Of the 19,000 growers in Champagne, 14,250 sell their grapes to négociant Champagne houses like Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, and Krug. These houses go on to make the delicious bubbles that we know and love. There’s no doubt that négociants can produce fantastic wines, but as the grapes are sourced from multiple vineyards, the Champagne produced does not necessarily reflect a particular terroir. The price of the production equipment for sparkling wine and the space required to age Champagne for as long as is necessary makes selling grapes a more financially sound option for many growers.
In recent years, grower-producer Champagnes (i.e. Champagnes made by the estate who grows the grapes) have experienced increasing popularity among consumers. For many years, most grower Champagne never made it out of France; small production, local fans, and the expense of exporting made it difficult for grower-producers to share their Champagne with the world. As consumers have become more educated about wine and importers have begun to seek out high quality, small production Champagne, some grower-producers have begun importing their bubbles to other countries. Theise and Kermit Lynch were among the first to begin importing grower Champagnes to the U.S. and, and they helped teach the American wine community about their virtues. The artisanal nature and strong sense of place found in grower champagnes have made them favorites among sommeliers, collectors, and of course, the team here at HDH.
You can identify a grower champagne by the “RM” (récoltants-manipulants or harvester-makers) on the label versus the “NM” (négociants-manipulants) that is present on the label of Champagnes made by négociant houses. The amount of grower champagne that is imported to the U.S. is still relatively small, but HDH has several delicious grower champagnes in stock, some of which we’ll taste at tonight’s Annual Summer Champagne Tasting! Among our favorites are:
1999 Diebolt-Vallois, Fleur de Passion : Diebolt-Vallois is located in Cramant, a small town in the Cote de Blancs. The chalky soils of this area are ideal for growing Chardonnay vines, so Jacques Diebolt and Nadia Vallois have focused their efforts on Blanc de Blanc Champagnes like the Fleur de Passion. This wine is only made in the best years, and is aged in barriques, resulting in hints of spice and nuttiness . The estate has recently become a négociant due to the fact that they purchase more than 5% of their grapes, however, they maintain a grower producer mentality and purchase fruit from vineyards which they farm themselves and are owned by extended family.
2006 Vilmart & Cie, Grand Cellier Rubis : Laurent Champs, the chef de cave of Vilmart & Cie is a strong believer in “wine first, champagne afterwards.” He focuses first and foremost on creating a high quality still wine before considering the other steps in the Champagne making process resulting in wines of great depth and complexity. The Grand Cellier Rubis is a powerful wine with excellent finesse on the palate.
NV André Clouet, Grand Réserve: Andre Clouet is a tiny grower with a mere 20 acres of land in Bouzy and Ambonnay. The vineyards have been in the Clouet family since 1751 and today, winemaker Jean-Francois Clouet makes a variety of small batch champagnes in a variety of styles. The Grande Reserve features Pinot Noir, which thrives in Bouzy.
NV Agrapart & Fils, Brut Blanc de Blancs, Les 7 Crus : The hand crafted wines of Agrapart & Fils are made by fourth generation winemakers Pascal and Fabrice Agrapart. The brothers are committed to creating a truly artisanal product and make only 5,400 cases of wine per year. The vines on their property average thirty-five years of age and are some of the oldest in the Cote de Blancs, resulting in complex and refined wines. The 7 Crus is a blend of Chardonnay from seven meticulously cared for vineyards, each in a different village in the Cote de Blancs.
Next time you’re in search for a top notch bottle of bubbles, consider a grower Champagne!