The Grower Champagne movement is picking up steam, and for consumers, this is a very good thing. The Champagne region of France produces annually over 350 million bottles of delicious bubbly and this production can be divided between two groups: the big “Houses” with the familiar names like Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Pol Roger, Taittinger et al. and the “Growers”, a group whose members have flown largely under the radar…until recently.
The Houses own 12% of the vineyard land in Champagne but account for 69% of total production. They buy from the Growers the balance of the grapes that do not come from their own vineyards. The Houses aim to express the entire region and to do it with consistency. The key to their ability to turn out a consistently good product year in, year out is through blending. They will typically blend anywhere from 5 to 20 vintages and blend grapes from up to 80 separate vineyards, often from throughout the region.
Growers own vineyards and sell some of their grapes to the Houses but also keep back some for their own production. Growers are vastly different from the Houses in their approach. Rather than expressing the whole region and consistency, Growers seek to express place and individuality. Growers do blend, but in a more focused way. They will typically blend from within a single sub-region, a single village, and sometimes produce from just a single vineyard. The result is an opportunity for consumers to determine the stylistic differences of the various smaller sub-regions within Champagne as a whole, to identify with a terroir, to choose a style that reflects their own individual tastes. These attributes are rapidly pushing up the North American sales of Grower Champagnes over the past decade.
Another factor accounting for the popularity of Grower Champagnes is price: they are typically less expensive than comparable Champagnes from the Houses. The reason for this is that the Houses have firmly established Champagne as a luxury brand and this takes considerable marketing dollars. The Growers are content to sell based on their reputation as established by critics and bloggers reviews, where they enjoy a terrific reputation.
An interesting set of facts about the Grower Champagnes is that internationally they account for only 13% of purchases but in France, where they seem to know their Champagne, they account for 45% of purchases.
At Advinetures, we too are unabashed fans of the Grower Champagnes. We love their individuality and we have enjoyed the process of learning about the different profiles of the different sub-regions. Our personal tastes probably lean more toward the Cote des Blancs, where the Chardonnay based wines come from the villages of Cramant, Avize, Oger and the storied Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger. Our recommendation is to try Grower wines from across Champagne and see if there is a sub-region (in Champagne called Department) or village (in Champagne called Aglomeration) that most reflects your individual tastes.
A partial list of Grower Champagne producers currently available in Vancouver (by vendor) is presented below. Marquis has the largest selection and they have really done their homework on the category. In subsequent blogs we will review some of the Grower Champagnes, so check back to see which ones you want to enjoy and have on hand as Champagne’s most popular season approaches. By the way, if you are browsing the Champagne shelves and wondering if a particular bottle is a Grower Champagne, you can tell because it will have the initials “RM” on the label. This stands for “Recoltant-Manipulant” which indicates the wine was made from estate-owned grapes. The Houses will have the initials “NM” on their label for “Negotiant-Manipulant” indicating their wine is made from grapes purchased from others.
At Marquis Wines
Bernard Bremont, Jacquesson, Jose Dhondt, Serveaux, Gaston Chiquet, Le Brun Servenay, Jacques Picard, Bruno Gobillard, Godme, Paul Bara
At Everything Wine
Ployez Jacquemart, Varnier-Fanniere, Coop Le Mesnil, Krug
At BC Liquor Stores
Diebolt Vallois, Varnier Fanniere, Pierre Paillard, Pierre Peters, Marguet, Coop Le Mesnil
At Liberty Wine Merchants
Serge Matthieu; Champagne Fleury; Champagne Alain Vesselle