Of all the wine classes I teach, Champagne remains my favorite subject. Students engage, eager to learn; the class feels like a casual conversation about artisans who inspire me.
My presentation always includes a wine flight showcasing the differences between the two main types of Champagne producers one would likely find at their local wine shop: The large well-known maisons, or Grandes Marques, and grower producers.
The Grandes Marques serve as the calling card of this illustrious place—carrying on a 350-year-old tradition that makes this region unparalleled. Stroll down the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, once called Fabour de la Folie (“crazy suburb”), and you will find the famous names of Moët & Chandon, Pol Roger, Boizel and Vranken, just to name a few.
As much as we know about the Grandes Marques, there is much to discover about grower Champagne, which accounts for less than 5% of total Champagne imported to the U.S.
Champagne’s terroir is owned and cultivated by more than 15,000 growers, creating an incredible mosaic of varying expressions. However, only 26% bottle their own wine and produce on average 5,000 cases annually. By definition, growers produce wines with estate-owned fruit, with a maximum allowance of 5% of purchased fruit.
Due to limited production and land holdings, the imperfections of vintage variations are common in these wines. They can be quite charming—if not transcendent in great years. What’s revealed in the glass is always surprising—one can taste the vintage, the terroir. Low to zero dosage is commonly implemented, for better or worse, to provide the drinker the purest lens into that sense of time and place. To note, growers represent 90% of land ownership and drive quality standards. Today, producers are embracing full regional conversion to organic viticultural practices.
Plenty of grower Champagnes remain under the radar, so enjoy the relative affordability while you can. When these revered wines are discovered, prices can often compete with those of the Grandes Marques. These are wines you’ll want to grab now. Remember, there are multiple ways to approach Champagne, even beyond the Grandes Marques and grower categories. But, for now I hope this provides you inspiration for further discovery.
Structured, yet expansive on the palate with pronounced orchard fruits of fresh Bosc pear skin, lemon verbena, mandarin orange oil, a vein of dried pineapple, hibiscus petals, salted fresh almonds and fresh brioche. There’s also a cut of acidity and firm chalky mineral finish that is electrifyingly refreshing and carries through its fine perlage. Cellar or enjoy it now with gently braised proteins and rich firm fish with a creamy herb sauce.