VISIT AND TASTING AT CHAMPAGNE LARMANDIER-BERNIER
Sophie and Pierre Larmandier are a reference in the Champagne area. From La Tour d’Argent in Paris or Atera in New York and Quince in San Francisco, their wines are available in the most prestigious establishments and served on the highest ranked tables around the world. But what makes Sophie and Pierre’s champagnes so precious and so desirable for the best sommeliers around the world is their wine-making process. During one of the sunniest – and one of the few – day of this summer 2016, we met the two winegrowers at their estate in Vertus – a village located in the Côte des Blancs. A visit to understand their philosophy – well-known for its respect of nature – as well as to discover a little bit more about their highly individual and mineral cuvées.
Philosophy : an all-natural approach
Known for the quality of their wines, the Larmandier-Bernier family are well-known in Champagne and contributed largely to the change of vision in Champagne. Indeed, Sophie and Pierre through their passion to preserve the earth, understood quickly that the creation of a great champagne – as for all the other great wines – starts in the vines and the work in the vineyard is essential in the wine making process. Even though it also implies to be ready to accept a more reasonable yield depending on what the nature offers them.
For sure, the winegrowers did not chose the easiest way of the common practice but instead they value a respectful viticulture, origin of their wines that are a pure expression of their terroir.
For Sophie and Pierre, the trigger happened during a trip in Alsace and Bourgogne during which they met with other winegrowers from great estates in the wine area and who are working with living soils… a natural viticulture was just completely self-evident…
Today, the couple manages about fifteen hectares within the terroirs of the Côte des Blancs – Vertus classified in Premier Cru and Oger, Chouilly, Cramant and Avize for the Grands Crus. Terroir-friendly, the couple obtained both the organic and biodynamic label, however they do not claim them as their ambition goes beyond doing just organic wines.
The approach of the Larmandier-Bernier includes a high consideration of life, vines cycles and the soils fragility – ploughing for deep roots and for living soils, moderate and measured yields, old vines, no fertilizer used… The objectif for Sophie and Pierre is not just to do chardonnay but to create wines with character. Following the same logic, they chose the organic and biodynamic methods not only because it is right but also because it is good. Furthermore, it should be pointed out that the winegrowers are not looking for acidity in their wines but they make vibrant and highly individual champagnes with strong personality, flavors, aromas and above all emotions.
Winemaking : attention to details for emotional wines
Once the grapes harvested, the winemaking process continues following the same natural approach – gentle press for purer juice, a bladder press, a natural fermentation using indigenous yeast, each cru is vinified separately… The objective for the Larmandier-Bernier is to respect what nature provided… – blending or single vineyard, casks, vats or egg-shaped modern cement vats with permanent stirring for the rosé – different methods depending on the terroir in order to highlight the individuality of each cru.
Natural malolactic fermentation , a light and gentle stirring depending on the cuvée and the years, aging on on lees for wines with flavors, authenticity and character, temperature regulated fermentation in stainless steel vats for the reserve wines – every details has its own importance in the approach of Sophie and Pierre who own a large casks and vats stock. However, the wood barrels are not used for the woody notes but to express the complexity of the wines – each of them is rigorously selected to prevent the tanins of the wood from influencing the incomparable taste of the champagne.
In July, once the wines bottled, they are stocked in the 70 years-old chalk cellar of the family where they wait and aged patiently at 50-54°F (10-12°C) – 2-3 years for the blended champagnes and more than 6 years for some of the cuvées. The family also keeps few bottles of each good vintage for the vinothèque in order to perpetuate the history of the estate and see the evolution of the wines – this year, the family tasted together a 1964 vintage for a great emotional moment…
The range of the winegrowers is made of cuvées with discreet and low dosage – between 0 and 3gr/l – for pure wines without any artifice and reflecting the character of their terroir. A style that is also expressed by the single plot champagnes of the winegrowers. Indeed, in 1988, Vieilles Vignes de Cramant became one of the first single vineyard cuvées, followed by Terre de Vertus in 1995 and the Rosé de Saignée in 1998. However, it is only in 2009 that Pierre and Sophie’s will to create a single vineyard champagne from Avize became reality thanks to the purchase of a smaller press in order to isolate the two plots – it was the beginning of Les Chemins d’Avize.
Each bottle of Champagne Larmandier-Bernier is easily identifiable thanks to its batch code : L – for batch in French – followed the initial of the cuvée and the year (ex : TV13 for Terres de Vertus 2013). And for an easy reading, the disgorgement date is added.
