Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Grower Champagne: Viva La Revolución!
The approximately 261 Houses, also known as Negociant Manipulants (NM), may legally purchase as much of their grapes as they wish. Some of them own vineyards, but it is a small proportion. In 2010, the Houses produced about 69% of all the Champagne, yet they owned only 12% of the vineyards. The rest of the vineyards, generally broken down into about 280,000 plots, are farmed by about 15,000 independent growers, most who do not produce Champagne. 10 large Houses account for 55% of all Champagne production and Moët & Chandon alone, the largest House, accounts for 13% of all production, about 24,000,000 bottles. Over 90% of the Champagne which is imported into the U.S. comes from these Houses.
So why should you care about Grower Champagne?
In some respects, House Champagnes are a mass produced commodity, made into a specific House Style which is consistent year to year. Year to year, you basically know what they will taste like. To some, despite their great popularity, these House Champagnes lack soul and character. In addition, they can be quite expensive, and much of that added price is due only to marketing costs and not production costs. I am not a big fan of a number of these House Champagnes for those reasons. But, I find much to love with Grower Champagnes.
And one of the best aspects is that they are often much cheaper than House Champagnes because they lack huge marketing budgets which only serve to increase price. You might find a delicious Grower Champagne for $50 which would cost at least $100, if not more, if it were a House made Champagne. Do you really want to pay so much more just to support a Champagne's PR campaign? I would rather pay less, especially as I can get a Champagne of at least as good quality, if not better, than something at twice the cost.
Back in 1997, the U.S imported only 0.62% Grower Champagne, but that has changed with time and now the U.S. imports over six times that amount. Much of the credit for the growth probably lies with Terry Thiese, the famed wine importer, who has done much to raise awareness of Grower Champagne in the U.S. His portfolio includes numerous Grower Champagnes, some incredible and reasonably priced sparkling wines. The demand for these Champagnes should continue to grow once people learn more about them, and have the opportunity to taste. They stand poised to be the next big revolution in Champagne.
Penet-Chardonnet, Pierre Gimmonet & Fils, and Collard Picard. They produced some of the best wines I tasted that trip, wines of character, reflective of terroir. In the near future, I will be discussing more details of these Growers, including some specific reviews. But even before the trip, I had tended more toward Grower Champagne and the trip only reinforced my prior beliefs. Yes, there are some excellent Champagnes being produced by Houses and Cooperatives, but don't ignore Growers. In fact, take some time to explore Grower Champagne and see why they are being eagerly sought by some wine lovers.
What are your thoughts on Grower Champagnes?