Champagne Franck Bonville

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The great terroirs of Champagne’s Côte des Blancs give birth to wines of well-deserved renown, and it is here—on the slopes of grand crus like Avize, Cramant, Le Mesnil sur Oger, and Oger—that Chardonnay (comprising 95% of the total vineyard area) achieves an unparalleled combination of finesse, power, and longevity. Of course, much of the fruit from these hallowed villages finds its way into the blends of the big houses, where their distinct characters are subsumed within the consistency-above-all nature of these massively scaled products. Thankfully, as in other subregions of Champagne, a growing number of vignerons are producing increasingly terroir-dominant wines, prioritizing the individuality of each cru and the variability of each growing season.

The Franck Bonville estate in Avize has been producing wine from their holdings in Avize, Oger, and Le Mesnil sur Oger for four generations, and today Olivier Bonville, along with his son-in-law Ferdinand Ruelle-Dudel, are guiding the 15-hectare domaine toward ever more precise and distinctive renderings of these terroirs. Currently certified Haute Valeur Environnementale, they have eschewed the use of chemical herbicides and pesticides for over a decade now, and they are currently converting their 77 assorted parcels to fully organic viticulture bit by bit.

Bonville’s nine hectares in grand cru Avize comprise the heart of their holdings, augmented by four and a half hectares in grand cru Oger, and a hectare and a half in the coveted chalk of grand cru Le Mesnil sur Oger. Their spacious and beautifully understated cellar, constructed in the 1850s, accommodates a production of roughly 130,000 bottles per year, and allows them to employ extended lees aging for many of their cuvées. They do not block malolactic fermentation, and while most of their wines are vinified and aged in stainless steel before bottling for their secondary fermentations, they employ oak aging for their single-parcel “Les Belles Voyes” and plan to expand that element of their regimen based on the positive results they’ve obtained.

While they have long produced Champagnes of great character and typicity—as evidenced by an impressive lineup of older bottles we drank at our first visit—Bonville’s improvements in farming, along with their increasing emphasis on single-cru, single-vintage bottlings and a more nuanced approach to dosage (determined by blind trials), have elevated quality here to new heights. More than ever, one feels in their wines the mineral strictness of Avize and its poor soils, the gourmand sumptuousness of Oger, and the regal poise of Le Mesnil, and we are thrilled to begin our partnership with Olivier and Ferdinand during this exciting phase of their evolution.

Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut: With their flagship Blanc de Blancs, Bonville aims for a blend of finesse, precision, and the regal breadth Chardonnay in these great sites can achieve. In that spirit, the vineyard sources, proportions of reserve wines, and dosage levels can change from year to year. Our current bottling blends 70% from the 2020 harvest with 30% from the 2019 harvest, from various holdings in the grand crus Avize and Oger; it was disgorged after two years of lees aging and given a dosage—determined through blind tasting trials—of 8.3 grams per liter. Reading much drier on the palate than the dosage might suggest, this offers pretty notes of white flowers atop ample but refined fruit and an underlying impression of gunflint.

Grand Cru “Unisson”: As with their flagship Blanc de Blancs, Bonville’s Grand Cru cuvée “Unisson” (“unison”) can vary from year to year in vineyard sources, reserve wines, and dosage levels, but their aim here is a more complex and mineral-dominated character than the flagship—a profile enhanced by spending more time on the lees before disgorgement. This release comes entirely from holdings in the grand cru Avize, from roughly equal proportions of the 2017 and 2016 harvests, and it was disgorged after nearly five years on the lees with a dosage of 6.7 grams per liter. A salty, authoritative nose introduces a palate of greater depth than that of the flagship, with a clean and stony finish of impressive length.

Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Millésime: Although not by rule, Bonville’s vintage bottling nearly always comes from choice holdings in the esteemed grand cru of Avize. Their goal here, whether in a chiseled and lean vintage or a lavishly rich vintage, is to express the particularity—the individuality—of Chardonnay as voiced by the distinctive grand cru terroirs of the Blanc des Blancs. This release was disgorged after six and a half years on the lees with a dosage of 6.7 grams per liter, and it offers a profile of rich yet corseted fruit framed by a deep, nearly savory sense of minerality that is very Avize.

Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra-Brut: As with the Brut-level Millésime bottling, Bonville’s Extra-Brut typically comes from their top holdings in grand cru Avize, and they release it one year later than the Brut to emphasize its complexity. This release, disgorged after seven years on the lees, was given a dosage of 2.5 grams per liter, and while it is no weightier than the Brut, it offers more finesse, deeper salinity, and a greater sense of cling—a profile enhanced by the driving 2014 vintage.

Grand Cru Oger “Les Belles Voyes”: The crown jewel of Bonville’s holdings is a 0.8-hectare parcel of 1960-planted Chardonnay in “Les Belles Voyes,” a hilltop vineyard in the grand cru Oger situated at the border of the grand cru Le Mesnil sur Oger. This cuvée—Bonville’s only wine which sees oak—spends eight months aging in used barrels before being bottled for its secondary fermentation. The chalk layer at this high point on the hillside is three to four meters deep (compared to around one meter in Avize), and this—along with the texture-enhancing barrel regimen—imparts a strikingly gripping, driving, billowing character to the palate. This release spent nearly eight years on the lees and was given a dosage of 6.7 grams per liter.

Grand Cru Rosé: Bonville’s superbly balanced Rosé combines 90% Chardonnay from Avize with 10% Pinot Noir from the grand cru of Ambonnay. Vinified entirely in stainless steel, this release blends the 2020 and 2019 vintages, and it spent two years on its lees before being disgorged with a dosage of 6.7 grams per liter. Here, Avize Chardonnay’s distinctly powerful and salty nature is rounded and deepened by the presence of Ambonnay Pinot Noir—one of the greatest and most prized villages for the variety in the entire region.

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