I learned earlier this week that the Champagne maker Paul Bara of Bouzy died a few days ago, 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 Lynch, 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 on 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" [i.e., World War I], and then showed us the tunnel extension that he had dug himself, alone, without help. I seem to recall that he said he could get about two meters [about six-and-a-half feet] deep a day, about two-and-a-half meters [about eight-and-a-quarter feet] high, and two meters wide.
His 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 when we visited — 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 in 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.