Grower Champagnes

11/15/2006 -

Champagne is a region in France where wine production is dominated by a handful of brand names - think Moet, Veuve Cliquot, or Nicolas Feuillate, for example. These brands produce 80% of the total output in Champagne, but they own only 12% of the vineyards. Instead they purchase grapes, juice, and even sparkling wine from all over the region. They bring to market their own "house style"; a sparkling wine made in a highly interventionist and formulaic way, with rapid pressing, centrifuging, extensive use of chaptalization, acidification, cultured yeast strains, enzymes, yeast nutrients, and rapid fermentations. We're told that sometimes they just put their label on wines made by someone else... Millions of cases of these industrial wines are produced every year, and their producers spend fortunes on promoting them; the cost of all of those glamorous ads and fancy boxes are inevitably recovered from those of us who buy the wines.

By contrast, small growers (or "Recoltant-Manipulants") handcraft limited quantities of Champagne from individual villages and parcels where the inherent qualities of the vineyards imprint themselves into the wines. Grower Champagnes are estate-produced and bottled wines, and the same people who grow the grapes also vinify and age the wines. They have 100% control over the product from vine to wine. Not one of these growers is the least bit like any of the others - having one certainly does not preclude having another. These winemakers are brave souls in an industrialized age - growing, crafting, and bottling their own Champagne, and offering it to the world as their life's work.

We've been working hard - it is work, you know! - to assemble a fine group of Grower Champagne; don't miss this chance to taste these truly distinguished artisan wines.

NB: American wine drinkers are particularly in debt to Terry Theise, who pioneered the importation and introduction of Grower Champagne in the US. Some other importers have finally begun to catch on; while there are some great wines from those companies, there are also some rather mixed results - just because it's a Grower Champagne doesn't mean it's fabulous. If you're ever not sure how to pick a quality Champagne, just look for Terry's name on the back label - we guarantee you it will be excellent.

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