Wine - Chardonnay - Laurent-Perrier
In 1812 André Michel Pirlot established what now known as Laurent-Perrier. When his son and successor Alphonse died without heir the business was bequeathed to his cellarmaster, Eugéne Laurent, who began to expand with new cellars and vineyard holdings. When he too died in an accident in 1887, his widow Mathilde Emilie Perrier renamed the house Laurent-Perrier and built a reputation for good business sense and integrity that saw the house grow and expand into the British market in the late 19th century. She was able to pass the business on in rude health to her daughter Eugénie in 1925. Eugénie saw Laurent-Perrier through the difficulties of the Depression but finally decided to sell as the storm of war brewed in 1939. The new owners were the de Nonancourt family and so they are today.
Bernard de Nonancourt took charge in 1948, when the house was ailing in the wake of the Second World War. During the conflict he joined the Resistance and lost his older brother Maurice to the horrors of a concentration camp, and on his return from distinguished service with the 2nd Armoured Division under Leclerc in 1945 his mother made him serve a stern apprenticeship. He worked in every job in the vineyard and cellars before he could take the reins three years later, giving him an almost unique perspective as head of the business.
His determination and drive saw Laurent-Perrier embrace innovation, expansion, modern marketing and the pursuit of quality with verve and personality. He was a great innovator who oversaw the introduction of stainless-steel tanks in the 1950s when barrels were the norm for the fermentation and maturation of base wines. He also initiated the building of a thermo-regulated winery, the introduction of the multi-vintage premium cuvee Grand Siécle in 1959 (on the basis that the strength of the Champenoise had always been in blending), re-introduced the zero dosage Ultra Brut cuvee in 1981 and in so doing paved the way for the current popularity of such bone-dry wines, and was instrumental in the creation of the Laurent-Perrier Brut Rosé in 1968, at a time when high-quality, non-vintage brut rosé Champagne was not much made or regarded. Even then, the wine was produced by the saignée method of drawing off the juice after taking some colour from the skins rather than blending red and white wines together. It is a particular skill.
Bernard de Nonancourt was a great ambassador and a tireless one at that and by the time of his death in 2010 he had increased the sales of Champagne Laurent-Perrier a hundredfold from when he took over. His advocacy of the use of stainless steel for fermentation and storage has informed a house style of crisp elegance and freshness that remains in place to this day.
The Laurent-Perrier Group is now the fourth largest of all the Champagne houses, owning several other estates, exporting worldwide and contracting a network of than 1,200 growers to supply much of the fruit they need. They are based in the village of Tours-sur-Marne at the confluence, one might say, of three great growing areas - the Montagne de Reims, the Vallée de la Marne and the Côtes des Blancs. Today his daughters are part of the management team safeguarding the legacy of Bernard de Nonancourt.