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Champagne Dreams Do Come True

Tendil et Lombardi’s Journey

In Les Misérables, Fantine laments, “I dreamed a dream in times gone by, when hope was high and life worth living.”

Many can relate while few seem to attain such a creed.

For Stéphane Lombardi and Laurent Tendil, that dream was to produce their own champagne. With unwavering certitude, they strived, struggled and conquered.

Friends for almost 30 years, Tendil and Lombardi always had a passion for champagne.

“In our 20s, while most of our friends headed out to the clubs, we were more interested in tastings… always looking for that new great champagne. It’s been a dream of ours for a very long time to get into the business,” Lombardi reminisced.

Both had careers in top management positions in multinational companies but in 2006, ideas started to flow. Then in 2007, ideas started to elaborate and take form.

“That was how we got our start,” Lombardi explains. “I had known a few producers for a long time, and there was one I really wanted to work with. I proposed the idea for the project, talked about renting a few parcels, vineyards and facilities. He agreed, and we began making our own champagnes.”

For Tendil et Lombardi, their champagne had to reflect their passion for the concoction. Most champagne houses produce blends of the three major varietals in champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. But Tendil et Lombardi decided to go mono varietal.

In doing this, Lombardi proclaims, “we think it’s the purest expression of the grape and that’s really what we are looking for. So when you taste our champagnes, you can taste a difference because there’s no blending.”

Tendil et Lombardi also made their mark on the market by producing three champagnes as opposed to one like many of the old champagne houses. They produce Blanc de Noirs, Blanc de Blancs and Rosé de Saignée.  The one blend they offer is aptly named Grand Cuvée Hyménée. In Greek it means “perfect marriage” and is made of 50 percent Chardonnay and 50 percent Pinot Noir.

“The cuvee features our best parcels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and it’s a really small cuvée producing only about 8,000 bottles a year,” Lombardi says.

Their quest for quality extends further than just the fermentation room. Both Tendil and Lombardi are hands on during harvest.

“The grapes are all hand-picked to make sure there is no damage when they get to the winery. The juice from the first press is the purest juice with the least influence from the stems and seeds of the grapes, and that’s the only juice we use to make our champagne. The juice from the second and third presses gets sent off to the bigger champagne houses that need it for their champagne production,” Lombardi explains. “Then to have the champagne appellation on your bottle, you need to age your wines for at least 15 months, but our non-vintage cuvée is aged for at least 24 months. That helps to give more aroma, more structure and more characteristic of the grape to the champagne.”

There are so many steps and specific processes that take place when producing champagne but Lombardi can easily name his favorite moment.

“The best moment is always around the end of August, beginning of September because that’s when we know the acidity level and sugar content in the grapes, and that’s the moment you have to be really smart about deciding what day you’re going to start harvesting,” Lombardi exclaims.

“Because sometimes you can wait three or four days too long and the rain will start pouring and that will be extremely damaging to the grapes. I love the excitement surrounding the decision when to harvest.”

Much as Lombardi makes the process of starting one’s own champagne company seem easy on paper, there were times of doubt and nights of talks back and forth about whether their dream could soar.

“Although we started this project in 2007, the first champagne cuvée didn’t see the light of day until 2011. So during the long process of growing, harvesting, and aging the champagne, we needed a lot of investment, mostly from our own pockets,” Lombardi recalls. “Some nights Laurent would call me and say ‘I think we should just stop what we’re doing right now because this is really crazy.’ And I would say, ‘No, no, we’re going to be fine, don’t worry.’ Then a few weeks later I would be the one to call him looking for reassurance.”

With the help of their wine producer from the Aube region (Cotes des Bars), they had their first cuvée in late May of 2011.

Now Tendil et Lombardi have six cuvées on the market in eight different countries.

“Our aim from the beginning has been to produce top quality champagne. It’s the only way we can expect to conquer some of the market share,” Lombardi says. “We have a true passion for champagne. It’s a product we really love and have for many, many years. And if we were ever going to take the risk to pursue a project like this, it would have only been for champagne.”

Obviously, their passion and dedication to quality champagne has shown though. Following their debut, rave reviews from Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast and Stephen Tanzer came through the door. All reviews were 90 points and up.

“We are not out of the woods yet. We still have a long road ahead before we can expand the project and take the business to the next stage,” Lombardi states. “But we are definitely much further than I expected. It’s really exciting. We still have those moments where we have our doubts but we’re really happy with the progress we’ve made.”

The next 10 years look promising for Tendil et Lombardi. They would like to start buying land instead of renting and they’re already looking ahead to producing new cuvées.

“We are looking to expand our volume slowly, while keeping our quality as high as it has always been. We are looking to introduce new and fun cuvées to the market,” Lombardi explains. “We would love to do something really interesting with champagne.  Finding the best parcels we can, to have the best expression of the typical limestone terroir in our region of champagne… that is really our goal.”

A dream come true for both Tendil et Lombardi and champagne lovers around the world.


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    Theresa Dillon

     
    Theresa Dillon
    Theresa Dillon earned her bachelor’s degree in print journalism from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at ASU. In her spare time she enjoys reading, attending concerts, weekly trivia nights, watching movies (especially her favorite The Wizard of Oz), and of course wine.