In 2015, while dining in Le Petit Hotel du Grand Large in Brittany, Catherine Bourdon, the effervescent owner, erudite sommelier, and biodynamic wine enthusiast, asked us to taste Françoise Bedel’s Champagne. We were overwhelmed. It transpired that Catherine and Françoise are close friends, and we have since been importing these distinctive champagnes.
Champagne Françoise Bedel is a small family estate in the Vallée de la Marne at the western edge of the Champagne region, in the village of Crouttes-sur-Marne, on the banks of the Marne river. The domaine is in fact located closer to Paris than it is to Reims. The modern history of Champagne Françoise Bedel started almost 40 years ago when Françoise took the reigns of her parents’ domaine.
Françoise’s life is quite extraordinary. Since birth, her oldest son, Vincent, had been very ill and she could not find any doctor nor hospital who could cure him. She sought the help of a homeopath in a nearby village. Soon Vincent, now winemaker at the domaine, was on the road to recovery. This is how Françoise’s journey to biodynamic viticulture started, step by step, in 1982, at a time when virtually no one in the wine world had heard about it. She was introduced to the benefits of homeopathy, which led her to explore a new way of thinking.
As preposterous as it may have appeared for her to start changing her farming methods, the profound feeling that she was correct prompted her to slowly convert the entire estate to biodynamics. It had become vital and essential for Bedel to work with nature, and not to destruct the wellness of her soils.
She was already cultivating her vineyards organically without the use of fertilisers nor pesticides and, by 1998, she put biodynamic methods into practice, starting with only two hectares. A year later she proceeded with identical farming style on seven hectares, and by 2006 the whole 8.5-hectare estate was managed following biodynamic principles.
Françoise’s son, Vincent Desaubeau joined the family vineyard in 2003. Since then, the duo has been farming the vineyards featuring Pinot Meunier (over 80%), along with Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir averaging 50 years of age, and planted on clay, limestone, and gravel. They are both dedicated to the respect of their soils and biodiversity, thus producing healthy grapes.
Harvest is manual and the wines are produced in the new cellar built in 2015. Although the cave seems elementary, it is a place flooded with light, which combines modern architecture, and high environmental features. The still wines age on their lees, followed by further ageing in the underground cellar, up to six years with regard to some cuvées. Dosage (addition of sugar) is non-existent, or near to zero.
Françoise and Vincent are wonderful, endearing people, whose energy is contagious. They are bubbling with dynamism and they are producing finer Champagnes year after year. When the corks pop in their underground cellar, you know that bubbles of happiness are being released. Their gastronomic wines are generous, voluptuous, pure, complex and refined, and above all, they reflect their terroirs.
What Françoise Bedel has achieved is quite remarkable. Back in the 1990s, being a woman in Champagne, in addition to following biodynamic principles, wasn’t always easy, but she followed her strong beliefs and she has since inspired many a wine grower.