Champagne Bruno PaillardWines, history, passion & style

Anna Caidan is in conversation with Alice Paillard co-director and daughter of Bruno Paillard
2019-06-01
Wine Story

What can you tell me about the history of Bruno Paillard?

‘The idea of Bruno Paillard is much older than the history of the house itself! The Maison, by champagne standards is quite young, it was founded in 1981. When I say the idea is older than that, it’s because the vision that my father had of the wines before founding Maison Paillard was really referring to wines he had tasted as a child ; that’s how we live in Champagne! Growing up with much older style wines of champagne. He didn’t found the Maison in the early 80’s with the idea of the wines that were existing then, on the contrary, he founded the Maison with a very different ideas on making the wines which were quite different to what existed at the time. Although the Maison is young, our family is an old family from Champagne, and the culture we have of the wines in the region we’ve had for a long time. So the tastes he had from his childhood, drinking wines that had been preserved in the cellar for decades, was telling him about a certain idea of what champagne could be like, and what he wanted to do. The foundation was in 1981, so it’s been 37 years now, and of course we often say; “It takes three generations to build a Maison” but I think that he clearly didn’t waste any time, and by that I mean, that the idea was very precise from the very beginning, and there was no thinking of different ways, it was always to make wines that must be loyal to the terroir of Champagne, and for us, the two very interesting aspects of the terroir of Champagne are its northern location, and its chalky terroir. These elements together, are always what he focused during the vine growing and wine making, and that was his founding idea.’

What is your favourite step in the winemaking process?

‘I have to choose one only? Or can I choose two?! I would say sitting down after harvest and taking the time to look at the vineyard. After harvest is a precious moment because the vines are still visually giving you a lot of information, their leaves are still there, you can see how they handled either the summer, or the drought or on the contrary, too much humidity, so you know what you have harvested quality wise and quantity wise from each parcel. It’s a very privileged time to slow down and read the vineyard for your working program for the year after. Because of course, when we design a working program for a parcel, we design it for cycles of three years, minimum, but every year we need to check if the cycle is on the right trend or if we need to adjust it. That is the start of everything, and I think it is a very interesting time intellectually speaking. And the other favourite step is clearly in the spring when we have let the winter go. We have this privilege at Maison Bruno Paillard to be entirely independent, its just our family, and nobody else. That means we have the luxury of time, and we can choose to age our wines longer, we can choose to wait before we make decisions on the blend, so we do use that privilege during various steps of the wine making, and the first of them being the blend, because we never work on our blend in the winter, we always let the winter go, wait for the wine to slowly terminate the alcoholic and malolactic fermentation, but also to rest, then end of March, early April when the spring starts again, we will start tasting them, and that’s when we’re like children in a candy store! We have our two rooms in the Cuvee with many many barrels and tanks of all sizes, because we want to have everything completely separated, village by village, grape by grape, parcel by parcel. There are many contents to taste from, but that’s easy when you enter in the intimacy of the wine. Also, you confront your perceptions of harvest with the reality that has developed in the barrel or in the tank. Then you also have to take time during assemblage which we do over a period of four to six weeks, to anticipate what the wine will become after a proper assemblage, second fermentation, aging etc.’

What is the secret to making Bruno Paillard Champagnes?

‘If I had to summarise it, freedom. And that means that it’s very much linked with independence. As a second generation, I feel very privileged about that. It’s not just a House founded with a name, like an empty box, it’s a very strong, not in terms of size, but in terms of solidity. The House today has very important reserve wines, and vineyards developed through the years with a very long term vision, and is a little jewel that is solid and strong, so it is essential to maintain the freedom of working how we want, and that’s why our wine is the way it is today with the specific identity, specific character which people might like, or not like so much, that is extremely personal, but I’m always happy when I hear someone tasting the wine and say “no doubt this is Bruno Paillard!”. In my opinion, the wines should transmit something about the people making them, they should tell you about who we are and what our vision is. They shouldn’t be too mainstream, they should have a proper element to bring to the picture, and that’s what makes them individually interesting. So that’s what enables us to have a precise vision. If you have independence and a precise vision, then you can pursue this vision and develop it in the vineyards, in the bottle, and into the glass.’

What is your best memory since working at Champagne Bruno Paillard?

