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Francis Boulard is a fifth-generation Champagne grower who worked for decades in the vineyards and cellar alongside his father Raymond and his siblings at their family estate, Raymond Boulard. Its reputation was built on terroir-focused wines far earlier than many of its time. That said, when Francis joined the family business in 1973, France was in the midst of an era of widespread conversion from more old-fashioned farming to more conventional, i.e. chemical-based, agriculture. While Francis inevitably adopted some of those newer ways in the vineyard, he always stuck to using only native yeasts in the cellar, the same as his grandparents had done before them. Then in he found himself at a crossroads in the mid-1990’s: a lab analysis showed traces of chemical residue in the wines. Francis was shocked and quickly turned his attention in a more organic direction.
Then a grower friend in the Loire introduced Francis to Rudolf Steiner’s theory and practices of biodynamics. Although new to him, the approach itself - treating the vines homeopathically, as part of a whole ecosystem, observed and managed in sync with lunar and seasonal rhythms - felt instinctive to him, and in line with the naturally holistic farming traditions of his grandparents. Francis persuaded his family to allow him to experiment with a 1-hectare section of their vineyards. After three years of farming it biodynamically and vinifying that fruit separately from the conventionally farmed fruit of the same site, he was completely convinced by the compellingly expressive quality of the resulting wines; however, he could not convince his siblings to the convert the whole estate to biodynamics, so he took his third of the estate and formed Domaine Francis Boulard et Fille with his daughter Delphine in 2010.
Today, Francis and Delphine work a mere 2.75 hectares and produce about 2000 cases in a normal vintage. Their main share of the family vines lies in the Massif de Saint-Thierry, the northernmost point of the Montagne de Reims region, where Chardonnay thrives on the sandy limestone soils. Further south, they grow Pinot Meunier in the Vallée de la Marne and Pinot Noir in the Grande Montagne of the Montagne de Reims. The farming is entirely organic and biodynamic (partly certified in biodynamics, with a goal of 100% organic certification for all of their holdings).The vines average 35 years old and are about two-thirds selection massale at this point. Biodynamic preparations are applied according to the lunar calendar; ploughing by horse is carried out 4-6 times per year to maintain weed cover between rows; and winter pruning is rigorous to restrict yields.
The fruit is harvested by hand at maximum ripeness—Francis feels that this is vital to achieving balance in the wine naturally, with a minimum of or no dosage. Boulard uses only first-press juice, which is fermented in oak of varying sizes with only indigenous yeasts. The wines go through malolactic fermentation and remain on their lees with regular stirring. They are put into bottle with no fining, a bare minimum of sulfur and natural yeasts to kick off secondary fermentation. The bottles are hand-riddled and hand-disgorged, after 2 to 5 years sur lattes. Francis bottles about a quarter of their production without dosage; the rest are finished with a small dose of 3 to 5 grams per liter of concentrated grape must to maintain Extra Brut dryness. The Boulard wines are broad and rich, with complex autolytic character, pierced with serious minerality and acidity. They are forward and vinous, yet pure and expressive of grape and terroir.
Click here for an excellent interview with Francis Boulard on the Louis-Dressner website.