I think that we can forgive Alice Paillard, of Bruno Paillard Champagne, for being opinionated.
As the daughter of the eponymously named Bruno Paillard’s founder, she’s basically had a lifetime of working with someone who himself is, well, opinionated about Champagne. According to Alice (with whom I tasted through a few Bruno Paillard Champagne - let’s call them BPC from here on out - samples as part of a virtual media event), wine with her father “was never banal. It was always an adventure, with mystery, with beauty. I feel very lucky in the fact that I had plenty of time [to transition with him into a leading role within the family business]”. Her father still works closely with her on BPC’s assemblage; because “it would be stupid not to do it together.”
For about 300 hundred years, the Paillard family have been growers in Champagne, tending to over 35 crus now used for wines under their own label (with a production bout 300K bottles/year, they’re on the small side for Champers houses). Alice describes her family’s business as “a hybrid form of a [Champagne] house. We can farm vineyards, but we can also go and work with growers. We always have kept the link with the original growers.” 70% of the grapes that they source they farm themselves (on estate vineyards, and via long-term contracts with other vineyards).
BPC is primarily known in the Champagne world for two things: First, a lot of nerds like me cite them as having some of the best non-vintage Champers that you can get for your dollar. Second, they were one of the first Champagne producers to include disgorgement dates on their back label. Alice’s father “thought it was important to put it on the wines that don’t normally carry it” – namely, non-vintage bottlings. Regarding disgorgement, Alice is predictably smartly opinionated: “You take this living body – a bottle of Champagne – and you take something out… and you put something in. It’s a surgery! Give extra age to the wine after [to let it recover]. We give minimum six months. For vintages, we give them a year.”
Given how well they pull off their NV releases (more on that in a minute), Alice views the art of the blend – across vineyards, vintages, and grapes – as essential to Champagne’s DNA. “It’s what we’ve always done,” she emphasized. “Assemblage is not just putting Pinot Noir and Pinot Munier together. Assemblage is having a diversity of terroir. Champagne is not Bordeaux. Just ask a grower in Champagne; it’s not like a grower in Burgundy. That’s what makes Champagne rich and impressive. What do you want to bring out [in the wine]? That is the only question that matters.”
During our virtual meet-up, we tasted through two Bruno Paillard releases, and as per Alice, these were not chosen randomly. “[These 2 wines] are brothers; they are our interpretation of Champagne” she noted, being assemblages of grapes/terroirs (“It’s how we like Champagne.”). Each come from an average of 35 different crus, using first press juice only. Both have about 5.5 g/l of RS. Both see roughly three years aging (“It’s gentle, thanks to the proper aging”), and employ multiple vintages from their reserve wine systems (each non-vintage BPC has its own reserve wine system, with some of them being among the oldest perpetual reserves in Champagne, despite BPC being a relatively younger house by Champers standards). So… lots of kinship in these sort-of mirror image releases…
Champagne Bruno Paillard Extra Brut Première Cuvée (Reims)
First, some vitals: this Brut style bubbly is a blend of Pinot Noir (45%), Chardonnay (33%) and Pinot Meunier (22%), part of which (about 20%) was in barrel for the first fermentation. The reserve system includes 25 vintages (since 1985), which is responsible for up to 50% of the final blend. I will confess to this being one of my personal favorite Champers; simply put, you get an incredible bang for the buck here that not only rivals some vintage releases from other houses, but in some cases even ages better than them, too. You’d hardly know that so much PN is included in the blend, as there’s a mere hint of red berry fruitiness, with a ton of pure citrus action on top. White plum, toasted almonds, brioche, and blossoms come next, with a little tease of redcurrant. The mouthfeel is impeccable, and lively, despite the healthy doses of toast. You could do a whole lot worse than picking this as your go-to Champers for the rest of your life.
Champagne Bruno Paillard Extra Brut Première Cuvée Rosé (Reims)
Primarily PN, with some Chardonnay, all meant to showcase “elegance and finesse” as per Alice. It spends three years aging sur lie, just like its counterpart. Surprisingly, this has ample salinity for a rosé, but Pinot lovers won’t be left wanting with all of the dried cranberry, fig, vibrant red berry, citrus peel, and rose petal action packed into this. While this exudes elegance, the sheer amount of pleasure derived from sipping this is enough to get you into a heady, well, headspace.