Bollinger is to use oak harvested from its own forest in the Côtes des Blancs to ferment the juice from this year’s vintage.
Along with 164 hectares of vineyards in Champagne, Bollinger has 130 hectares of forest in Cuis, a village in the Côtes des Blancs – an area of Champagne where the family behind Bollinger has historic roots, along with its longstanding connection with Aÿ – the village where the house is headquartered today.
According to Bollinger cellar master Gilles Descôtes, in 2016 it was decided by the Champagne house to fell three trees from this forest, each over 100 years old, with one oak producing enough staves to make around 10 barrels.
Having seasoned the oak staves for the past three years, Descôtes said that he expected to have between 20 to 30 barrels from these trees in time for this year’s harvest.
Although the house uses oak barrels to ferment all its wines for its premium expressions, such as its Grand Année, none of the vessels employ new staves, which can impart strong flavours, above all vanilla.
However, Descôtes said that the barrels being made from Bollinger’s own forest would only account for around 1% of the oak used to ferment the wine from this year’s harvest, and therefore would have little if any perceptible influence.
Bollinger has as many as 3,500 oak barrels in its cellar in Aÿ, and it is the only Champagne house to have its own full-time cooper, who repairs on average 350 barrels per year.
The average age of barrel at Bollinger is 20 years, with the vessels ranging from five years in age to 35 – the oldest used by the Champagne house.
According to the cooper, Denis Saint-Auroman (pictured below) – who has worked for Bollinger for 26 years – 80% of his time is spent repairing the stave where the bung goes it, as this tends to be the weakest due to the hole in the wood.
The oak used for the barrels at Bollinger comes from Burgundy – where the group owns the Beaune-based négociant Chanson Père & Fils – and the Champagne house takes only those barrels that have been used to ferment and age Chardonnay.
Bollinger is experimenting with different fermentation vessels, including a 200-litre stainless steel barrel (picture above).