As one of the few completely independent Champagne houses, the Bruno Paillard House uses rigorous working methods that have made and still make its reputation.
Despite a limited production volume, the House follows in the tradition of the great Champagne families, whose quality and exclusivity have made their legacy.
Alice Paillard, co-owner and director of the Bruno Paillard House, is fully in line with the family heritage, putting consistency at the forefront – from grape to sale, passion and craftsmanship are at the heart of the process.
Icon-Icon opens the doors to this historic and iconic Champagne House.
Alice Paillard, in an exclusive interview, tells us about the emblematic values and characteristics of this beautiful House.
To recontextualise for our readers, could you go back over the history of the Maison Bruno Paillard?
The Paillard family is a very old family from the Champagne region whose first written records date back to 1704. It is a line of winegrowers and champagne merchants, but our House – Bruno Paillard – was founded by my father, who chose to write his own personal adventure. It is thus a rather young house in the Champagne landscape, but with deep roots in its culture and savoir-faire.
His ambition has never been size or volume, but rather to produce wines that strongly express their origin, by making a very precise choice: that of the chalk terroirs.
Although the Champagne region is not very large – 33,000 hectares – it is very spread out, which leads to great diversity of terroirs and microclimates. In this sense, Champagne also runs on more clayey, sandy soils, mixtures of chalk and clay.
Our choice and our bias have been to work on this chalk terroir and to give this expression in the glass. To achieve this result, we have to be very selective and adopt a practice of vine cultivation that encourages the depth of root development rather than the quantity of fruit – the development of microbiological vine soils allowing the right exchange between the vine and its terroir, rather than the easy use of weed killers and chemicals.
In the cellar, there is a requirement for continuity of this work since the objective is to obtain a wine that is as pure as possible. The wines of the House have a certain freshness because we only keep the first press, the very first part of the juice. We only produce extra-brut. To do this, you have to give the wine time because if it doesn’t reveal itself, it will be hard.
It is not necessarily the easiest champagne to understand, nor the best known or the most accessible, because by working in this way, we are dealing with enthusiasts, prescribers, sommeliers, wine merchants, who love the product and share it.
It is often said that there is not a single bottle of Bruno Paillard Champagne in the world that is sold by chance. On the contrary, it is always sold because a wine lover has advised another to discover it.
We are therefore an independent family business, making wines that are faithful to its chalky terroir – only extra-brut with long ageing, a perpetual reserve, and working methods that allow us to develop depth in the wines and express their origin.
When we taste wines of a certain age, we systematically notice that the older the wine gets, the more we sense the origin of the terroir. It’s as if when the wine is young, there is a lot of aromatics, a lot of flesh, and then, as time goes by, the wine is essentialized to leave only this backbone of the terroir. Everything happens as if in the youth, there was a lot of aromatics, a lot of flesh and then, as time goes by, the wine becomes essentialized to leave only this backbone of the terroir.
What are the values of Maison Paillard and its specificity?
Its values are not necessarily decreed, we pay particular attention to consistency and authenticity in our wines.
I think that the notion of coherence is central, as in everything related to luxury. In the process, if one element changes, everything has to adapt because everything is linked and everything is important. This goes from the choice of the plot, to the cultural practice, to the date of harvest, to the method of vinification and the duration of maturation.
It is a form of requirement similar to that of a gastronomic restaurant – in a different temporality – since there is a notion of concentration, but in a very limited time. For champagne, everything is important but over a long period of time: when a vine is planted, it is for 60 years and the work on a cuvée is done over a minimum of 4, 5 or 6 years.
The great Champagne Houses are often a family affair and yours seems to be no exception, were you always destined to take over the family business?
It’s true that it’s often been the case, but there have also been many family homes that have sold. My father grew up in the 50s and 60s, I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and we both saw a lot of family houses being sold. Fortunately, this is not a general rule.
However, it is not necessarily better to be a family house. We were talking earlier about working over the long term and indeed, in our profession, we have to look at the very long term. That being said, if the shareholder is there for the very long term, there are no problems.
On the other hand, if the shareholder is there because he is used to producing spirits or watches which are much faster to produce, then it is not the same attitude at all.
In family stories, we are rarely alone. In my case, I have brothers and sisters, so it is done at their own pace. As far as I am concerned, I needed time. I can’t say that at fifteen I wanted to do this. I wanted to go around the world and that’s what I did! So I left when I was fifteen and came back ten years later with a lot of joy and pleasure. I was lucky enough to be able to leave and choose to come back, which I think is a real luxury.
There are many different stories of transmission. I belong to an association, La transmission Femmes en Champagne, made up of nine women managers in Champagne, which was created to talk about the great diversity of Champagne.
This diversity is expressed firstly in the location of the sites – in the north as well as in the south, in the east as well as in the west. Secondly, in the size of the plots – very small, medium and very large. And finally, there is a great diversity in the generations: there are women of my generation as well as women who are about to pass on and leave the business. In this association, I notice that there are stories of farm transfers that are much more eventful than others. Life, hard knocks, accidents are all part of it.
