Franck Pascal had a strange path to becoming a master of Champagne wines. Once an engineer, he got into winemaking following the sad death of his brother: “That taught me life is priceless,” he writes on his blog, “and that’s why I am dedicated to create and preserve the best possible life for our vines, those who work for us and those that buy our wines and make our life possible.” But it was national service that really led Pascal to choose the path of creating an organic method of wine production: “After military service taught me all about the horrors of biological warfare and its effects on humans, I wanted to learn better methods of working with nature rather than pesticides and herbicides for vines.”
These days, Pascal is famous for his natural approach to winemaking. He began to transform the estate’s methodology in 1998, and by 2007 he was officially certified as an organic producer. In fact, he goes much further than many others in attempting to create the perfect wine, bringing in not just natural, organic and biodynamic principles but also naturopathic ideas more commonly associated with acupuncture. This involves taking into account the energy levels in living things, from the vine to the soil itself. Treating the vines in this way, he believes, gives them the ability to reach their full potential.
He even convinced his compost producer to create a new form of fertiliser, based on a lab analysis of his own soil. It contains volcanic sulphur, which allows the liberation of elements that are usually trapped in the limestone. This is one way of recovering the microorganisms often lost after years of conventional farming.
His small estate, in the village of Baslieux-sous-Châtillon, is spread over five communes, providing him with variations of terroir. The clay-rich soil is mostly ploughed by horse. As a result of this, he avoids using barrels for fermentation or storage, which he believes makes the wine too earthy and heavy. Pascal grows 60 per cent Pinot Meunier, as well as equal measures of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. As you might expect, he only uses indigenous yeasts and does not filter or fine. Bottling takes place as late as August.
The area has an exceptional history of vine growth – a fossilized vine leaf was discovered nearby, dating back an astonishing 55 to 66 million years. That gives Pascal hope that, whatever impact humans have on the climate, vines will find a way to adapt as they have done throughout history.
* Listen to Franck Pascal's podcast on Interpreting wine, by Lawrence Francis
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