Christian Bizot, patriarch of the French Champagne house Bollinger, died Sunday, July 7, of a heart attack. He was 73.
Bizot, the nephew of Lily Bollinger (who headed the company after her husband died), was the fifth generation to run the family firm. Born in Paris in 1928, Bizot served in the French army in 1949, then began a career in the banking industry in Paris before working with Champagne Veuve Clicquot, London wine merchants Corney & Barrow and Julius Wile & Sons in the United States.
He joined Bollinger in 1952 at the age of 24. In 1978, he was named the Champagne house's sixth president, a position he held until 1994, when he assumed the role of chairman of the Bollinger holding company.
"Christian was a very strong man with a strict ethic and philosophy and a very clear idea how to market a great Champagne," said Ghislain de Montgolfier, Christian's nephew and president of Champagne Bollinger. "We will do our best to continue this ethic and philosophy, to keep our business strong."
During his career, Bizot was instrumental in developing Bollinger Extra Brut R.D., or "recently disgorged," a Champagne that is aged much longer than usual on its lees and other residual solids that are removed from the bottle just before release. The date of disgorging is included on the back label. "It's a very technical concept, not easy to explain to the consumer and not easy to brand," explained de Montgolfier, "but a very pure concept that showed Christian's commitment to creating a grand vin."
Bizot championed individuality and quality over commercial considerations. In the early '90s, when the quality of Champagne came under criticism and the Syndicat des Grandes Marques de Champagne, of which Bollinger was a member, could neither agree on nor implement a guarantee of quality, it was Bizot's idea to create Bollinger's Charter of Ethics and Quality in 1992.
"Christian always put wine first," reflected de Montgolfier. "Bollinger is 100 percent family owned and family managed. For that we can say 'Thank you Christian.'"
A funeral for Bizot was held on July 10 at his summer home near Grenoble, France. He is survived by his wife, Marie-Hélène, and his five sons: Guy and Etienne (who both have worked at Bollinger), and Henry, Charles and Xavier.
By Bruce Sanderson