I believe that we, as champagne consumers, should be looking to small production grower champagnes this festive season for our Christmas party and New Years Eve party bubbles, whether we're drinking champagne at home or visiting one of London's best champagne bars; and here's why.
There are about 100 champagne houses in the region of Champagne in France and more than 20,000 vignerons - individuals that cultivate vineyards for a living - who cultivate vines to serve the production of Champagne.
The popularity of champagne has for a long time been associated with the success of producers in marketing the estate and the wine. The majority of champagne exported throughout the world is made by the Negociant Manipulant (NM) type of producers; those who don't produce their own grapes. The vast majority of large brands fall into this category, as they source grapes mainly from small scale vignerons rather than producing the grapes themselves.
These champagne houses are well established and produce a consistent style of champagne. They buy grapes from other estates to serve the mass market and add their signature to the wines.
Recoltant Manipulant (RM) producers - also known as grower champagnes - make wine from their own grapes in their own estates. Grower champagnes have historically struggled to find a foothold in the international market, however consumers today are more educated about the quality of this category, and are therefore more likely to make decisions based on the taste and heritage of the liquid rather than the name and packaging. This helps explain the resurgence of grower champagnes and their popularity, likely due to the following:
1) Terroir - As most consumers are now aware, terroir, meaning the specific characteristics of the land from which food and drink originates, is an important part of the character and uniqueness of the taste of the final product that they consume. Grower champagne houses make wines from their own grapes grown on their own estates, allowing them to maintain full control over the production process and keep the consistency of the terroir. Large brands source their grapes mainly from small vignerons from the whole champagne area, so although they maintain consistency of their house style, control over the process and the relationship between terroir and final taste is lost. Grower champagnes therefore have more character than big brands. Rather than an emphasis on ‘house style', the real taste of the terroir is revealed. The wine is stylish, elegant and understated with impeccable taste.
2) Family business - Whilst the big champagne houses have grown into large businesses affiliated to powerful groups, most of the grower champagne houses remain family-owned businesses, maintaining the art and tradition of producing champagnes which has been passed down through generations.
3) Natural wines - Grower champagnes are mainly natural wines showing low dosage of such additives as sulphur, as well as much lower sugar content. This means that they are usually lower in calories than big brands, whilst the lower sulphur content invariably means less chance of a hangover!
4) Quality at reasonable price - Grower champagnes offer a better price-quality ratio. They are usually more reasonable than big brands due to lower marketing expenditure, but they display a much higher quality than their competitors. In short, I propose that feedback from wine experts proves than grower champagnes stand for integrity and passion for quality, and for this reason we firmly believe that they have more to talk about than big names champagne brands.
Champagne Gaston Chiquet first planted vines in 1746. However, champagne production didn't begin until 1935. Since then, they set up their own label and now have an annual production of 240,000. Using a blend of the most common three champagnes: Pinot noir, Meunier and Chardonnay, Champagne Gaston Chiquet has made a name as one of the top.
The Champagne house Egly-Ouriet is a family house running since four generations. The house is small in terms of production but large regarding the exceptional quality of its champagnes. Egly-Ouriet impresses with its inimitable class, producing 100,000 bottles on a yearly basis.
Not far behind on annual production, the Gimomet family - Champagne Pierre Gimonnet - have been growers for over two centuries producing wine under their own label since 1930s. The family own 25 hectares of Chardonnay grapes and it is one of Champagne's greatest exponents of pure Chardonnay.
Last but no means least, Champagne Laurenti offers an outstanding quality champagne at 90 years old, with its rich heritage dating from 1923. Production on Laurenti has been reserved to the French market since it was founded and, since recently opening in the UK, the quality is found to be much higher than all competitors.
Do you have any feelings or opinions you'd like to share about small production Champagne growers? Please use the comments field below.
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