Bollinger to invest €45m in new vineyards

Champagne Bollinger has earmarked €45 million to buy new vineyards over the next 10 years to guarantee its supply and ensure that more than 60% of its production remains sourced from its own grapes.

Bollinger vineyards

From 2016, a budget of €4.5m has been allocated for the purchase of vineyards each year for the next 10 years, Bollinger’s chef de cave Gilles Descôtes revealed speaking to the drinks business this week.

“We have been buying around three hectares every year since two years ago, and we are trying to buy more but it’s not easy. They don’t want houses buying land, so it’s quite difficult.”

The Champagne house currently owns 170 hectares of vineyards, which Descôtes said he hopes will increase to 174 hectares by the end of this year, indicating that a four hectare acquisition was pending.

“We want to be over 200 hectares in the next 10 years,” Descôtes explained. “That will guarantee our supply. We want to stay with having more than 60% of grapes coming from our own vineyards. We are growing a bit so we have to buy vineyards and this is really a good way of keeping everything consistent.”

Bollinger chief operating officer Jérôme Philipon revealed earlier this year that 2016 had been another record year for the Champagne house, growing in both volume and value despite not releasing any new vintages or product releases. Instead, this growth was buoyed by the producer’s association with James Bond, said Philipon, with the 24th instalment of the spy franchise, Spectre, released last year.

The value of vineyard in the Côte des Blancs currently stands at around €1.8m per hectare, a value that is tempting some smaller, younger growers to sell up, said Descôtes.

“Imagine you are a small grower in Champagne and you inherit a hectare from your father and you grow grapes there,” he said. “You will make about  €60-70,000 just selling the grapes each year, but you will have to pay for other things and you will have to work. If you sell the land you could have €2m in the bank, and with 2% interest you get almost the same each year without working. Quite a few of the younger winemakers in Champagne are doing this.”

In comparison, the going rate for land in southern England is around €40,000, which Descôtes said is around the same price as a one hectare vineyard in Beaujolais, but expensive considering there is nothing planted on it.

Gilles Descôtes, Bollinger’s chef de cave

When asked if Bollinger had any plans to allocate any of its budget to snapping up a vineyard in England, and follow in the footsteps of Taittinger – the first French Champagne house so far to commit to producing an English sparkling wine – Descôtes said he would “love to try something like that”, but that it was not his decision.

“The potential is there, but there are three things to think about,” said Descôtes. “The first is global warming. At this time it is still a little bit too north to be regular, which makes it quite dangerous. The other issue is finding the really good places and the good terroirs. I’m sure that you can find some good terroirs because it is the same geology as in Champagne.

“The last thing is the choices of English sparkling wine producers. I’m not sure if the thing to do is to copy with Champagne and compete only with Champagne. Maybe it would be more interesting to find an English way and an English taste and style for sparkling, rather than only saying that it uses the same varieties as Champagne.”

Descôtes took on the role of chef de cave in 2013, having previously held the role of technical director.

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