Sat 29 Dec 2012
In doing the research on the Champagne Françoise Bedel Entre Ciel et Terre Brut — “between sky and earth” — I ran into contradictory information about its composition. Some sources said that it was 100 percent pinot meunier, others that it was 80 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent pinot noir, and still others that is was a blend of 41 percent chardonnay, 35 percent pinot noir and 24 percent pinot meunier. I contacted Jon-David Headrick, importer of Françoise Bedel, and asked “what’s up?” It turns out that all the sources were correct but for different editions of the wine. The composition of the example that I tried in New York back in February, at “The Return to Terroir” event, is indeed 80 percent pinot meunier and 20 percent pinot noir. The vast variation in the make-up of “Entre Ciel et Terre” isn’t the result of inconsistency but a conscious decision to allow the character of the year and the harvest to dictate the nature of the wine. Unlike the large Champagne firms, which maintain an identifiable house-style year by year, especially for the non-vintage products, small estates tend not to purchase grapes or keep large stores of reserve wines for blending. There’s nothing wrong with the former practice; one reason I love a Champagne like the nonvintage Pol Roger Brut Réserve is because it does provide the pleasure and security of a consistent and recognizable manner. It’s also gratifying though to mark the individuality and handcrafted qualities of smaller, primarily family-owned and operated houses like Champagne Françoise Bedel.
Françoise Bedel took over her parents’ estate in the tiny village of Crouttes sur Marne in 1979; her son Vincent joined her professionally in 2003. Bedel owns 8.4 hectares — about 20.75 acres — of vines that range from 20 to 60 years old. The emphasis is on the pinot meunier grape, which accounts for 79 percent of the vineyards, with chardonnay making up 14 percent and pinot noir 7 percent. The estate has been operated on biodynamic principles since 1998, that is, no synthetic chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides or insecticides and a strict calendar-based regimen of special organic “teas” and totally natural mixtures to ensure the health and integrity of the vineyards. I’m a skeptic about the efficacy of the more radical biodynamic philosophy and techniques, but in the case of Francoise Bedel, the result is great Champagne.
You know how there are some grand edifices that are imposing without being distinguished? In terms of that comparison, Françoise Bedel Cuvee Entre Ciel et Terre Brut is both imposing and distinguished. This is indeed a Champagne of grand proportions, quite sizable, very dry, possessing dimension and detail in abundance. The color is pale straw-gold, enlivened by a tempest-like froth of bubbles. The approach is all limestone and steel, with a snap of gun-flint and undertones of cloves and ginger. It’s a mouth-filling Champagne, substantial, high-toned, even a little demanding in its sheer elegance and austerity; one understands the metaphor of earth and sky in its inextricable melding of scintillating minerality and (paradoxically) the more delicate elusive fruit and floral qualities that provide a sense of urgent elevation. This is exciting stuff, a Champagne of great character yet tremendous appeal. 12 percent alcohol. Excellent. About $75 as a national average.
Imported by Jon-David Headrick Selections, Chapel Hill, N.C.
December 29 is the Holy Day of Thomas Becket, murdered by four knights of Henry II in 1170 and canonized by Pope Alexander III in 1172. Today’s birthdays include Charles Goodyear (1800-1860), Andrew Johnson, our luckless 17th president (1808-1875); and Mary Tyler Moore (76), Marianne Faithfull (66), Ted Danson (65), Patricia Clarkson (53) and Jude Law (40).