PUR Terroir at Bonville

Just as I was arriving at Champagne Franck Bonville in Avize with Clyde and Kerri Beffa, our shipment of Bonville arrived in the stores. The wait is over and we now have everything back in stock. Olivier took us straight to the vineyard, and since not everyone could fit in his car, I got to drive his Citroen Berlingo with Clyde as my co-pilot. Nothing beats a little rally driving on the tracks between the vines of the Grand Cru’s of the Cotes des Blancs!

The program that Olivier Bonville had made for us was incredible. He had dug out one meter deep pits in each of his three vineyards that he uses for the “Pur” Champagnes. Visiting these, we were able to see the profound soil differences between Mesnil, Oger and Avize. We were also able to taste the 2018 vin clair of each right on the spot where it was grown, as well as the finished Champagne from 2012. I have never done anything like this before, and I won’t forget the education.

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Our first stop was Mesnil where we visited the Tilleul, a tiny plot that he purchased in 2008. The soil here is pure Belemnita chalk, the kind that you can break into stone sized pieces and write on the pavement with. The 2018 vin clair was incredibly direct and mineral, with a bit of lemony fruit and tremendous length. The 2012 Franck Bonville "Pur Mesnil" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne share the same incredible chalky drive and endless finish, but also had the subtle toast of wood fired country bread. My notebook has “COMPLETELY EFFORTLESS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” written in gigantic letters, and I feel like the finish is still going two days later as I type this. Sometimes, the beguiling subtle complexity of a wine like this frustrates my notetaking! Like all of the PUR wines, we only received 72 bottles.

Next we rallied over to Oger and visited the Rumegny plot. Looking at the soil one meter below the surface here, we saw limestone. This heavier soil allows them to use a different rootstock, and Oger is one of the first places to pick, and gives a much richer and rounder wine. That was clear tasting the 2018 vin clair, which was very peachy and full bodied. The 2012 Franck Bonville "Pur Oger" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne had aromas of peach tart, with the brown crust coming to the forefront after 6 years on the lees. Surprisingly, I found that the time had brought out more minerality in this wine, and even though it was the roundest of the three by far, it had a crisp finish that most blanc de blancs Champagnes would be very jealous of!

Our last vineyard visit was in Avize at the Les Pierres Veudon plot. Here the soil sample from the pit was very chalky, but looser and more mixed than in Mesnil. The 2018 vin clair here seemed to have the best of the Mesnil and the Oger together; full bodied wine with rich meyer lemon bar flavor and still plenty of chalky cut. The 2012 Franck Bonville "Pur Avize" Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne had kaleidoscopic complexity; with the same meyer lemon fruit as in the 2018, but also laser like chalky precision. It is very hard to make a meaningful note on Champagne this good- but I trust that anyone with a heart and a love for Champagne will find this as near to perfection as possible!

We returned to the cellar in Avize to taste the rest of the current releases, which were all on perfect form. Just before we were about to say our goodbyes, Olivier brought out an incredibly generous treat: his 1976, one of the last vintages made by his grandfather! For me, this tied everything together- these wines are capable of ageing effortlessly for generations. The last time I had this wine it was at a gigantic vertical of Bonville in 2013, and this bottles seemed even more perfect. This 1976 had developed a boquet of Chanterelle cream, brioche and ripe peach. It had Meursault like richness on the palate, with both oyster shell savor and buttery generosity. The chalky drive and acidity were still lively, giving this wine the power to refresh even 42 years later… I don’t expect to taste anything as good as that for a very long time. His wines will age without any problem!

A toast to you!

Gary Westby

Gary Westby