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Veuve Bollinger

Unlike other owners of champagne houses of her time, Elisabeth Bollinger created drier champagnes produced mainly from pinot noir Thanks to her drive, her class and her sense of humour, she was a success in the US in the 1950s and went on to become the brand’s worldwide ambassador. Endowed with an entrepreneurial spirit, she created two high-quality champagnes, enabling her to raise her company among the most prestigious.
English jockey Josh Gifford pours champagne into his trophy after being awarded the Bollinger Challenge Trophy, London, 17 December 1968 © Getty Images / Keystone / Hulton Archive

From success in the US to the elevation of the company among the ranks of the most prestigious champagne houses

Elisabeth Law de Lauriston-Boubers (1899-1977) was a descendant of John Law de Lauriston, a Scottish adventurer, banker, economist, and co-founder of the French East India Company. On 10 November 1923, she married Jacques Bollinger, grandson of Joseph Jacob Bollinger, who co-founded the Bollinger house in the village of Aÿ in the Marne in 1829.

When her husband died in 1941, Elisabeth Bollinger, a childless widow, had no hesitation in taking over the reins of the company. Known as ‘Madame Jacques’ by the villagers of Aÿ, or ‘Tante Lily’ by her family, everyone respected Elisabeth as one of the great ladies of Champagne. She led the company through the war and the German occupation with courage and a firm hand. While chardonnay is the variety of grape used in most champagnes, Madame Jacques decided to use mainly pinot noir, giving her sparkling wine its distinctive taste. She also preferred drier champagnes, so she limited the amount of sugar added to her wines.

After the war, she set about expanding the company abroad, embarking on a promotional trip to the United States. She met with countless journalists and well-known figures, inviting them to taste her champagne and relating the history of the Champagne region. She charmed America with her impeccable English, her elegance and her professionalism. In 1961, the Chicago American even dubbed her ‘France’s first lady’. At the same time, she became the ambassador for Bollinger wines across the world. Her champagne has also been a favourite of several generations of the British royal family.

Always seeking to innovate, in 1967 she launched the premium ‘Recently Disgorged’ or ‘R.D.’ vintage, raising the company to take its place alongside the most prestigious champagne houses. Produced solely from superior grands crus and premiers crus, this champagne is the result of at least eight years of cellar ageing under natural cork, and is disgorged by hand. In 1969, she launched another luxurious vintage on the market, the ‘Vieilles Vignes Françaises’. This champagne is produced with grapes from two vines that miraculously escaped the Great French Wine Blight in the mid-19th century and are tended by hand or with the help of workhorses.

After having managed the company with intelligence and finesse for thirty years, Madame Bollinger stepped down in 1971. She passed away on 22 February 1977, leaving the company her legacy as a great lady of champagne.

A woman with a sharp wit

As witty as she was chic, when a journalist once asked her if she liked champagne, Elisabeth 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 a must. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise, I never touch it, unless I’m thirsty.”