Well, it seems like I am getting into a rhythm here even if it has taken me three months to do so…
This week, I had the opportunity to go for a tour and tasting at Champagne Larmandier-Bernier, located in the village of Vertus, which is at the southern end of the Côte des Blancs – home to chalky soils and Chardonnay. Owners for the past 30 years, Sophie and Pierre Larmandier, own 17 hectares of vineyard land throughout the Côte des Blancs region including Grand Cru villages of Cramant, Oger and Avize as well as the 1er cru village of Vertus. At Champagne Larmandier-Bernier, all fruit that goes into their wine is exclusively estate grown.
In the early 1990’s, the Larmandiers started to study and research biodynamic farming practices. The estate is biodynamic and has been certified organic since 2003 – they are stewards of sustainable champagne production. They have not used chemicals since 1992, they plough the soil and use only native yeast. My visit was led by the couples’ knowledgeable son, Arthur, who spoke about farming practices, “The difference between chemical farming and biodynamic farming is that when chemicals are used, they go directly inside the plant. With biodynamic farming, we make organic plant infusions to feed our vines to help them survive.”
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier is known not only for its excellent champagnes and dedication to the environment, but also for their very low dosage levels – their highest is 4 grams. I commented that I appreciate lower dosage levels in my champagnes. Arthur responded, “It is only possible to make great quality ‘Extra Brut’ and ‘Brut Nature’ champagnes if you work from the soil forward.” He went onto say that in the past, selling their low dosage wines in France was very hard and 80% of their wines were exported out of country – mostly to Japan and Australia. But, as the trend now in France is for ‘Brut Nature’ and ‘Extra Brut’ champagnes, it is easier to sell their wines locally.
The tour headed downstairs to the cellars where there was not a single stainless steel vat to be seen – only oak barrels and two concrete eggs (which are used to make their Rosé de Saignée from Pinot Noir). All Larmandier-Bernier blanc de blancs champagnes are made exclusively in barrels that are, ‘not too toasty – we want to make our wines in wood and allow them breathe’.
NV Larmandier-Bernier Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru Extra Brut – Pinot Noir macerated with a hint of Pinot Gris for brightness. A delicate salmon colour with hints of gold, this champagne is bold, refreshing and balanced. Their Rosé de Saignée hit all the right notes for me – flavours of cranberry, rhubarb and raspberry with a flirtation of floral and a dusting of minerals. Charming. €56
NV Larmandier-Bernier Longitude Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru Extra Brut – this 100% Chardonnay champagne is sourced from their different estate plots that lay on the same line north to south where the chalk is close to the surface. This wine is linear and driven with an electric energy – loads of minerality yet great depth of fruit with a hint of nuttiness and apple tart flavours. This blend includes approximately 30% of reserve wine which was started in 2004. Fantastic. €39
2012 Larmandier-Bernier ‘Terre de Vertus’ Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru Brut Nature – this is an incredible wine and one that reflects the Larmandier’s utmost attention to detail. It is a ‘snapshot’ wine of one year and one plot of land – the ultimate terroir champagne. With no sugar added, this wine exudes a chalky salinity yet has a beautiful fruit structure. It is rich and delicious with an incredibly long finish. Delicious. €53
2009 Larmandier-Bernier ‘Vieille Vigne du Levant’ Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Extra Brut – from a single vineyard plot in the top northern part of the Côte des Blancs on a SE facing vineyard in Cramant, the vines were 60 years old at the time of harvest. This is the vineyard where Pierre Larmandier learned how to biologically farm. Full and flavourful with notes of walnut, toasted pear, crème caramel – this is a luxurious, terroir-driven wine. Outstanding. €72