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Published:  23 July, 2008

By Tom Stevenson

The news of Christian Bizot's sudden death on Sunday 7 July was a great sadness and a shock, but - regrettably - not a surprise to anyone who knew the former head of Bollinger. A quiet, reserved gentleman of the old school, but never the old school tie, Christian would hesitantly ask guests if he could be allowed to smoke in his own house. He knew that the habit would be the death of him and would often say so with the cigarette wagging up and down in his mouth. Dinner with the Bizots was always simple, relaxed and unpretentious, even when a magnum of 1914 reserve wine was on the table. One particular dinner in 1991 stands out. My wife had gone off to help Marie-Hlne in the kitchen and Christian was almost rubbing his hands in anticipation, but the glee in his face disappeared as soon as I showed him the results of a poll. The poll had asked every grande marque house whether being a member of this Syndicat des Grandes Marques de Champagne was - or should be - a declaration of superior quality, and if so, ought there to be some sort of quality criteria that members should abide by (and if so, what that should be)? It also asked whether membership of the syndicat should be open to any producer, regardless of status (only houses belonged). Bollinger was virtually alone in answering affirmatively to all questions and Christian Bizot could hardly believe the answers of his grande marque colleagues. He did not know who was worse: those who said it was not a declaration of superior quality; those who said it was, but thought quality criteria would be unnecessary; those who thought criteria necessary, but did not want to open up the club to other producers who fulfilled it; or those who thought it would not be right to kick out any members that failed to keep up any agreed standards. Christian was so ashamed of his colleagues that he confessed to me that at that moment he felt more in common with the growers than the ngoce' and seriously considered resigning from the grande marque club and joining the Syndicat Gnral des Vignerons. He did not, but within months he had launched a two-page document, Bollinger's Charter of Ethics & Quality'. This was supposed to counteract the negative message given by a large number of his fellow grande marque members and it was published, repeatedly, in full in various magazines and newspapers. Three years later the Syndicat des Grandes Marques de Champagne elected a new chairman, Jean-Claude Rouzaud of Roederer, who promised a rebirth of the syndicat with quality criteria and more open membership', or he would resign. It was a hopeless task, but Rouzaud decided that if he was going to admit defeat, then the whole syndicat would have to accept blame. Thus, in 1997, the Syndicat des Grandes Marques de Champagne disbanded itself. Christian Bizot was the precursor to this dramatic event and should a similar organisation rise out of the ashes, as has often been mooted, it should be built around the ethics of his charter. His colleagues owe him that, at least.