A tasting around terroir
After the cellar, back in the elegant tasting room where Sophie and Pierre presented their single vineyard cuvées for a pure moment of emotion : fresh, pure and saline wines that are the authentic taste of the grapes and the terroir of the House Larmandier-Bernier.
ROSÉ DE SAIGNÉE 2013
«A gourmet rosé»
A gourmet rosé made exclusively from old vines of Pinot Noirs. The beautifully ripe grapes from the harvest 2013 were selected, destemmed and left to macerate for 2 to 3 days before the bleeding. After a natural fermentation – with indigenous yeast – in tank and the malolactic fermentation, comes the maturation on lees for about one year. It is only after aging at least 2 years in the Larmandier-Bernier cellar that the bottles are disgorged with a 3gr/L dosage.
The color is an orange-pink with deep garnet glints. The nose is highly expressive and fruity, developing peach notes. The palate is mineral and offers profound fruity flavors as well as a smooth finish with an intense sapidity from the terroir. Sophie recommend you to pair this gourmet and refined rosé with a tuna tartare for an epicurean tasting.
TERRE DE VERTUS 2009
«The purity and salinity of Vertus»
A selection of two plots for this vintage : Les Barillers and les Faucherets located in the mid-slope in Vertus and facing south-east ; an ideal exposure for this parcel, however it is also the salinity and the purity of the terroir that seduced the family in 1995. From only one grape variety – Chardonnay -, one terroir and one year : Terre de Vertus was born. After a gentle stirring, no filtration or fining, this cuvée aged at least 4 years in the cellar of the family before being released without any dosage for a pure expression of the terroir of Vertus
The color is a straw-gold. The buttered nose is elegant and the palate brings a nice minerality. It is easy to recognize the saline and spicy notes in this cuvée. Generous with chalky notes, this champagne is elegant, warm and well-balanced despite the absence of any dosage.
As for the 2010 vintage, the palate is taut, fresh and always with this saline notes.
LES CHEMINS D’AVIZE 2010
«The very essence of Avize»
This monocru Blanc de Blancs is vinified in casks and wooden vats with light stirring and on natural lees. The aging goes gently sur lattes during at least two years in the family cellar before being released. Sophie and Pierre chose a light dosage (2g/l) to highlight the purity of this cuvée from the terroir of Avize.
The color is a light gold. The nose is delicate with vegetal aromas. The palate is complex and delicate with a long finish and brings a profound salinity.
VIELLE VIGNE DU LEVANT
Previously called Vieille Vigne de Cramant, this cuvée made exclusively from the old vines of the vineyard of Cramant with vines aged from 52 to more than 80 years and with an East exposure for rich and powerful grapes. Thanks to the deep roots and the high diversity of the vine stocks, this wine develops a nice and rare complexity. After a natural malolactic fermentation in Stockinger casks and wooden vats, the wines aged slowly in the cellar for 7 years for a perfect and complex maturity.
The color is a light straw-yellow. The nose is expressive and offers buttered but moka notes as well. The palate brings a nice a voluptuous structure with a clay distinction and saline notes on the finish. The light extra-brut dosage (2g/l) allows to appreciate the balance of this wine as well as the nice and long finish.
BONUS : COTEAUX CHAMPENOIS FROM THE TERROIR OF CRAMANT
Sophie and Pierre also produce a red Coteaux Champenois – a 100% Pinot Noirs from Vertus- as well as white one – a 100% Chardonnay from the terroir of Avize. Portraitsdebulles got the opportunity to taste this elegant and refined white still wine…
A 100% Chardonnay from a single Grand Cru terroir and a single harvest – 2008 – vinified in white with both the alcoholic and malolactic fermentations with indigenous yeast in casks. The maturation lasts 18 months in oak barrels on lees with light and gentle stirring. No filtration or fining for this still wine in order to keep of the essence of the terroir.
The colour is a light golden yellow. The nose – generous and expressive – offers delicate and chalky mineral notes with fresh grapefruit aromas. The palate is pure and refined with mineral texture and a nice saline finish. This highly individual wine charms with its minerality and its subtlety.
Responsable : Pierre and Sophie Larmandier
Location : Vertus (Côte des Blancs)
Majority grape variety : Chardonnay
Other grape varieties : Pinot Noir
Vineyard surface : 15 Hectares
Viticulture : All-natural – Organic and Biodynamic certified
19, avenue du Général de Gaulle,
Photo credit: Alexis Guerchovitch