Bruno Paillard is a maverick, a man that managed in just one generation to build the second largest group in Champagne, and a boutique house that is among the most praised. Meeting him in the beginnings of my journey in Champagne, at a joyful tasting in Bali, and witnessing his slick, entertaining, and highly educational speech in presenting his wines was an epiphany for me; since then I aim at the same proficiency. A man of high status yet approachable, he is always willing to share his knowledge and passion–and his champagnes–and to provide a useful and contemporary perspective to better understand his world.
Bruno Paillard is one of the most recently established great Champagne houses. What was your vision when you founded it?
I founded my Champagne house in 1981 with a clear vision: to produce wines of only the highest quality. I was working as a grape broker for six years, which is what my father had done. It gave me a good understanding of Champagne, of the crus, where to find good grapes, and of the families and houses in Champagne. I could determine the houses’ levels of ambition and which were better at marketing; sometimes, you find both in the same producer, which is nice.
That was also a time when I had seen two big changes in the industry. Most families sold their houses to very large groups that came to more or less control the market. This changed the approach to quality and led to the emergence of mass marketing and sales in supermarkets, drastically changing the distribution model. These changes frightened me back then because the overall level of quality of champagne, in my view, did not reflect the true potential of Champagne. When you do not have champagne in your blood, as the founding families do, you might be very good at marketing but would be more concerned with turnover and profits. This is fine, I have nothing against that, but then you have the temptation to produce your wines more quickly, age them less, and sell them where there are mass markets, i.e. in supermarkets, whom in turn are looking for low prices. You end up caught between two worlds of great quality and mass retail.
When you do not have champagne in your blood, as the founding families do, you might be very good at marketing but would be more concerned with turnover and profits.
My vision when creating Bruno Paillard was to ensure that my wines would be only of the highest quality and that I would never sell one bottle in a supermarket. If you want to stay consistent and maintain champagne as a luxury item, you should not find it in supermarkets, it should be in selective distribution.
You stress the importance of having access to the best grapes to produce quality champagne. Aren’t all grapes good in Champagne?
Yes, all grapes in Champagne are good but it’s like people in the street: every human being is equal, but some may be granted more beauty, talent, etc. and this is something you cannot change. I choose the best grapes and work with the best vine growers.
All grapes in Champagne are good but it’s like people in the street: every human being is equal, but some may be granted more beauty, talent, etc.
It is not only about selecting the best grapes, but it is also important to maintain a high-quality process. Each step in the process has to be precise: using only first pressings, maturing the champagnes for a very long time, and using a very low dosage. We produce only extra brut champagnes, with 6 g/l of sugar added at dosage for the brut and rosé. For the blanc de blancs and the vintages, it is 5 g/l, and for N.P.U. it is 4 g/l. To make an extra brut, you need a very long maturation. Some extra brut on the market are released far too young and they taste too aggressive, which is disappointing. We mature our wines three times longer than required by the Champagne regulations. We age Brut Première Cuvée for three years on the lees before disgorgement when the rules ask for 15 months, and we age it for an additional six months after disgorgement. N.P.U. ages for about 10 years, when the rules ask for three years minimum.
How would you describe the style of your champagnes?
From the Brut Premiere Cuvée to the most expensive N.P.U., my champagnes deliver a fantastic combination of elegance, freshness, and complexity. I don’t want to choose between elegance and complexity, and I want the best of what my terroirs can deliver.
My champagnes deliver a fantastic combination of elegance, freshness, and complexity.
My vineyards are in some of the finest locations and my champagnes deliver more minerality and purity. They have much less added sugar than most of the great names in Champagne and are aged for a very long time to compensate for the lack of sugar, otherwise they would be quite aggressive. My champagnes deliver an exceptional experience because of the way we produce our wines.
Considering the current situation, which are the most interesting markets for the champagne industry and for your house?
The traditional European markets no longer offer the most opportunities for growth, so everybody is looking for newer markets. The US and Asia are where a lot of marketing efforts are taking place. Having said that, the traditional European markets are still very interesting to us because the more people become familiar with champagne, the more they tend to prefer my style of champagne. Bruno Paillard is very much a connoisseur’s champagne and even if the market is mature, you still have people who want to learn more about high-quality champagnes. We produce only 500,000 bottles per year, and we supply over 400 Michelin star restaurants, which we are quite proud of.
What is champagne to you?
Champagne is my passion, it’s my life. I was born here, and I will be buried here.
Do you drink champagne every day?