Once again, I am off to Champagne! I know, it is a tough life I live…but someone must live it!
The land of bubbles. Synonymous with celebration and good times, Champagne is one of the most recognizable wine regions in the world, and yet probably one of the most misunderstood. All Champagne is sparkling wine, but not all sparkling wine is Champagne. This is a sentence that I wish more were familiar with as it is the single biggest mistake I hear people make time and time again (and I am a bit tired of being the guy that corrects people at a dinner table or during a festive soirée). I won’t get in to the fine details of what makes the wines of Champagne so special, but I wanted to talk a bit about why I am so obsessed with this region and why I get so excited when I am about to visit.
I try to visit the region in the off season. This is mostly because I prefer to avoid the massive hordes of tourists that fill the streets of Epernay and Reims during the warmer months. This is okay for me because I usually have scheduled meetings to discuss business (my day job is importing these beautiful wines) and therefore I don’t have to worry about restricted or even completely unavailable hours. If you are visiting as a tourist however, I always recommend being very well prepared and pay attention to hours. This is not Napa and they do shut their doors for weeks at a time, so be cautious. If you want to be even more adventurous however, branch out into the countryside and visit some of the smaller towns. You will almost always have to call or email ahead of time, but visiting some of Champagne’s smaller producers can turn your wine tasting experience into the authentic old-world fantasy that so many North Americans are dying to have. It is truly refreshing to get away from the crowded rooms or flashing cameras and speak with the people that actually tend to the vines and make the wine. This transitions perfectly in to why I am so obsessed with this region.
Grower Champagne. I tend to dislike trendy terms, and “growers” has certainly become one of them, but I have nothing but love for these trailblazers that are going up against the most successful and widely recognized wineries in the world. It is hard to imagine that there are thousands of producers in the region of Champagne, and yet for so long, only a handful have been relevant on the world-wide market. That however is starting to change, rapidly. Grower Champagne is a type of Champagne that is made by the domaine that grows the grapes (to put it basically). This means that all of the grapes that are used for wine making are grown, cared for, and harvested by the producer them self. This sounds normal when thinking about winemaking as a whole, but Champagne has been long dominated by larger houses that purchase their grapes [or sometimes already pressed grape must] from growers scattered across the region, and then blend to create their wines. Grower Champagnes will sometimes be labelled with a “RM” (Récoltant-Manipulant) on the label, while these larger houses will be labeled with a “NM” (Négociant-Manipulant). Grower Champagne has really become a hot topic in the last decade or so. It wasn’t until the 1980s that the “pioneers”, now highly regarded and uber famous (among the winos and sommelier), started their ambitious journey to the superb quality and terroir driven style that defines that market today. Since then it seems that many more are following that path and the world is taking notice. It used to be Dom Perignon, Crystal, Krug, Comte de Champagne gracing the top of the world’s best wine lists; while now that is a time of the past. While those are all still great wines and certainly remain on the best wine lists in the world, the time has come for the small, ambitious, and passionate growers to take the spotlight. It always brings me a rush of joy when I sit down at a famous restaurant with a passionately curated and well put together wine list to then see Jacque Salosse, Champagne Agrapart, Egly-Ouriet, Jerome Prevost, Frederic Savart…all of them staring back at me atop the list and sitting beside the largest and most successful wineries the world has ever seen, while fitting in perfectly. It is such a pleasure to see this changing of the guard happening in a region that has been without change for so long. There are other movements in the wine world. Natural wine (Ughh) comes to mind. Small regions that had no attention starting to gain some spotlight as well. There is always movement and exciting development stirring in the world of wine, but there are none so compelling, so David and Goliath-esque, as the Grower Champagne Movement that is quickly changing the landscape of the world’s most recognized, and talked about, wine region. THIS is why I am so obsessed with Champagne, and THIS is why I can’t stop returning to seek out the next passionate, driven, and defiant producer that is striving to make their mark on the pages of great bubbly.
So, hop on and come with me as I embark on my next adventure through one of the greatest places on earth! Let’s sit down with some of these trailblazers and find out what’s next on this wild ride that is Grower Champagne.