Françoise Bedel June 4
June 4th was the day we focused on the Vallée de la Marne, and not the sweet spot Grande Vallée, but rather the Rive Gauche, and as far out as we could go. Our morning started with a hefty drive to the village of Crouttes-sur-Marne, which is the farthest western village of Champagne. To put it in perspective, its equally far from Reims and Paris, roughly an hour drive. Its only about a 40 minute drive to Disneyland Paris, which was tempting to skip awesome champagne for some Euro mouse ears. Anyway, we fought off temptations and stuck with the plan of visiting Françoise Bedel. When we arrived we met Christelle, the wife of Vincent Bedel, who is now running the winery.
We started with a tour of the winery and learned about the Bedels. Françoise’s parents started the estate in the 1950’s and she took over in the 1970’s. When Vincent was young, he suffered from bad health that traditional medicine wasn’t able to cure. Françoise began exploring other options and during her investigations she learned about how harmful chemicals were, and took steps to remove them from the vines. As she continued down this rabbit hole, she learned about biodynamics and slowly converted all of her vineyards to this practice. In 1998 she became certified, and is one of the oldest certified biodynamic practitioner in Champagne.
As we toured the winery we learned more about their winemaking, which attempts to find the balance between what the land gives and the winemaker’s hand. Christelle told us the western end of the Marne valley is more oceanic in climate rather than continental, like the rest of Champagne. I had some trouble believing the because despite being farther west, the area is still quite inland. Regardless, the climate was certainly different than in the heart of Champagne. The soils were different too, here there’s a lot more clay, marl, and silt with limestone underneath. It helps explain the break down of grapes planted in their 11HA of vines – 80% Meunier, 11% Chardonnay, and 9% Pinot Noir.
To capture the terroir, Bedel makes 3 primary wines, with a few more higher end wines joining the mix in great years. The first wine is Originelle, which is a Meunier dominate wine and a blend of soils, essentially their entry level designed to show the year more than the soil. Dis, Vin Secret shows off the silt soils, where as the Entre Ciel et Terre is for the clay soils. It was compelling to taste these side by side, as the differences were apparent. Dis was lighter and fresher, while Entre was dense and complex.
Despite the differences, I feel like the winemaking simultaneously enhances and detracts from the terroir. The Bedels use enameled steel along with some old burgundy barrels, and a few new ones for the top wines. Its not the oak that gets in the way, but rather the long bottle aging in the cellar. The youngest of the wines we tasted was a base year of 2011, which was relatively fresh. After this, we quickly went to wines with more age. The current vintage of both Dis, Vin Secret and Entre Ciel et Terre is 2006! The vintage wine, L’Ame de la Terre just moved from 2003 to 2004 and the Comme Autrefois, the prestige wine, is 2003. The long age, while creating delicious, full bodied champagnes, does cloud the perception of terroir. Unfortunately, we were unable to taste any vin clairs, which may have given more insight to the soils rather than the age of the wines.
We wrapped up the tasting on a delicious odd ball. In the fashion of the other wines, this one was a play on words – Vin Cent Bulles 2011 this is a Coteaux Champagnois Blanc made from Meunier. The name is a play on Vincent, and Vin(wine) Sant(without) Bulles(bubbles). The wine was bright with lots of peach and floral tones and a lot of acidity.
One of the other fascinating aspects of the visit was hearing about which vintages they thought were great. It wasn’t the typical 02, 08, and 12. Rather, they prefer 03, 05, and 09, which were all quite hot years. Their bold style certainly benefits from the extra ripeness these years provide, and I didn’t hear the word fresh being tossed around like in the Cote des Blancs. Power is the key word at chez Bedel, but joined by lighter tones of citrus and flowers. The wines were fascinating, and rather delicious but certainly a distinct voice amongst the producers we visited. We would later realize, the day would be full of distinct voices.
Overall, I like Bedel’s wines, but I can’t say how reflective of the winemaker’s personality they are because we didn’t meet Vincent or Françoise. I do wish we could have met them, and visited the vineyards, but it was a quick stop. A bit of a bummer considering how far we drove. C’est la vie. Also, they are in the middle of changing their labels, which used to be ornate and feminine and are moving to a more modern art, masculine theme.