Francis Boulard & Fille
Delphine Boulard is the seventh generation of her family to work their land in Champagne. The Boulard family has been growing grapes there for literally centuries, with the oldest records dated to around the time of the French Revolution in 1792. For many years the grapes were sold onward, but eventually the family began to make their own champagne and ultimately they built a reputation for their high-quality wines.
In the early 2000’s, Delphine’s father, Francis Boulard, became increasingly interested in organic methods and pushed the family estate towards a conversion to organic agriculture. His efforts were rebuked, but this passion eventually led him to break away from the familial domaine to create his own organic and biodynamic estate. Delphine, who had worked alongside Francis for almost a decade and shared his vision, joined him in the venture and together they founded Francis Boulard et Fille in 2009. They built the domaine together, working through the many challenges that came from being one of the first organic producers in the region. They became a key part of the biodynamic renaissance in Champagne and produced a handful of cuvées that became widely known for a signature clean, linear style.
In 2016, upon Francis’ retirement, Delphine took the reigns. The estate is now just over three hectares, all farmed biodynamically – a real rarity in Champagne. For illustration, of the 400ha of vines in the Vallée de la Marne, only 3.2ha are certified organic (of which Domaine Boulard owns almost half).
Francis Boulard & Fille has been certified biodynamic since 2015. In the times of Delphine’s great-grandfather and great-great-grandfather, cultivation was guided by nature and the rhythm of the seasons. The elder generations of Boulards often considered the influence of the moon for timings for planting or working the soil. Delphine honours this tradition every vintage as she consults the lunar calendar to determine the best moments for vineyard activities or make winemaking changes in the cellar. She now uses an app to track these timings, but the intent and dedication is the same as her forefathers. And the benefits in the resulting wines are evident.
“Biodynamics means listening to the vine when it needs it. It makes you rediscover the profession, the terroirs, the parcel identity and the nature that flourishes.”
Harvest is timed according to the lunar calendar, but also to yield the highest possible natural sugar levels. Unlike most Champagne houses, the grapes at Boulard are picked when ripe. This produces vin clair (the base wine of Champagne) that are closer to typical still wine, making for champagnes that are rather vinous and have more intensity of flavours. This increased alcohol and natural sugars also means minimal or zero dosage is necessary.
The winemaking is as non-interventionist as possible, requiring regular and careful attention from Delphine. She uses comparative vinification to obtain the greatest possible complexity – grapes from different plots, terroirs and varieties are kept separate right from the moment that they are pressed. Grapes are pressed immediately after harvest using a 2-tonne membrane press for a delicate crush that gives precise control over the juice. The musts receive very low doses of sulphite, in order to preserve their fruit and allow fermentation to start quickly with only indigenous yeasts. All vinification takes place in wood and the wines are unfined and unfiltered. Delphine does 3-4 disgorgements a year, depending on cycles of moon, and then all wines are rested for six months on site to settle before release.View Wines
“We practice viticulture with respect.”
Francis, Delphine, Mathieu & Quentin
When Delphine Boulard took over full control of the estate, she vowed to continue to make the same high-quality, structured champagnes that had built the reputation of the house. However, she still had a few changes in mind; she moved the domaine to a new location, built a new cellar and decided to vinify and age everything in old Burgundian barrels and a few foudres.
She also continued with the concept of a family estate. Delphine’s son Quentin, 24, joined the domaine and now works alongside her. His focus is primarily in the vines. Delphine proudly says, “Our land is like his home garden. He cares for our vines with this kind of passion.” Last year Quentin created his own new wine, a new blanc de blanc called Cuvée Quentin, that is is a blend of four Chardonnay parcels across their holdings. It is bottled only in Magnum and will be released in 2025.
Delphine’s husband Mathieu handles mostly the administrative duties at the domaine. He receives visiting clients and manages orders, shipping etc. The family is completed by their adorable dog Indiana (as in Indiana Jones), who is a constant presence amongst the vines and in the cellar.Learn More
"It is really a family effort. To follow the system of being organic, of biodynamics, you must all believe in it, have the same convictions. We share this belief. And trust in each other. Plus, the passion is different when it is family.”
Delphine also has a real passion for Meunier, which she says was dismissed by the older generations. She sees now a growing acceptance of its potential.
“In the last 40 years or so more winemakers have come back to Meunier. Many winemakers pulled up theirs and it’s a shame, as it really gives great aromatics.”
