I started studying French in ninth grade and on the first day of class, Madame Conklin (the was a dearth of native French speakers in Southeastern Michigan when I was a kid) had us choose a French name by which we would be referred for the remainder of the year. I perused the list and one name immediately popped out.
Thus, when it was my turn, I had chosen a name that was the perfect alter-ego, a re-start, if you will, a new beginning. “Jean-François” which is the French equivalent of “Jeff,” had already been chosen, but I did not mind as I was looking for a new identity, to break away from the past and present.
So, I blurted out my choice with confidence and verve, and I liked the way it sounded. The name was not even out of my mouth and it had already become my new personality. Bold, different, independent, even daring, I was excited to begin my new life (even if it were for 55 minutes each school day starting at 9:10) as “Bruno.”
Extremely satisfied with my choice, I leaned back ever so slightly in my chair, crossed my arms in front of me, and scanned the room confidently—very Bruno-esque, I remember thinking.
Madame Conklin, without so much as even raising her head responded: “Je suis désolée, mais ce nom, il était déjà choisi, il faut en choisir un autre.”
I had no idea what that meant, but I was confident that it was along the lines of “Wow! What a great choice! It fits you perfectly!”
My contentment and self-confidence grew by the moment—I might just end up being the greatest Bruno of all time. As I contemplated legally changing my name to Bruno on my 18th birthday, a classmate gave me a quick hard elbow to the ribs followed by a nod toward the front of the room, where Madame Conklin was babbling on with a stern look on her face.
For some reason, she assumed that my first few minutes in her class made me fluent in the bizarre language that was emanating from her lips because she was not so much as pausing her francophonic free verse to see if I had any clue what she was saying.
Finally, she pointed over to another kid in the class, Troy Poyner, a tenth grader with a reputation for being, well, a stoner. He was holding up his placard with “Bruno” scribbled across it in what only could be described as first-grade penmanship, accompanied with an ear to ear grin exposing a set of teeth that were badly in need of the best dentist in town.
Then it hit me.
He had already chosen “Bruno.”
Dismayed, I returned to the list in the back of the book, determined to find a name that no one would select, but would still allow me a bit of panache. I remember sitting there for the entire class, mulling over the names, trying to find the perfect replacement for Bruno….
Almost at that precise moment, on another continent, an ocean away, another Bruno was contemplating an entirely different existence. Bruno Paillard, after six years of working as a wine broker in Champagne, set out to create what he could not find at the time: a champagne that embodied elegance and purity.
Bruno would be swimming upstream in his quest though, as a new house had not been created in Champagne in over a century and the extant producers were making their wines in essentially the same manner that they had been for another century before that.
Undeterred, Bruno built the first above ground winery in Champagne, and a few years after bought a few hectares of grand cru vines. Gradually, his holdings grew, and today, there are 32 hectares under Paillard’s control, including 12 Grands Crus, which represents more than half of the winery’s needs to meet current production.
While I have never met Monsieur Bruno, I have met his lovely daughter Alice, who joined the company in 2007, and after many years working in several capacities, is now co-manager of the Domaine with her father.
I first met Alice a couple of years ago in Philadelphia with the indefatigable Brian Freeman and wonderful Kate Morgon-Corcoran at a local restaurant. Alice is simply delightful and fully knowledgeable about the Bruno Paillard wines and operation–in many ways an extension of her father–she joined the firm in 2007 and became co-director shortly thereafter.
Thus, when I decided to spend a few days in Reims with my family on vacation, I organized a meeting with Alice at the winery just on the edge of Reims. A couple of weeks before the visit, however, Alice had to bow out of the visit, but she had a solid excuse: she was pregnant and the delivery was scheduled for the week I would be in Reims.
Alice arranged for a co-worker at the winery to host me in her stead, and I was not disappointed, it was a lovely visit, and the wines, as expected, were spectacular.
There are many different aspects to champagne production at Bruno Paillard that set it apart from the producers. The most prominent, perhaps, is the inclusion of the disgorgement date on every bottle. This is significant since it makes it easy to distinguish when each bottle of multi-vintage (Bruno Paillard uses this term instead of the more widely used “non-vintage”) wine was released to the market, which, surprisingly, is not a common practice in Champagne. In fact, for the vast majority of non-vintage champagnes, the consumer has no way of knowing how long the bottle may have been on the shelf.
Bruno uses oak barrels in both the fermentation and aging process, a practice that was once common in Champagne, but now only employed by a handful of larger producers. This helps the wine, according to Bruno, understand how to protect itself from oxygen while also adding complexity to the wines.
M.V. Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée Disgorged December, 2014: 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 22% Pinot Meunier, 20% fermented in oak. Already had been open two days. Still bright and vibrant with tons of citrus, lemony and yeasty. Very Good to Outstanding. 89-91 Points.
M.V. Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée Disgorged December, 2009: Wow, what a difference. Toaster and even smokier with a chestnut aspect. Creamier, richer, and a smokiness. This is gangbusters. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
M.V. Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs: All grand Cru from the Côte des Blancs (Mesnil, Oger, Chouilly). “Pinot is the skeleton, Chardonnay is the flesh and Meunière is the smile. You remove the skeleton and smile, you risk a flabby wine. By choosing only Grand Cru, this has the effect of putting backbone back into the wine.” More delicate and floral with citrus notes. Rich, smoky, yet still tart. Nice. Outstanding. 91-93 Points.
2006 Bruno Paillard Blanc de Blancs: Rich and creamy nose with depth and chestnut. On the palate still very young even more than a decade out. With some more time? Look out. Give it another 5 years. At least. Still, now? Whoa. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2003 Bruno Paillard Nec Plus Ultra N.P.U. Champagne: Just short of golden. Candied and slightly sherried nose–incredibly inviting with toasty notes and a touch of yeast. On the palate delicately rich with a bit of mocha, citrus and plenty of verve. One of the more complex wines I’ve had with layers of flavors and a lengthy finish. This still needs a bunch of time as well, but holy cow. Whoa. Outstanding Plus. 96-98 Points.
Oh, that name I chose back in French class? It stuck with me for the rest of my high school career and beyond. Whenever I see someone from my high school French classes, they haven’t forgotten my choice on that fateful Monday morning. Why? Shortly after choosing my moniker, the wildly popular movie, Beverly Hills Cop came out….