In our case, we have been very lucky, we have had time and peace of mind. I arrived in 2007 and only took over the management in 2018. I first worked in the vineyards, then in the cellar, and finally in the commercial part. We have an exciting and very diverse job. There are a lot of different subjects so it sometimes takes a little time to get used to it all.
The champagne business has often been considered as a very masculine environment. Do you think that being a young woman can breathe new life into this profession?
That is for sure. However, it is difficult to distinguish between what comes from being a woman and what comes from being of another generation.
It is obvious that the management between my father and me is not the same, but I think that there is mainly a part that is linked to a generational gap.
I think that in everything, the balance is good. Parity is a very good goal. But in the end, there are teams where there are too many women and not enough men – and vice versa.
So we have to try to find a balance everywhere because we need to bring things to each other. I’m convinced that we all – men and women – have feminine and masculine in us. It’s funny because even for a woman in a management position, the question is to accept her feminine side as well. Sometimes we tend to put it aside because the previous examples were often male.
Nothing can be taken for granted. But I think that for the company it’s a real opportunity, it allows us to complete our vision and to have a wider view of the company in its environment.
Historically, in Champagne, more than in Burgundy or elsewhere, there have been many women. They were mainly present for reasons that were, unfortunately, a bit dramatic – they were there as a last resort when something went wrong. This is no longer the case: in most farms, women are in charge.
However, there are big cultural differences between the professions. It is not always the same reality between the winegrower who prunes the vines, where the place of women is a little more difficult, and the champagne house where there are many different jobs and therefore, by definition, a lot of diversity.
I also see it in farms where there are still three generations working together.
Among the generations who are still there and who were born in the 30s and 40s, there are also strong female heads.
What do you think is the most iconic champagne of the Bruno Paillard House?
I will talk about Nec Plus Ultra which can be translated from Latin as “there is nothing beyond”, not because it is the best wine in the world, but because we were talking earlier about consistency and continuity in the making of a wine, both of which are a common thread.
For this wine, these words are our common thread: we have to go as far as we can with each decision. In my opinion, it is indeed an iconic wine, not because it is very rare – it has only been produced eight times – but because it will be iconic, at least on its scale. It’s a wine that has been conceived for the next generation, or even the next two generations.
It was born from a very strong emotion that my father had the chance to have while tasting. The First World War did indeed cause a lot of damage in Champagne and many private and professional cellars were walled up to protect the stocks.
As a result, very regularly during the last century, people found cellars and very old wines. That’s how my father had the opportunity to taste a wine that was over a century old. He was shocked by this and thought that we too should leave a trace for the following generations, an idea of what a great champagne can be. This wine is therefore a wine of transmission.
It is only made with certain years since it has only been produced eight times. It is only made with the greatest terroirs, the greatest vintages of the Champagne region and with a particular vinification: a small old oak barrel which allows it to be modelled very delicately, to get used to the action of oxygen in a homeopathic and progressive way. It grows with this, it is very accustomed to it and is not disturbed as other wines can be afterwards.
There is a minimum of 10 years of autolysis – bottle ageing – which gives it an extraordinary complexity, an extra raw dosage, as always at Maison Paillard.
We wait a minimum of 12 years to start presenting the Nec Plus Ultra. It will therefore have 100 years of life ahead of it: that’s its emblematic side.
Currently, it is a 2008 that is presented.
What is its ideal context for tasting? A place, a landscape, a moment, a dish?
First of all, the company, because these are wines of conversation – you need two or three, maximum four. They are wines of intimacy, of confidentiality. You need to have time, not to be in a hurry because this kind of bottle is not necessarily for the most enlightened person or the one with the biggest wallet. On the contrary, it will speak to the person who takes the time, the one who shows patience. This reveals a form of respect for the bottle. The company is therefore essential because you have to want to share this wine.
The second thing is the glass. We conducted a tasting of eight different types of glass before choosing the one that suited us to present the Nec Plus Ultra. You need a high enough chimney for the aromas to be fine and a ratio between the rim and the shoulder that is sufficiently contrasted so that the wine can open up while remaining concentrated towards the nose. It is also important that the rim is not too wide so that the wine reaches the beginning of the palate and not the end. You need a glass that can aerate the wine without losing its aromas. In a huge Bordeaux glass, the wine will be lost. The ideal glass is simply a beautiful Burgundy glass.
So we chose a glass that is a piqué because we like the effervescence to be able to work, even if it is obviously rather calm with a wine of this age and this ageing. It’s not a thundering effervescence.
In addition to the company and the glass, the temperature is also very important. The wine should not be too cold, but not too hot either, because it will probably be left in the glass for a long time. As time goes by, it will warm up.
It is good to start at 8°c so that it rises quickly enough to 10, 12, 15°c. A Nec Plus Ultra can easily stay 20 minutes in the glass before being drunk. That’s why it’s not necessarily easy to drink it as an aperitif: at that moment, we’re not at all in the right frame of mind to taste it properly because we generally want to drink it a little faster.
