Bubbly superspy

Bollinger celebrates its 40th year as 007’s preferred champagne.

IN HIS 1979 outer-space adventure Moonraker, James Bond quips: “Bollinger? If it’s ’69 you were expecting me.” When it comes to champagne, there is no doubt that Bond is a real connoisseur. This is even more so when the champagne in question is from Bollinger – in 1985’s A View To A Kill, Bond correctly identifies a 1975 vintage Bollinger just by tasting it (prompting the ill-fated French detective Achille Aubergine to proclaim him a real connoisseur).

This year marks the 40th year of Bollinger’s association with the British superspy, an arrangement that stretches back all the way to 1973’s Live And Let Die in which the champagne made its first on-screen appearance when Bond calls his hotel’s room service and says: “I’d like a bottle of Bollinger, please. Slightly chilled, two glasses, thank you.” That was not the first time Bollinger was associated with Bond though – Ian Fleming also had Bond drinking Bollinger in his 1956 novel Diamonds Are Forever.

Interestingly, there has never been a formal contract signed between Bollinger and EON Productions (which owns the rights to produce James Bond films) – Bollinger does not sponsor the films, and the filmmakers do not pay Bollinger a single cent for the use of its products.

Bollinger’s association with Bond first came about when the champagne house’s then-chairman Christian Bizot and Albert R. Broccoli (co-founder of EON) met and verbally agreed that Bollinger should be Bond’s preferred champagne.

“Mr Broccoli actually asked permission from our CEO to feature Bollinger in their movies! Mr Bizot agreed, and they shook hands on it … since then Bollinger has been a part of almost every James Bond movie!” said Bollinger’s export director Guy De Rivoire during an interview in Kuala Lumpur recently.

After Live And Let Die, the champagne has featured in some way in 10 other Bond films. The most prominent of these has to be in GoldenEye, in which after the opening car chase, Pierce Brosnan’s Bond flips open the armrest of his car to reveal a bottle of Bollinger Grande Année 1988.

It’s not just Bond who loves Bollinger either – at the end of Moonraker, the terrifying henchman Jaws (the giant with steel-capped teeth) shares a romantic moment and a bottle of Bollinger with his new girlfriend.

Having already made their presence felt in the last two Daniel Craig-led Bond movies (Bond orders a bottle of Bollinger in Casino Royale, and the Bollinger La Grande Année 1999 bottle appears several times in Quantum Of Solace), De Rivoire is keeping his fingers crossed that the trend will continue with Skyfall.

While De Rivoire admitted that the deal is such that they have no guarantee that Bollinger will be in every movie (he isn’t even sure if it will be in Skyfall), one thing is for sure – after shooting wraps on every movie, Bollinger would send over a few cases of champagne for the after-party.

“We’ve read the script for Skyfall, and we can safely say that there won’t be any mention of Bollinger in the movie, but there might be two instances where the champagne might make an appearance,” he said hopefully.

On hindsight, Bollinger is actually the perfect champagne for the extremely patriotic Bond – the brand is an official champagne purveyor to the British royal family, having received the Royal Warrant from Queen Victoria in 1884.

However, the brand’s history goes even further back to 1829, when the champagne house Renaudin Bollinger was founded in the town of Aے by three partners – Hennequin de Villermont, Paul Levieux Renaudin and Jacques Bollinger.

“Villermont had a few vineyards, but because he was an officer in the French navy, he was not allowed to do trade. So he partnered with Renaudin, a former cellar master in another champagne house, and Bollinger, who was a trader from Germany,” De Rivoire explained. “Since Villermont could not have his name on the champagne, it was called Renaudin Bollinger at first.”

Jacques Bollinger later went on to marry Villermont’s daughter, Charlotte, and the Bollinger family has gone on to manage the company since then (Renaudin passed away without an heir, but his name remained on the label until the 1960s).

One of Bollinger’s most legendary leaders was Lily Bollinger, who was instrumental in promoting the brand all over the world during her 30-year tenure as the company’s chairperson. She is also known for one of the most famous champagne-related quotes ever – asked by reporters on when she drinks her champagne, she replied, “I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.”

Bollinger’s house style non-vintage champagnes are called Special Cuvée, a name that also has intricate ties with the British royal family. In 1911, when King Edward VII was at his hunting lodge, he forgot the name of the Bollinger champagne he usually imbibes, and asked for a bottle of his “Special Cuvée” instead. After hearing this story, the British importer of Bollinger asked the champagne house to rename all non-vintage champagnes to Bollinger Special Cuvée, which they did.

The champagne house’s greatest champagnes, however, are its prestigious Grand Année (great vintage) bottlings, which are produced whenever Bollinger has an exceptional harvest.

Made up of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% chardonnay, the Grand Année serves to capture the character of that particular harvest. The most recent Grand Année bottling was the 2002 vintage, which I had the privilege of trying during the interview.

What struck me most was the wonderful nose the champagne had – slightly nutty, with a hint of lemon from the chardonnay; and the long, elegant lingering finish at the end. The Bollinger La Grande Année 2002 is at the heart of a special limited edition James Bond “002 for 007” gift set that was produced to celebrate 007’s 50th anniversary in film, as well as the Bollinger-Bond partnership. The box comes in the shape of a Walther PPK silencer, which is opened via a special numbered lock that opens when you align the numbers 0-0-7.

As you would expect, the association with James Bond is something that the company treasures greatly, and has brought a great deal of exposure to the brand. “The awareness on Bond is 100% – almost everyone knows about him! People may not know what Bollinger is, but people know James Bond, so I would introduce it as ‘James Bond’s favourite champagne’,” De Rivoire said.

“Bond is a man who drinks fine wines, drives great cars, dates beautiful ladies, lives happily, takes risks, never dies, and always gets younger! James Bond is an iconic, living legend, and to be associated with him ... we really couldn’t ask for more!”

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