We pride ourselves on the family of many passionate winemakers we have assembled over the years. That said, Franck Pascal is perhaps among the most passionate, especially about biodynamics. When you visit his seven hectare estate in the Vallée de La Marne, he walks though the vines, caressing the leaves, taking notes about colour and shape, feeling the soils and considering which homeopathic treatment might be needed. He visits the cellar, listens to his wines fermenting, and adjusts the music per the ‘energy’ he feels is needed. He describes his method, what he calls, ‘energetic biodynamic farming and spiritual engineering,’ without an ounce of pretension or irony. He knows each action he takes has direct effects on his grapes, on the life-force of his vines and ultimately the wines they create.
Champagne is a region still very dependent on agricultural chemicals, mainly through the misbelief they are the only path to high yields (and optimal profits). Franck is highly conscious of the harmful effects of these chemicals, and has been employing, and promoting, a chemical-free approach for over twenty years – long before the idea was understood, let alone accepted. He believes protecting nature’s fauna and flora must be a priority, and that man must work positively with nature, not against it, to protect the land for generations to come. And biodynamically farmed grapes consistently show an inherent freshness, making them the easiest path to protecting freshness in an ever warming climate.
“Freshness comes from more than acidity”
Yet Franck’s ethos goes beyond organic and biodynamic – employing naturopathic and energy healing methods at every step of the process. He believes it is essential to manage the energy levels in all living things – from soils to vines to worms – and that is the only path to growing vines that can showcase their full potential in fresh, pure wines.
Franck’s goal as a grower is simple: Healthy, ripe grapes with freshness and energy. These make acidity correction and dosage unnecessary, and create champagnes with character and charm. The results of his efforts speak for themselves – his range of crisp, elegant champagnes offers not only some of the the highest quality, but also incredible value. In an truly price-competitive industry, Franck is proof that even mainstream growers could transition from destructive viticulture and make noteworthy wines at reasonable prices.
Franck Pascal stands apart in Champagne, as a leader amongst those creating wines that celebrate the richness of the terroir and care for the planet.View Wines
"If assemblage is the story of Champagne, terroir is the scene. A scene that can be painted by careful farming."
Franck & Isabelle
A member of an established winemaking family, Franck initially turned away away from wine and pursued a different path. While working as a chemical engineer he was asked to train members of the military to deal with chemical warfare, and become well-versed in the atrocities that resulted. He was shocked to later discover that many similar chemicals were used in viticulture. After the accidental death of his younger brother, he decided to return to the family estate in 1994, but knew he could only do it on his own terms. He desired to live an authentic and pure life and knew he could only begin farming if he practised utmost respect for the land and avoided all agricultural chemicals. So he set about converting every practice of his family estate to biodynamic principles.
In 1998 Franck began his mission: to abandon all insecticides, weedkillers, fertilisers and chemicals in respect of biodynamics. His father gave him a plot of Pinot Noir that was ravaged by mildew. He began to work it without pesticides, telling himself that if biodynamics succeeded there, it would work everywhere. From the very first year the trial worked. So he extended these methods to the entire vineyard. He completely converted to biodynamic in 2002, and six years later he produced one of the first biodynamic certified growers champagnes.Q&A with Franck
Franck prioritises connection to the cycles of nature and the importance of energy in every step of wine growing and winemaking. He employs a litany of natural, energetic and spiritual methods: manual soil work, promotion of natural grasses, light therapies, tisanes, energy balancing ceremonies, aural stimulation and herbal oil treatments. He uses lab analysis of his soils to collaborate with his compost producer – and created a new form of fertiliser that contains volcanic sulphur, which frees elements that are often trapped in limestone after years of conventional farming. Franck says, "This recovers lost microorganisms and allows the grapes to express their true nature".
For many years, Franck’s wife Isabelle worked alongside him, helping to develop many of his energy treatments. He now works primarily with a tight-knit team of seven who share his philosophy and dedication to energetic biodynamics. The day of our recent visit his father stopped by for a chat and a chance to taste Franck’s latest Couteaux Champenois the often overlooked still wine from the region. We all agreed it was exceptional.View Wine
"We have developed a deep sensitivity for nature, the human body and the energy treatments carried out on our vines… Our wines speak for themselves."
Franck actively tries to decrease yield, and tastes his grapes frequently to be sure to harvest at right time. With each sample he considers four elements – not just the usual sugar & acidity levels. For Franck the important qualities are tension and minimality.
The majority of Franck’s wines have zero dosage. He uses the ancestral method, which was created by the Benedictine monks in the 16th century. This process differs from the traditional method in that there is no sugar added – not at harvest, fermentation or dosage. Franck believes added sugars diminish the true nature of the wine, so all of the sugars come from the grape itself. To do this the base wine must be of the highest quality, as there is nothing to hide behind. "This is only possible when the vineyards are healthy and thriving, with a true symbiosis between vines, soils and nature" he says.View Wines
Domaine Franck Pascal is nestled in the village of Baslieux-sous-Châtillon, between rolling hills of vines and seasonal crops in the Vallée de la Marne. His vineyards are dominated by Pinot Meunier (60%) with equal measures of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. This area is dominated by Meunier because it buds as much as ten days later than Pinot Noir or Chardonnay, which can be a saviour when Spring frosts threaten, as is common here.
His terroir of clay with flint and millstone is fragmented over seven communes on the right bank of the Marne valley. His wines are a testament to the benefits of biodynamic respect of the land, but also further evidence of the Marne’s increasing reputation as a source of some of the most interesting grower Champagnes.
The area has a long history of grape production. A fossilised vine leaf found nearby dates from the paleocene era – between 55 million and 66 million years ago! Franck sees this as reassurance that vines will survive here no matter what, as they have already endured millions of years of dramatic climate changes. While he acknowledges consistent climate disruptions are an issue, he says man’s challenge is to let vines be free from chemical interference, so that they can face these changes using their own deep resources.
"Each of our wines are eloquently individual, an expression of the growing season, together with our personal winemaking philosophy and techniques."
Franck says when he converted his vineyards to biodynamic and stopped adding anything to the soils, it effectively created a fasting state for the vines, and forced them to adapt to the new conditions. This caused yields to drop by half, but he saw the cleansing was necessary to remove harmful substances from the soil. He fastidiously monitors the balance of all living organisms on the domaine, adapting herbal treatments as often as necessary. For the parts of his parcels that border neighbours who are farming chemically, he sells those grapes onward to avoid risking they pollute the purity of his harvest.
Only indigenous yeasts are used, sulphites are limited (or sometimes excluded), and he does not filter or fine his wines. Bottling takes place when he feels the energy of each wine is right, which can be as late as August. He regularly plays music in the cellar saying it, "amplifies the pure vibrations in the wine."
Franck avoids using barrels for fermentation or storage, which he believes makes the wine too earthy and heavy. He prefers to develop natural the tannins in grapes. He formerly used stainless steel, but felt it led to a reduction of aromas, and now prefers enamelled iron tanks (see photos below!). The company that custom-made these vessels for him has gone out of business, so the indefatigable Franck searches for and buys old ones, then meticulously restores them. Most of the tanks have been hand-etched with elaborate vinous engravings, which Franck says improves their beauty as well as their energy.
Franck’s Champagnes are an homage to both mother nature and to the terroir, and his exacting dedication to preserving both is rewarded in each cuvée. He defines himself as a grape grower, a winemaker and a "creator of emotions" – a moniker to which anyone lucky enough to enjoy one of his bottles will surely agree.Location
"The equation is simple: the more we respect the balance of nature, the more we improve the quality of the end product. Everything is intrinsically linked."