Elizabeth Law de Lauriston-Boubers tasted Champagne for the first time in her life at her engagement party. Shortly thereafter, in 1923, she married Jacques Bollinger, owner and president of the Bollinger estate, the third generation of Bollingers to manage the historic house.
Times were good between the wars: these years were marked by an expansion of the family’s holdings and a period of healthy growth in production. Lily, as Elizabeth was affectionately known, was put in charge of locating new vineyard sites for purchase. But hard times were on the horizon: in 1940 the invading German army forced the family to leave the estate and pilfered more than 178,000 bottles from the Bollinger cellars. That same year, the Bollingers were allowed to return (and their employees were freed from prison camps) on the condition that they continue to produce wine for the Third Reich.
The family was then struck by yet another unforeseen tragedy: Lily’s beloved husband Jacques, then 47 years of age, died prematurely of natural causes. Before his death, he bequeathed the estate to his wife and his will made very clear that she could run the company or close it down but under no circumstances was she allowed to sell it to an outsider. Following in the footsteps of the Grand Dame “Champagne widows” who came before her, Lily decided to take the reins. She would serve as the company’s president until 1971 and preside over its period of greatest expansion and growth. But her early years were filled with peril and the horrors of war. She continued to make wine throughout the conflict, despite labor shortages and the destruction of many of her vineyards, which lay precariously close to a German munitions depot.
In August 1944, as the retreating and embittered German army prepared to dynamite her cellars and destroy the estate, the U.S. Third Army arrived just in time to save Bollinger and the town of Ay. In the years that followed the war, Lily, perhaps inspired by the request of her deceased husband, began an ambitious program of expansion by trading outlying vineyards for more prestigious sites closer to the estate itself.
Before she stepped down in 1971, leaving the company to her nephew Claude d’Hautefeuille, she had doubled the company’s sales and introduced two new labels (Vieilles Vignes and Bollinger Rosé) and was awarded two Royal Warrants by King George VI (1950) and Queen Elizabeth II (1955). When Lily passed in 1977, the French government honored her with the prestigious Ordre National du Merit. The town folk of Ay still remember their beloved Lily on the famous bicycle that she used to visit her vineyards, always dressed in classic tweed. Today, Lily remains an icon of Champagne, the modern Champagne widow, sorely missed by her family, the town of Ay, and lovers of her sparkling wines.