Thursday, 30 October 2014

Champagne #1: Pierre Paillard

Last week we shipped Bancroft's Jason and Sophie off to Champagne with a band of merry customers and Giles Fallowfield, top UK drinks journalist, otherwise dubbed The Champagne Guru.

After a short hop over to La France on the Eurostar we arrived chez Paillard in the sleepy town of Bouzy, welcomed in by Antoine, 8th generation of this Champagne producing grower, successfully leading the family into the next phase of business. After recently joining twitter, Antoine dubs himself as 'Vigneron 3.0' - overseeing harvest, production, sales and marketing, you can find him here: @Pierre_Paillard

Antoine is named after the original Antoine - the first Paillard to turn his hand to winemaking in 1768 after the family settled in Bouzy in the early 18th century. Eight generations later, Benoit, Antoine and Quentin Paillard sit at the helm of this independent and ambitious Champagne House which works on the principle that a great wine starts in the vineyard. Their constant drive for finesse and complexity begins in their Grand Cru classified vineyards and ends with meticulous tasting, dosage and ageing to produce their unique style.

After a freshener of the Brut NV Antoine took us on a tour of the cellar, reached by old-school elevator, hidden inside the winery itself and down 15m below to his extensive cellars. We toured the winery, admired the transparent-cased press freshly scrubbed from harvest that ended only a matter of weeks ago and then headed out into the vineyards.

At the top of a slope, we admired the extensive views over Champagne and listened to Antoine tells us about his 11ha of land that produces 90,000 bottles a year. Here land prices are at a real premium with grapes commanding just as much - up to €7 a kilo for grapes from these Grand Cru vineyards - speaking volumes about the inevitable continual discussion over quality vs price when it comes to Champagne.

Then, we learnt how to Sabage! With Devon, Head Sommelier and Head Wine Buyer at Home House taking the helm, we witnessed some magic as she successfully knocked the head off the bottle. Subsequent foraging meant that bottle neck and sabreur were reunited, and we were all able to enjoy a glass of the Rose NV - pretty, elegant, and beautifully coloured, full of bright fruit and fresh acidity, such is the Pierre Paillard style.

Dinner later on at the winery was enjoyed en-famille, with Antoine serving up a home-cooked feast, hammering home what a small but familial environment we were in. His father joined us, opening up some older vintages for us to try and indulging us in their flare as winemakers past and present. What a treat!

After dinner we took part in a game of noses - trying to detect a variety of different perfumes, all fiendishly difficult to detect! The overall winner of the evening was Giles who became proud owner of the prize: a magnum of Grand Cru 2004. Congratulations Giles!

Big thanks to Antoine for hosting us! 

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