Friday, 23 September 2011

Blue skies return (27 August) - en plein vendange at Franck Bonville

early morning in AY - 27 august

My first day of the '011 harvest in Champagne (26/08) had been a wash-out - a  damp memory quickly erased by that fabulous re-union with Jacquesson's three lieux-dits in 2002: this glorious year must be one of the greats since 1945, creating ideal conditions for the sort  of ne plus ultra champagne which says - don't push me, ease yourself into my heart and I will show you everything in my own good time. The next morning, saturday, I rose in high spirits to greet the sun in an early stroll through Ay, then  later a taxi to Avize for a harvest lunch with Olivier Bonville, who, thanks to the energy and flair of his father Gilles before him, has nearly 20 - yes, twenty  -hectares of exclusively grand cru sites in Avize and Oger. Unlike some fine smaller producers who suspended picking over the weekend, to gain (successfully) an extra degree of maturity the following week, Olivier continued to harvest right through. "Acidity is beginning to drop, and I want to keep as much freshness as I can in these see-saw conditions of driving heat, humidity and squally showers."  His is a subtle, pure and mineral style that gives free expression to his supremely privileged sites - they have little or no need of wood to show their class and elan. And the advantages of their size and extent, plus the saving on costs of  not having to buy expensive barrels, result in great complexities at keen prices for champagnes of this rare quality.

Olivier, le patron leads by example
The chardonnay grapes looked in fine nick, as they came in, with little sign of rot despite the buffeting of the weather in previous days. I am tho' very happy to say that the sun really put his hat on sunday and shone for a week to make potentially great chardonnays that may yet be as good as 1995. As a little foretaster of this, Olivier, gentleman that he is, opened bottles of his great 100- year -old -vine BellesVoyes, Oger, 2007 as a rather special aperitif for his key working colleagues, the guys at the press, the fork lift driver, and one pretty vendangeuse, who seemed to have come from Paris's Sciences Po specially  to taste this nectar. Clever girl.

man with a thirst

Postscript for champagne geeks: PIED DE CUVE. this micro-technique or  literally the foot of the vat is used at Bonville and many other enlightened growers. First mini-vinfications of grapes from all parts of the vineyard are asssembled every three days during the harvest. Then 10 % of the accumulating mix is added to each major cuvee to encourage the malolactic fermentation that civilizes the wine and makes it more complex. 

harbinger of the 'malo'

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