Talk to enough Champagne drinkers and you will hear them talk about the wonders and magic of small production Grower Champagne. So what’s the difference between regular Champagne and the Grower version, and why should you care?
It’s a classic story of David and Goliath featuring grapes in place of a sling. You’re probably familiar with some of the names of the Big House producers: Moët & Chandon, Henriot, Louis Roederer amongst the more prominent. Big House producers buy grapes from different vineyards, so one bottle of Champagne from a Big House can sometimes contain grapes from 80 different vineyards, some owned, some contracted from smaller growers. In contrast, Small Growers produce wine comprised of grapes grown solely from their own vineyards.
While the Big Houses produce vintage Champagnes, the bread and butter of the operation is the non-vintage Cuvee, done in a consistent house-style: it’s a considerable challenge and an art to produce a consistent, recognizable Cuvee every single year from the varying sources and quality of grapes, but this is accomplished by skillful blendings of multiple vintages and vineyards. There is a comfort to knowing that the bottle of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label you’re opening today will taste about the same as the one you enjoyed over dinner last month.
Conversely, Small Growers have focused on their single-vineyard, single-vintage Champagnes which highlights the quality of a single vineyard tended to by the winemaker who is also the farmer. Tasting the distinctiveness and intensity of the grower’s terroir can be a fabulous adventure, but adventure can be accompanied by variability as Mother Nature’s influence–both brilliant and significantly less so–can become all too evident through the prism of a single-vineyard.
A good portion of the bottle you Perrier-Jouët you purchased goes towards the marketing war-chest. Chances are you know of and started drinking Big House producers because of this Goliath marketing clout which you’ve seen in the form advertisements and product placement…leading to control over 90% percent of the Champagne market as a whole. In the battle of the bubbles, Small Grower producers are the underdogs, often times with very little marketing and precious little brand recognition. Taking a chance, instead of selling grapes to the Big Houses they choose to go out on their own and craft a product that reflects the land they farm and their philosophy in the winery.
In a market where Big Houses rule, Small Growers have found their way onto influential wine-lists with the help of dedicated Sommeliers. To all the Sommeliers out there championing Grower Champagne, thank you for making a significant impact on shaping trends and moving the market in fascinating (and delicious) new directions.
Check out our blog on sales data for BTG Champagne sale in December powered by the BinWise Data Visualization Platform.
Leave a comment and let us know what your favorite Grower Champagne is and where Champagne lovers can find it.