Grower’s movement aims to remove the elite stigma from fine wines.
Champagne has long been viewed as the top tier of sparkling wines. Popping open a bottle of bubbly is associated with holidays and special occasions, and the biggest names in high-end champagne reinforce that image with marketing campaigns that portray the celebratory nature of the beverage.
However, champagne is actually a versatile wine that pairs nicely with any meal. As part of a new industry trend, winemakers are eager to reinforce the concept of champagne as a table wine.
A brief history of traditional champagne.
For the most part, champagne has remained a relatively exclusive industry. The big houses—brands such as Veuve Clicquot, Piper Heidsieck, and Moet & Chandon—represent more than 70 percent of champagne sales, despite owning only around 12 percent of the vineyards that produce grapes for champagne.
It’s common practice for these big houses to buy large lots of grapes from several different growers, big and small, which are grown in different soil types and microclimates throughout the Champagne region of France Often these grapes are not quite ripe, which allows the production houses to obtain maximum yield.
This practice of combining grapes grown in varying conditions, along with industrial manipulation of the fermentation process, lets large champagne houses maintain consistency of production, achieving a uniform product every year.
The importance of location.
Many wine connoisseurs are familiar with the subtle differences among wines, depending on the growing location of the grapes used to make them. For example, when it comes to California wines, there is a noticeable difference between those from Napa Valley and from Sonoma, and even differences in the wines from individual vineyards.
Champagne has the same effect. In fact, French winemakers are very serious about the concept of terroir—the geographical origin of grapes used in wine production. Wines are labeled by locale, with Bordeaux referring to a specific area on the southwest Atlantic coast, and burgundies originating from a particular area in central France.
Many regional growers in France have taken to emphasizing the locality differences that bring a broader range of flavor and subtleties to champagne, a direct contrast to the uniformity of big house production, in the grower-champagne movement.
Grower’s Champagne: Individuality for everyday enjoyment.
Grower champagnes, which are becoming known informally as “farmers’ fizz,” are blends made by the actual growers, both in France and California. This movement highlights the idea that champagne is an excellent beverage choice for any meal, not to be reserved for special occasions.
While grower champagnes possess the same quality as the larger houses—and in many cases a higher quality—these small winemakers keep their price points lower than the big players by refraining from spending big bucks on advertising. But grower champagne is not a “cheap” imitation, with bottle prices ranging from $40 to $80.
French food origin laws enable grower-producers to label their wines with the designation RM (recoltant-manipulant), which indicates that the champagne has been fully grown and produced by the grower. This permits wine lovers to identify and enjoy grower champagne blends.
The new domain of champagne.
Today’s wine drinkers are embracing the grower champagne movement, which celebrates the subtle, diverse, and often sublime benefits of terroir. With more growers choosing to produce these individual blends, champagne may lose its elitist standing and become a wine that’s enjoyed on a more casual basis, at tables across the country and around the world.