‘That’s not easy, because there are many different things! I think of moments shared during harvest or with the team, because sharing something we finished is great, but these are recurring moments, moments that come back very often, not one special element. I think of wonderful moments and conversations with people, or moments shared around the table with extraordinary food and wine pairings, suddenly bringing everybody to a special time. I think a time is when you are surprised to see where the wine would be. Champagne has this particular status, where its this parcel of happiness people can bring anywhere. So, what’s nice about social media, is that you see someone drinking a bottle of Bruno Paillard in such an incredible environment, completely unexpected, like on the top of a mountain, or in the Maldives on the beach, and that’s really nice, because you feel as if you’re sharing their happiness. It makes me happy because the thing about our wine is, it’s not a wine that you buy or choose by chance, because it’s not an entry priced champagne so they wouldn’t for instance, select based on price or promotion, we don’t do promotion, we try to sell at a price that respects our work, and the work of the person selling it, so we are very stable in our price policy. So price is not the reason why someone would buy it, nor is advertising, as we are small and focused on fine dining, so we ship bottles all around the world, a little here, a little there, there isn’t one place where we concentrate a very strong market and we could start to say “ok, we’ve achieved enough sales there so we can start advertising”, we don’t do that. So, if people choose our wine, it’s always because there was someone who had tasted the wine and passed on the word. And that’s why it always makes me very happy, because I know there was a person making the recommendation and its never a choice by chance.’

…and the most challenging?

‘It happens sometimes, not too often, but the decision not to release the wine, another consequence of independence! You can work on a wine for several years, and of course it wouldn’t be bad, if it was bad we would have found out earlier, we wouldn’t need several years. Its never a black and white, easy or obvious decision. It’s about trusting your intuition, and having the force to impose that. Some days it’s easier than others, and that can lie in very small decisions as well. The result of what’s in the glass, is a chain of many details and decisions. There are the very big decisions that you know are very impactful, and in a way its easier to be fully absorbed of that decision, but then you have all the many small decisions, that might be tempting to say “oh that’s not a big deal” but it is a big deal, and that is the most demanding part, to keep the same level of requirements, and it can be a challenge.’

What type of food pairs best with your wines?

‘It can go in quite an ample manner. One thing to eliminate with our wines, is any sweet elements, desserts with our wine never really work, you can find some that will work better than others because desserts are a big generality, you have a large palate of opportunities and aromatic ties. But our wines, being all extra brut Champagnes, they have a lot of energy, they have an important minerality, salinity in the glass, so pairing with dishes that tend to be sweet doesn’t work for the dish or the wine. But other than that, you can be quite ample in the pairing, even quite intense pairing with dishes with more traditional spice like Thai or Indian food, and our wines can handle that very well. Because we take time in making them, they are slow in their expression, they are never in-your-face, the first expression is always a little reserved, but gently they open in the glass and they deliver on length and generosity. So sometimes when they are tasted very quickly, in the first couple of seconds, people might think they might be for lighter dishes, but actually, when you give them enough time in the glass, you can pair them with stronger meals, you will see they react very nicely. With the Dosage Zero, we paired it with sweetbreads which was wonderful. You can pair it from fish all the way to meat, like veal or also beef. For instance, I had a wonderful experience with a côte de boeuf. Its all really variable and you can really play on a wide pairing possibility.’

How would you describe the Champagne way of life?

I would say Champagne really is a world apart! When you live in Champagne, you drink Champagne for every occasion, but not in a banal way, it’s not like “Oh, whatever, we’ll open a bottle of Champagne!”, its always special! But not only for festive times, or something like that, but also for difficult times, when you go to bury someone in Champagne, afterwards you gather with the family and you open a bottle of champagne, sometimes it’s shocking for people from other regions in France, as they don’t understand, but for us, it’s a way to gather around and celebrate the memory of someone. It’s a frequently shared wine in our region, so we are used to exploring different pairings, different cuvees, we’re used to sharing it with other people, exchanging bottles etc., its part of life! To be a Champenois, you have to really enjoy the four seasons of the year, and to really enjoy the nature we have, which is not always easy. Living in Champagne, I feel privileged to be able to actually produce Champagne, it is a challenging climate and not an easy environment, but you need all these element to be able to add something specific to the vine growing, or to the taste of the grapes in the end, so you embrace that in its entirety!

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