Getting geeky with Champagne
With Grande Marque Champagnes making up more than two thirds of total Champagne sales and comprising 90% of the region’s exports, it’s no secret that Champagne is a category dominated by the big houses.
But with increased interest in, and favour for, hand crafted, artisanal wines, it’s high time we pay more attention to Grower Champagne.
“In recent years we have seen the emergence of an important, growing, separate market for what you might term craft Champagne, made by both growers and independent Champagne businesses,” says Richard Siddle, award-winning business journalist and owner of The Buyer. “They might only make up a fragment of the total Champagne category, but they are the Champagnes that can really make a big difference to a restaurant or bar’s overall offer.”
Bibendum wine development director, Willie Lebus, says, “At Bibendum our approach to Grower Champagne is no different to any other key region of France. There is an established demand for both the big houses and growers, and we are thrilled to be adding two growers to our roster.”
Jamie Avenell, Bibendum buyer for Champagne, agrees: “While we have a good range of both Grande Marque and independent Champagne producers, we were lacking smaller artisanal, Grower Champagnes. We’ve added two to our range, making sure our Champagne offering encapsulates the same from small artisan producers that we take for granted in other categories.”
So what makes a Grower Champagne, well, grower? Legally, the producer needs to own 95% of the vineyards they use to make their Champagne, in order to put the RM (Recoltant Manipulant) classification on their label.
But there’s so much more to making them growers than this. Jamie explains: “Great growers’ operations are generally much smaller, with less marketing and brand awareness, offering more bang for your buck. Top growers are usually family owned and operated, crafting unique, individual wines – some from small, single-vineyard plots.
“However, adding a Grower Champagne shouldn’t be about replacing a Grande Marque,” Jamie says. “There’s increased competition for Champagne across the board and Grower Champagne is a way for the category to compete in the growing arena of interesting, hand-crafted wine.”
Willie adds: “If customers feel more comfortable selling Grande Marque Champagnes, there is no reason to desist. But now that there is a growing group of inquisitive wine drinkers that are interested in discovering new flavours, it is the perfect time to begin offering the more individual flavours coming from Grower Champagne.”
Meet some of our Grower Champagne producers:
A Grower Champagne from the very beginning, Fabrice Pouillon continues to build on what his father and grandfather created, crafting truly unique and artisanal Champagnes.
Owning 6.5ha of land across the Grand Cru of Ay, and throughout the Vallee de la Marne and Montagne de Reims, Fabrice creates expressive and terroir-driven wines that are vibrantly aromatic. Dedicated to the vitality, energy and health of his vineyards, Fabrice began the conversion to organic in 2003 and today also incorporates biodynamic principles.
The wines age in a combination of older oak demi-muids and barriques, where everything undergoes complete malolactic fermentation. Reserve wines are aged for up to 18 months in wooden tanks and there is a ‘solera’ system in operation, with wines dating back to the late 1990s.
Now in their third generation, family-owned Lacourte Godbillon is a top-quality and well-known Grower Champagne from the Montagne de Reims. For current owner and winemaker Geraldine Lacourte, their vision is simple: the wine must be an expression of its terroir.
They are true growers in every sense, owning all 8ha of their vineyards and working with a small team of only five people (except during harvest, of course). Lacourte Godbillon are in their second year of converting to organic production and have started to implement biodynamic practices.
95% of their grapes are grown on the Premier Cru terroir of Ecueil, an area well known for incredible Pinot Noir production. This varietal constitutes the majority of plantings across their 50 different plots.