On the other hand, it is a powerful wine, so it is difficult to serve something else afterwards. It is almost an after-dinner wine. It can of course be enjoyed at the table, and we’ve made some wonderful food and wine pairings because it’s a wine that has a lot of presence, so it can be a very good companion.
Personally, I like to open it after dinner, on its own because it is very complete, it can bring something to the plate but it does not necessarily need a plate.
If Bruno Paillard Champagne is not necessarily the most accessible to drink, what would be its signature taste?
There is always a fairly precise attack when the wine arrives on the palate. There is always a fairly precise attack when the wine arrives on the palate. It has a very fresh, precise, clean side, a great length, a salinity – it has a saline side at the end of the mouth linked to the direct connection to our chalk terroir – and we always find this in our wines.
We also find this attack in therosé. We talk about the première cuvée extra-brut, the première cuvée extra-brut rosé. Consumers are often surprised to find this in a rosé, they expect to have something very round, very soft, very smooth. And this is not at all the case with us: there is fruit, of course, but above all there is a lot of salinity.
Who is the clientele for your very special champagnes?
75% are exported and 25% in France. These are always the same customer profiles, i.e. sommeliers, wine merchants, prescribers, specialists. Obviously, this also means the big hotels, where there is a sommelier.
Either people don’t know us, or they are lovers of great wines and therefore know us from such and such a table or hotel where they have been – the Maison Bruno Paillard is present in 50 countries.
So people can discover us on trips to the Maldives, New York or even Tokyo.
Each vintage is also the occasion for a collaboration with an artist. For you, do Champagne and Art go hand in hand?
Yes, completely. In both fields, there is the notion of creation.
That’s what’s quite extraordinary: when you look at a bottle of champagne – it’s so common that maybe people have forgotten it – but the name you see inscribed is not the name of a place or the marketing name of an invented estate, it’s always the name of a person.
It is a person who, at a given moment, has created a blend, a composition.
It’s interesting because in wine, we often talk about terroir and terroir by definition is three things combined: a soil, a climate and people. Often, this last element tends to be forgotten in the equation.
In my opinion, the three make up a whole: the terroir needs Man and Man needs the terroir. In any Champagne that has a qualitative ambition, we find this dimension of man’s creation. The most important thing is to make choices, to know what to leave out, what to include, what to blend or not.
Obviously, art is very subjective, we can’t hope to speak to everyone, but through the intervention of artists on the bottle, we offer everyone the possibility of having an instant initial reaction. Positive or negative, evoking this rather than that, it’s something we can’t control and fortunately we can’t.
The collaboration with an artist represents a form of letting go because we choose a theme. The theme characterises the year, the wine, and then we choose the artist, giving them only the format. For the rest, the artists have carte blanche. Sometimes they would like us to intervene but we refuse because we want them to keep their universe.
For us, art is a question of intuition, it is that border between the real and the unreal, a junction between the two. The artist will sense something, that’s his role, that’s the side we don’t see.
At the beginning of 2022 you presented the new packaging of your Champagnes. Could you tell us more about these new features?
It was a long-standing desire. The packaging has evolved little by little over 40 years, but it allows us to keep a certain timelessness. For me, this is essential because we make wines that are meant to last over time, that are not meant to respond to fashions or market segments.
Aesthetically, the new packaging reveals a form of sobriety but also a form of beauty. This translates into a beautiful paper where our vineyard is highlighted in a discreet way – it’s not printed or inked on the paper, but an imprint that is pressed into the paper of the label. So we keep a certain clarity – because it’s true that we have a fairly long name and we needed it to be more readable than it was before – but at the same time we add a certain depth.
I also took the opportunity to include some technical information that our customers really appreciate. We talk about our cultural practices, our perpetual reserve, which is a rather extraordinary and very important element in the balance of our wines. To my knowledge, our reserve is the oldest in Champagne. And that’s the paradox: we are one of the most recent houses, but my father very quickly started what is called “perpetual reserve”, a very specific way of keeping reserve wines for blending. That’s why in our wines, you always have a few drops of 1985, 1986. This is all on the back label. We had always given a lot of information about the wines but on the files and not directly on the labels.
This new packaging was made for the 40th anniversary of the House, it was an opportunity to link the bottle with the House as it is today because it has evolved a lot between the time my father founded it and its contemporary reality. Basically, the research is the same, but in the meantime, it has acquired vineyards and today, more than half of our grapes come from our own vines, our own teams, our own culture. It is this slightly more cultural imprint that I wanted to put on this label.
In conclusion, what should we remember about Bruno Paillard?
The beauty of this profession. There is both the humbling nature and the incredible importance of the hand. This is my message because I think that Man is very much devalued at the moment.
Over the years, we have increased our vineyard. These are always plots of land that we have acquired, that we did not have beforehand and that we have therefore got to know.
We have always bought them, not in relation to the way they had been worked, but in relation to the potential that we imagined when we used to convert them to a cultivation practice without weedkillers, without chemicals, without insecticides.
When I say that Man has an extraordinary place to play, it is because I have seen it, we have done it, we continue to do it and I am certain that we can leave a beautiful land for the future.
Interview by Sébastien Girard and Saskia Blanc
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