Pierre and Sophie Larmandier are the dynamic duo behind Champagne Larmandier-Bernier, one of very few biodynamic growers of the premium beverage. Their relatively small Champagne house is comprised of around 15 hectares of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes in some of the finest villages in the region, including the premier cru village of Vertus.
We were fortunate enough to meet with Pierre and Sophie to discuss their unique approach and highly-coveted drop.
1. How long have you been growing and producing Champagne? Together, we have been dedicated to Champagne since we graduated in 1988. However, Champagne runs through Pierre’s veins. He was born in Vertus; his family has been growing vineyards and producing Champagne for several generations.
2. What is biodynamic Champagne? Biodynamic farming means our vineyards are grown and cared for with specific applications to help the plants have their own self defence and stay balanced all year, without the use of chemicals. It is true that this is not so easy to do in Champagne, especially during periods of rainy weather (not the case in 2015 though!) We have to be very present and very attentive to each vineyard, so that we can react quickly when necessary to nature’s challenges.
3. Why did you decide to start producing biodynamic Champagne? We are blessed to have wonderful premier cru and grand cru terroirs and as such have the opportunity to produce really great wines. We believe the best way to achieve this is to pick the tastiest grapes possible. Biodynamic farming results in healthy and well balanced plants, enabling us to wait until complete ripeness before harvest – for example, we don’t need to rush because of acidity falling down or because of rot. No magic added flavour can replace a fully ripe fruit! We then focus on respecting this top quality in the wine making with few interventions, natural fermentation in top oak barrels and long elevage. Time, precision and 100% dedication at every stage are key for us.
4. Appreciation of the terroir (soil composition) is vital to the cultivation and creation of Champagne. Why is this the case? Terroir is a critical element. It is the level from where you start, in Champagne and in any other wine regions. Of course, you need a great winemaker to achieve great wines, but you cannot have the structure, the rich but elegant flavours and the long aftertaste if not from a great terroir.
5. What are some of the challenges with growing and producing biodynamic Champagne? Of course, biodynamic farming comes with risks, as you are more exposed to the elements. We have no boss or shareholders, so we take the risks that we can accept. Some years it may mean less yield. However, the reward is in the glass!
6. Does biodynamic viticulture create a different taste profile for your Champagnes? Over the 20+ years that we’ve been farming biodynamically and making wines naturally, we noticed an evolution towards more frankness, more vibrancy, more liveliness… and possibly also a greater ability to age.
7. What is your favourite bottle of Larmandier-Bernier that is currently in the market? Terre de Vertus 2009: this warm vintage suits very well to the chalky, pure and delicate terroir of Terre de Vertus.
8. What is a great dish to EAT with a glass of Terre de Vertus 2009? Oysters. This match is based on the saltiness – since Terre de Vertus is non dosé, sugar does not disrupt the pleasure.
9. Where can Sydneysiders DRINK a bottle of Larmandier-Bernier? We are pleased to be served in several great restaurants in the CBD, East, North and Inner West of Sydney: Aria, The Apollo, Longrain, Billy Kwong, The Ivy, Bathers Pavilion, Oscillate Wildly, One Penny Red, Sydney Cove Oyster Bar (by the glass) and Four in Hand (by the glass).
10. What do you do for PLAY? We run. When in Vertus, we run in the vineyards – we can relax and talk together while running, we feel more alive when running. When not in Vertus, we like to run early in the morning to explore the place and refresh our minds (especially if the night before was full of great food and wines…)
Pierre and Sophie have just commenced their 2015 harvest. They commenced with their pinot noir grapes around September 10 and their chardonnay grapes around September 12.