Grower Champagne - The New Artisans of Champagne
Monday, November 3, 2014 in News
Has Champagne become the most dynamic winemaking region in France? If the wave of artisanal grower Champagnes entering the market is anything to go by, it certainly appears to be the case. For over two centuries, the wine region has been dominated by a small number of well-financed Champagne houses producing iconic brands including Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot and Krug. Although the large houses and their world renowned brands still dominate the landscape, in recent years a growing wave of quality-focused artisanal growers has entered the market, producing Champagnes from their own vineyards that reflect and celebrate the individual terroirs of the region. From small beginnings, this movement has grown dramatically and is now profoundly altering the very landscape of the Champagne market.
Unlike France’s other wines regions, Champagne has traditionally promoted itself as a brand first and as a wine second. At the core of the big volume Champagne brands is a philosophy of consistency of style & flavour and the Champagne business itself has long hinged on a balance between the growers who grow the grapes and the houses who purchase them to go into their iconic brands.
In stark contrast, the grower movement in Champagne is anchored in the belief that Champagne is, at its core a wine, and ought to be thought of as such. It is this very idea that Champagne has its own terroir that can be expressed through small individual cuvées that has given rise to the burgeoning number of grower Champagnes now on the market.
The birth of the grower movement can be traced back to Anselme Selosse who as early as the 1980’s began practicing Burgundian vinification techniques with a view that Champagne itself had its own terroir that could be explored and expressed in much the same way as Burgundy. The success of Selosse inspired a generation of growers who saw that they too could perhaps go it alone and forge ahead to make their own cuvées.
Although Selosse pioneered this idea, it was not until the early 2000’s that the movement began to really take off. Serendipitously the grower movement in Champagne has also dove-tailed with a growing interest in eclectic individual, small production wines among a segment of sophisticated consumers.
Today, producers including Agrapart, Egly-Ouriet, Jacquesson, Larmandier-Bernier, Rene Geoffrey and Ulysse Colin are crafting top quality artisan Champagnes from their own vineyards that demonstrate a real sense of terroir.
So are grower Champagnes inherently better quality than the Grandes marques? While some in the wine trade would like to argue yes, the answer is that it is not much a question of quality but of difference. Just as there are great quality Grandes Marques Champagnes and some that underwhelm, so it is with grower Champagne. The key is to seek out the great producers and the great brands on either half of the divide and understand that what they offer as an experience is very different. In the end for connoisseurs, there is now a bigger world of Champagne to discover which ultimately is something worth celebrating.