Several months ago I ended up in Evelyne Boizel’s office – without an appointment mind you – and spent about 45 minutes waiting for a mutual friend who never showed up. Once I realized who exactly the lady opposite me was, I felt a little intimidated. Here I was, sitting opposite a Champagne stalwart, totally unprepared. There were so many things I wanted to ask this astute business woman, who in 1994 had joined forces with her friends Bruno Paillard and Philippe Bajot of Chanoine Frères and Champenoise des Grands Vins to form the Boizel Chanoine Champagne(BCC) Group. After the acquisition of Champagne Lanson in 2006, this group became the second largest Champagne producing entity and is hugely successful.
But instead of asking questions, all I could do was exchange business cards and rumble on a little about our friend who was nowhere to be seen. Luckily, Evelyn is a wonderfully charming lady with a great knack for making small talk, so she asked me about why I had moved to Champagne. This proved to be a good conversation starter as from there we covered the beauty and wonders of the area, my background in business development, a little Boizel history and business lesson, direct sales, my time and Evelyne’s experiences in New Zealand and we ended up talking, 45 minutes later, about my writing and blog. The conversation halted when we finally found out via Twitter that Jayne, our common friend, was not going to make it out there and that I should meet her at another producer about 25 minutes way. By the time we read the message I was already supposed to be in the Cotes des Blanc, so Evelyne urged me to make an appointment to visit again and taste the wines.
So when one of my New Zealand wine friends was in town, I made arrangements to visit Boizel again and organized a tasting with Evelyne. Before the tasting, we toured the winery and the cellars and were taken on a five (soon to be six) generation Champagne family history journey.
The Champagne House Boizel was established in 1834 by the 33-year-old Auguste Boizel and since the start it has very much been run jointly by a husband and wife team. The first 15 to 20 years were a real struggle due to the haphazard nature of the Champagne business, which included inconsistent second fermentation, exploding bottles and a fickle market. Yet Auguste and his wife Julie persevered and by the time their son Edouard took over, they had established a reputation for excellent wines. In 1853, they purchased a prestigious location in Epernay and in 1858 they commenced the digging of the unusually high and wide cellars out of the chalk. A grand family home, a winery and offices were built above these cellars in 1965, also the year of Boizel’s first vintage cuvee.
Edouard and his wife Adele took over the family business in 1868 and added their personal touch by creating the very first Bruts of the house. In the late 19th century, Champagne was drunk very sweet as the sugar masked many a fault. The added sugar, which is generally mixed with base wine, is called the dosage. When a drier style was launched it was called “Brut” because it was quite harsh in comparison. In those days, a Brut Champagne had a dosage of no less than 20 grams, but often the residual sugar would hover around the 30 gram mark. This makes us realize just how much drier Champagne has become over the years, as today a Brut Champagne has a dosage of only 6 to 12 grams.
In 1918, at the end of the First World War, Jules Boizel succeeded his father. Together with his wife Louise, Jules was one of the pioneers of the Blanc de Blanc Style (100 percent Chardonnay) which they started to sell at the beginning of the 1920s. Again it was pretty revolutionary to create a single varietal cuvee, as since the days of Dom Perignon, common belief stated that quality Champagne could only be achieved by a technique of blending different varieties. But true to their family history, Jules and Louise stuck to their beliefs. Even today, Boizel is still renowned for their Blanc de Blanc.
In 1945, René and his Dutch wife Erica took over the reins of Boizel and struggled the first few years to replenish the stocks and make the business profitable again after the Great Depression and Second World War had severely shaken the Champagne industry. They succeeded to restore the company’s luster and prestigious position in a mere 10 years, in France as well as abroad. This rebirth of the Boizel brand was celebrated in 1961 by the launch of the Joyau de France, a cuvee prestige, made only in the best vintages from the very best grapes and sold at a premium.
After the premature death of Rene, and her brother Eric, Evelyne and her husband Christophe Roques, left their scientist careers to take over the family business in 1972. At the 150 anniversary, Evelyne summed up the Boizel philosophy with the motto: ”a Family, a House, a Tradition”
The Roques-Boizel’s expanded the prestigious Boizel brand by adding three more Special Cuvees as well as the above mentioned co-creation of the BCC group.
This amazing family-oriented history can also be read in a wine way: down in the Boizel cellars the “Oenothèque“ has an amazing selection of iconic wines. Just about any wine I have mentioned is present here. Do check out my Boizel list for a few notes on the wines I tasted!