94/100

Champagne Bruno Paillard Rosé Première Cuvée NV France
This is 20% of production, although only 8% of Champagne sold globally is rosé. Pale colour. Very fine, pure and fresh, with subtle cherry and strawberry fruit, and nice acidity. Lovely finesse and purity, which Bruno says can only be achieved by assemblage, not saignee. 92/100

See also:

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Vertical 
Champagne Philipponnat

Wines tasted 10/13  
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