Last week we were saddened to hear of the recent passing of legendary Champagne producer Paul Bara. Established in Bouzy in 1833, the House of Bara has passed family traditions from generation to generation for more than 170 years. The village of Bouzy and Champagne Paul Bara are practically synonymous. As the published village historian, Paul was, and forever will be, indelibly linked to the lore of his hometown. Many agree that he is their most renowned producer, being one of the rare récoltants-manipulants in a region inundated with the mass-produced wines of the large, corporate champagne houses. Today, Paul’s daughter Chantale continues his legacy. Our National Sales Manager, Bruce Neyers, has shared with us his memory of first meeting Paul. We hope you’ll join us in raising a glass to Paul Bara, a true champion of Champagne.
The cellar of Paul Bara © Champagne Paul Para
I learned earlier this week that Paul Bara of Bouzy died a few days ago, in Bouzy at the age of 93. I had to pause and collect myself upon hearing the news. I met Paul on my first trip to France for Kermit, in January 1993. He greeted us wearing a suit and a tie, along with a handsome cloth homburg that seemed to have come right out of a Marcel Pagnol film. He said he wore it all day because he never knew when he had to go into the icy cellars.
He collected all 12 of us in his office — prominently decorated with beautiful antique maps of the region. He poured each of us a glass of Champagne, then sat us down in classroom fashion and conducted a lecture replete with photos of the vineyards, and a history lesson of the Champagne region. He spoke of Champagne as three regions, and then talked about the historical, cultural and political reasons it had become divided. He was a big man, powerfully built and physically imposing, and he seemed even larger standing in front of us all, wielding his pointer to show this or that district and describe the Champagne from each respective area.
He then took us to the cellar and pointed out the pick marks of the tunnels in the chalk. He explained how they were dug by hand in the days before the ‘Great War’, and then showed the tunnel extension that he had dug himself, alone, without help. I seem to recall that he said he could get about two meters deep a day, about 2.5 meters high, and 2 meters wide. Their bottling system was most impressive, as it was an antique, capable of doing only one bottle at a time.
He would always disgorge a few bottles for us — I think he kept them on the riddling rack just to show off. No one could ever take a photograph of him disgorging Champagne, so fast was he able to disgorge it. He would do a dozen or so bottles in just a few seconds. He was an intellectual on his craft, and always affable, professorial and generous. And he loved to drink Champagne. He reminded me of why it is that Champagne makes us so cheerful. –Bruce Neyers