Thursday, June 19, 2008

Françoise Bedel, Crouttes-sur-Marne

While there are an increasing number of producers in Champagne working with biodynamic viticulture, there are very few who have committed to it entirely. One of the most prominent of them is Françoise Bedel in Crouttes-sur-Marne, in the Vallée de l’Aisne. Bedel arrived at biodynamics through a roundabout road: in 1982, she sought homeopathic treatment for her son Vincent’s medical condition, and she credits this homeopathic practitioner, Robert Winer, for steering her towards a biodynamic worldview. Over the following years, she became increasingly disillusioned with the methods and practices at her family-owned winery, and wanted to incorporate the ideas and philosophies that she had learned from Mr. Winer into her professional life. “There was a philosophic element that was missing in my work,” she says. “I knew I wanted to do more, but I didn’t know what.”

The answer came in 1996, when she met Jean-Pierre Fleury of Champagne Fleury, who had begun biodynamic viticulture in 1989. After tasting the wines of Fleury and other biodynamic practitioners from various wine regions, she decided to convert two hectares to biodynamics in 1998, and the following year began conversion of the entire estate. Today Bedel farms a total of 8.4 hectares (20.75 acres), all certified biodynamic by Ecocert. Bedel notes a pronounced difference in the wines before and after biodynamics. “There’s a certain rectilinear character in the wines now,” she says. “The flavors are more intimate, with a greater profundity and expression.”

Bedel’s wines are aged for an extremely long time on the lees, and they need plenty of air to show their best once they’re opened. I wouldn’t hesitate to decant these wines, and depending on the individual wine, I often find that I prefer them in tulips or wider glasses rather than traditional champagne flutes. The brut sans année (sold only in France) is called Origin’elle — the current release is based on the 2000 harvest, composed of 81 percent meunier, 12 percent pinot noir and 7 percent chardonnay. Six years of lees aging is virtually unheard of for a basic brut, and the yeasty, autolytic character here is almost overpowering, although there’s plenty of spicy, earthy depth underneath to back it up.

Located in the far west of the Champagne region, Crouttes-sur-Marne lies only about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Paris, and the soils in this area are largely argilo-calcaire (a mix of clay and chalk), with some limestone and stony terrain in the neighboring village of Charly. Bedel offers a geological comparison in the form of two cuvées: Dis, Vin Secret, from limestone parcels, and Entre Ciel et Terre, grown on argilo-calcaire. The current release of Dis, Vin Secret is made of 86 percent meunier, 8 percent pinot noir and 6 percent chardonnay, and it’s based on the 2003 vintage, which gives it a richly spicy, roasted apple character. It’s broad, round and full in flavor but it’s not at all heavy, and the finish is dominated by a deliciously savory, brothy minerality that makes me think of grüner veltliner. Its intense minerality makes it feel quite dry, and I was shocked to find out that it actually has 11 grams of dosage. The balance is impeccable.

Entre Ciel et Terre is currently based on the 1999 vintage, composed of 72 percent meunier and 14 percent each of chardonnay and pinot noir. Upon first being opened, it’s nutty and intensely leesy, needing some time to reveal more complex flavors of orange peel, dried apple, spiced plum and blackcurrant. It’s sleek and racy under the rich flavors, showing a vividly energetic fragrance and persistent length on the finish. Bedel told me that limestone produces a rounder wine, while argilo-calcaire gives a greater sense of verticality and cut. I would have expected the reverse, but these two wines certainly back up her statements.

Bedel’s vintage wine is called L’Âme de la Terre, and as it’s selected by a blind tasting of base wines in the cellar, the composition can differ radically from vintage to vintage. The current release, 1998, is composed of roughly equal parts of all three varieties, showing ample aromas of apple, white peach and redcurrant that expand with terrific dimension and persistence on the finish, all backed by subtly stony minerality. It’s an intriguing comparison with another 1998 vintage wine called Comme Autrefois, which is fermented and aged in barrel, bottled by hand and finished with cork instead of capsule for its second fermentation. This is largely meunier (78 percent), and feels even deeper in flavor than the Âme de la Terre, with a baroque, palate-staining presence not unlike a Smaragd by Nikolaihof. It’s an expressive and compelling wine, and I wanted to explore it further — I purchased a bottle to drink later that evening, but upon arriving in Paris, I discovered to my utter dismay that it was corked. I suppose I’ll just have to go back and get another.

Françoise Bedel is imported into the United States by Jon-David Headrick Selections, Chapel Hill, NC.

4 comments:

Henri Vasnier said...

Eternal Champagne-making truth (courtesy of Tom Stevenson): don't be afraid to use a sufficient dosage, if the acid structure will balance it.

Serious meunier from serious growers is amazing. So, so different from generic 55% meunier NV Big House Brut.

On the subject of comparing Austrian wines and Champagne, we enjoyed a bottle of 2004 Brundlmayer Brut last night, which tasted as if grown on quartz rather than chalk but otherwise might have been good Champagne.

J David Harden said...

Be super awesome if Headrick might get these to somewhere near the West Coast. I believe he imports David Leclapart as well. And we hardly ever see those either. Quel dommage!

Brooklynguy said...

hi peter - excellent post. i always appreciate the background you provide when describing a wine. and your tasting notes too, obviously, are evocative and detailed. a few weeks ago i attempted to write about entre ciel et terre and was only marginally successful, as the comments will clearly show.

yours is an inspiring post.

Peter Liem said...

Thanks, Neil. But I don't think there was the slightest thing wrong with your post at all — on the contrary, I enjoyed it very much. It inspired me to go out and buy a bottle of Bedel, (although I ended up buying Dis Vin Secret that day instead of ECT).