Her other passion is making the biodynamic preparations herself. She turned on her beloved dynamiser for us and eagerly explained how the treatments are made and used. She finds the practice calming and restorative, and feels it brings her closer to the life of the vines.
Something we surely see reflected in her wines.View Wines
Faverolles-et-Coëmy, Champagne, France
The wine-growing area of Champagne extends across almost 200km, and is crisscrossed by rivers and shaped by rolling hills. This lays out a diverse patchwork of terroir, with the most compatible grape varieties for each area designated over the centuries. The undulating hills create slopes that offer varying degrees of sunlight, wind, drainage and different soils. Each of the three main growing areas are known for certain grapes and styles, and it would be easy to think of the Montagne de Reims as Pinot Noir territory and the Vallée de la Marne for Pinot Meunier. But exceptions are common in the world of wine, almost as common as in the French language. Domaine Francis Boulard et Fille has plots in both of these areas, growing all three grapes.
The Montagne de Reims is a forested plateau south of the city of Reims, which contains the majority of the region’s Grand Cru Vineyards, mostly planted with Pinot Noir. Some are focused on Chardonnay – typically sites that face east or have chalky topsoils. Domaine Francis Boulard et Fille has 1.6 hectares here in the Massif Saint-Thierry, the northernmost Champagne area. These were the first vines to be farmed with biodynamic practices over 20 years ago. Here both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grow on sand, marl and clay soils that make more structured and mineral wines. Further south there are three parcels of Pinot Noir and one Chardonnay in Mailly Grand Cru, where primarily clay soils make for fresher and more delicate wines.
"Each area creates a different expression of the same grape from different soils. I am fascinated to compare how very very different they can be every year."
On our recent visit we stopped by the domaine’s site in the Vallée de la Marne. The 1.3ha Boulard parcel is in lieu-dit called Le Paradis. It is made up of five large plots, with one exclusively planted to the Meunier used for the Les Murgiers cuvée.
The clay and sand soils here produce the fullest, ripest wines. Perched atop a hill, the south-facing Le Paradis parcel is constantly battered with strong, cold winds. We wondered aloud about the origin of the name, and Delphine replied, “It’s always like this. It’s really rough in the winter.” Given this plot was planted by Delphine’s great-grandfather, four generations of Boulards have braved this paradise.
A five minute drive downhill and we arrive at the new domaine in the tiny village Faverolles-et-Coemy. The original Boulard cellar was attached to Francis’ house, but it suffered a disastrous electrical fire in 2016. Knowing Francis was planning to retire in 2017, Delphine decided against rebuilding and instead searched for a new location that could house both her wines and her family.
“I was delighted to find this special place. I just had a feeling when I saw it. It is filled with history of the region, of agriculture. And yet I have also made it my own.”Location
She is now installed in a charming 18th century farm where she has plenty of space to create, age and store her wines, as well as raise a barnyard full of animals and even host a small gite (rental guesthouse). The sun-filled tasting room looks like a theatre set – with old relics and costumes leftover by the previous owner, who had created a small wine and agriculture museum onsite. The effect is quirky and fun, a domaine that mixes the past of champagne with the feeling it has been there for generations.
Delphine has indeed settled into her new home, and her winemaking is stronger than ever. She struggles with the persistent issues for winemakers today – weather, climate change and lack of resources. But she holds firm in her biodynamic ideals and feels they are the solution to the ever-changing conditions.
“The work I did many years ago when I started working with my father and what I do now are very different because of climate change.”
Delphine cites the leaf canopies as an example. She explains, “The vines just make more leaves. Before we took off all the leaves to avoid mildew and maladies, now we have to leave the leaves to protect the grapes from the intense sun.”
She also has revived a cuvée not made for almost 30 years, the Couteaux Champenois still wine. The increase in temperatures means more complexity and structure in the grapes, which she said is specially good for making still wines. She recently released a still red, a 100% Pinot Noir from the 2018 vintage. And she has just vinified a 100% Chardonnay. She said that the harvest last year, “…had good quality and good quantity, and I just had a feeling it was the right time to try something new.” The white wine will spend a long time of the lees and will be released in 2025.
We are gratified that Delphine continues the high-quality biodynamic legacy of her father, but also that she is following her own instincts and continuing to innovate in every respect. And we are especially pleased that we don’t have to wait to 2025 to drink more of her delicious champagnes!All Wines
Words by Allison Burton-Parker
Photography by Matt Hickman