August 20, 2010 Champagne Larmandier-Bernier
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus
The first light of morning in a bottle, on a beach in Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland.
I can’t say I had ever been an enthusiastic drinker of champagne. I agreed with Andrew Jefford (as I often do) when he referred to it as “traditionally a wine of great appeal rather than particular excellence.” I had, however, been hearing about so-called “grower champagne”, the product of a single vignernon, not wine blended from grapes harvested by a multitude of growers, as is the case with the vast majority of champagnes. Neither is it fermented using commercial yeasts. With a greater sense of terroir, it seemed to offer hope for a re-evaluation of what is, in the eyes of many, the most prestigious of wines.
The 16 hectares of Larmandier-Bernier was to be the testing ground. It is the domaine of PIERRE and SOPHIE LARMANDIER. Following study in Alsace and Burgundy, Pierre assumed control of the family vineyards in the late 1980s and during the next few years the couple, amid the skeptics, made the move to biodynamic methods.
The premier cru standing in the sand is from the grapes of three adjacent parcels in the village of Vertus. It has been fermented half in large wooden foudres, and half in stainless steel, using only indigeous yeasts (ones that occur naturally on the bloom of the grape). It is non-dosé, meaning after the disgorging (the removal of the spent yeast deposit), the bottle is topped up with the same wine, not with sugar as is usually the case. The champagne is made entirely from chardonnay, and is therefore a blanc de blancs. It is from a single harvest (2006), although with its early release it could not be vintage dated.
The refreshingly honest and informative website of Larmandier-Bernier indicates that the path to natural viticulture has not been easy. “…we used to be considered harmless dreamers, so people left us alone. Today, given…the success enjoyed by ‘singular’ wines, our approach, which is certainly a bit elitist, disturbs people.”
The proof of the approach is in the bottle.
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus Premier Cru
This wine is here for a celebration – the publication of a new novel.
It has qualities which I have never before discovered in champagne. (And I suspect it is not because my wallet doesn’t expand to the aged and ultra-expensive.) This champagne has character, complexity, a natural sense of place. There is a feeling of yeast, and clearly a minerality, an earthiness. My interest continues unabated. It is drunk with a group of friends, eliciting tasting comments ranging from a green edge of bitter, to hints of sauerkraut and fermented wheat. Yet through all its flavour range, it is balanced and poised.
An experience that is in need of celebrating itself. $$
An experience brought across the Atlantic via the legendary London wine shop Berry Bros. & Rudd. Speaking of a wine experience full of character…