Franck Bonville is a small champagne producer located in a charming family house in Avize, a grand cru in the heart of the Côte des Blancs, the “kingdom” of chardonnay in Champagne. Technically, it is a grower (RM) but its production volumes of more than 100,000 bottles a year make it a large one, or a very small house, depending on how you look at it. What matters is that they make spectacular blanc de blancs–and only that–which carry the characteristic elegance, finesse, and minerality of this subregion of Champagne, while being more approachable than many other, and terribly seductive and pleasant. They express great terroirs, and the idea of champagne of the Bonville family, and in particular of Olivier Bonville, the fourth generation at the helm of this emerging producer.
Franck Bonville was one of those audacious vine growers of Champagne who took the bold decision, on the aftermath of WW2, to make and market their own champagnes. His father Alfred, a visionary, started the vine-growing history of this family, buying some land around Oger, a grand cru in the Côte des Blancs, at the beginning of the 20th century when phylloxera was ravaging the vineyards. Later on, in 1937, he bought a vine grower’s house in Avize that came equipped with a winepress, oak casks, and a cellar dating from the 19th century. After the war, Franck took over and started selling champagnes under his name, marking the official beginnings of this house.
His son Gilles took the relay in the 1970s, introducing new technological advances that became available in champagne making, like steel vats for more precise winemaking.
The turning point came with his son Olivier, who replaced him in 1996. He brought the entire operation to a new level, introducing sustainable viticulture in the vineyards, widening the vats capacity in the cellar to better maintain the individuality of the parcels, and reintroducing oak barrels for the aging of certain still wines, to make them richer and rounder.
Today, Franck Bonville is not just a name but a true brand in the world of champagne connoisseurs, thanks to the taste and the increasing popularity of its wines that are lately earning many recognitions. Meanwhile, Olivier can’t stop looking at the future and thinking of all he wants to do to make even better champagnes.
Vineyard and Production
Being growers, they produce champagne by using only their vineyards and grapes, all of which are chardonnay planted in grands crus. They own some 20 ha, mostly in Avize, but also in Oger, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, and a bit in Cramant. Since 2001, they stopped using herbicides and insecticides (50% of the vineyard is plowed and 25% is planted with grass) and are working to obtain the High Environmental Value Certification (HVE). The vinification is traditional, with first and malolactic fermentation in stainless steel vats, although a small percentage of wines are aged in oak barrels, on their lees. For the brut non-vintage, bottle aging and dosage are adequate, but the higher-end cuvées enjoy extended aging and reduced dosage. The overall production is about 130,000 bottles per year.
These are very elegant and pure champagnes with minerality–a typical expression of chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs–but also depth, for a unique expression of elegance and balance. They are aged long enough to become rounder and richer, but never heavy, in a style very representative of Olivier’s personality: refined, warm, contemporary, and very pleasant to be with.
The range of champagnes is very wide, and a bit overwhelming, considering that they are all blanc de blancs, from one, two, or three of the grands crus they use. The starting point, Grand Cru brut non-vintage, is a blend of Avize and Oger, of the current year, plus the two previous. Aging is solid with three years in the cellar before disgorgement and a “standard” dosage of 9 g/l. It is very approachable, pleasant and pure, and I suspect it can show great evolution if kept aging at home. Apart from this champagne, all the others are mono-cru, most of them vintages, from Avize, but also Oger, and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, with longer aging and extra brut dosages. All of them are really nice, and I found it very interesting to discern the individual expression of each of these contiguous grands crus, with their characteristic chalky subsoil, but with chalk found at different depths, resulting in marked differences in the wines. My favorite is Oger, with its riper grapes, and rounder and richer wines, and in particular the prestige version (2012) made from old vines in a single parcel dubbed Les Belles Voyes. Fermented and aged in small oak barrels, on lees, for several years, and enriched with very little dosage (2,5 g/l), it is a feast for the palate: complex but surprisingly never heavy. Give it a few more years of aging and it will make waves in the world of champagne. I had the chance to taste it also recently disgorged, like literally disgorged in front of me, and it was great: so, refreshing, rich and balanced, but I find it even better with its minimal dosage.