Tuesday, April 8, 2008
I went down to Vertus this afternoon to taste vins clairs at Larmandier-Bernier. Having failed to check my biodynamic calendar (I actually do keep one on my desk), I was unaware that after 4pm, today is a root day, meaning that it’s prime time for treatment of the vines. As I arrived, Pierre Larmandier was finishing up the preparation of a tank of 501 (horn silica, used to strengthen a plant’s resistance to pests and help it to better assimilate nutrients and light), and was on his way to spray it onto his vineyards by helicopter.
Larmandier-Bernier is the only biodynamic producer in Champagne to spray by helicopter, although there are many other producers who use helicopters for chemical treatments. The Larmandiers have been using helicopters since 2003, and have been very pleased with the results. “For conventional viticulture a helicopter isn’t nearly as good, because it’s not very precise,” explains Sophie Larmandier. “But for biodynamic viticulture it works very well. It spreads the preparation very evenly over the parcel, in a sort of cloud. You don’t need a high concentration of the tisane in the vines, so this treatment works perfectly.”
She notes that another advantage of using a helicopter is that it gets the job done much more quickly and efficiently, which is an important issue with biodynamic treatments since they are time-sensitive. “There are only so many root days on the calendar, and with 16 hectares of vines, we couldn’t get to all of them in time,” she says. “It wasn’t until we started spraying by helicopter that we were able to work the entire domaine biodynamically. The helicopter covers the whole estate in one and a half hours, whereas by tractor it would take us two full days to cover the same area. Also, the less we have to use the tractors the better, to avoid compacting the soil. It’s expensive to rent a helicopter, but if you consider the cost of two days of labor, plus gas for the tractors and whatnot, it’s not really that much more. And it’s an improvement in quality.”