In the vast world of sparkling wine, one name stands out above the rest, Champagne. This
uniquely French product (remember that unless it’s produced in the Champagne region of
northern France, it can’t be called Champagne) always conjures memories of celebrations and
conviviality. Whether you enjoy the less costly non-vintage versions from Moet Chandon,
Roederer or the various Heidsieck houses or are willing to sacrifice the mortgage for Salon Clos
du Mesnil, Dom Perignon or Crystal, Champagne always makes the dreary bearable and makes
good, great. And why do we prefer one house over the next? Consistency. We can always depend
on that brioche and baked fruit tarte of Krug or that perfume and finesse of Perrier Jouet or
that strength and balance in Dom Perignon. But there’s another seldom seen side of the world
of Champagne. The small grower-producer Champagnes.

Champagne Production

All Champagne (and all other sparkling wine) starts life like any other wine, in the field as
grapes. As in the case of still wines, the grapes are first crushed then the resulting juice is
fermented producing rudimentary still wine as we know it. Champagne is unique in that this still
wine is then bottled with additional yeast and sugar for a secondary fermentation that occurs in
the bottle. This secondary fermentation gives Champagne its effervescence and the additional
aging on the expended yeast adds another layer of complexity to the finished Champagne.
In the States, we’re accustomed to wineries growing their own grapes either by eventually
purchasing vineyard land or signing exclusive contracts with growers for specific vineyard areas
just for their use. Still wines in France are no different with most chateaus growing their own
grapes with a process controlled from grape growing to wine bottling. However the large
Champagne houses rarely grow their own grapes. Imagine Moet Chandon which produces 1 to 2
million cases of Champagne annually growing their own grapes. That would require vast
amounts of real estate and the labor that grape growing entails. So how do they do it? By either
purchasing grapes from a multitude of growers or in some cases, purchasing still wines from
primary producers then blending wine from 70 to 80 different sources for that consistent house

The Recoltant-Manipulant

The Recoltant-Manipulant is the Champagne producer that grows the grapes, ferments the
initial run of juice then performs the secondary fermentation in the bottle which eventually
produces that nectar known as Champagne. The big difference between the Moets and the little
guys is the involvement from start to finish. But what is the actual difference? Since the grower-
producers depend just on their own production of grapes, their product will usually have some
degree of terroir or uniqueness of soil. And since growing conditions vary from year to year, the
end product will vary more than you’ll see in the large Champagne houses. But you like
consistency. I understand. If I could experience that 1996 Noel Verset Cornas after 12 years of
bottle aging or that 1985 Conterno Barolo after 15 years of aging, I would like that experience
with every bottle I tried. And while Veuve Cliquot makes a consistently good product, I do
enjoy the nuances of difference every vintage produces. This is what you see with grower-
producer Champagnes.
One potential benefit of exploring the world of grower-producer Champagnes other than
enjoying a product made like most of the wines of the world is purely economic. Because prices
are based on the usual supply-and-demand theory of economics, grower-producer Champagnes
aren’t in as great a demand as those from large houses  - mainly because most consumers just
don’t know anything about them. Therefore prices are usually a lot lower than the large
Champagne houses. A grower-producer’s tete de cuvee or high end bottling is usually in the
same price range as non-vintage Veuve Cliquot. Same or better quality and lower price, I say
purchase as much as you can store.

The Tasting

His is a sampling of a recent Grower-Producer Champagne tasting held at Vino. The first
commentary is taken from either Burghound or Robert Parker. The second set of commentary
humbly comes from yours truly.

Philipponnat “Royal Brut Reserve”
“A pretty, fresh, round, supple style of bubbly with great delicacies”.  This cuvee is blended from
25 different Crus, mainly Pinot Noir from just south of Montagne de Reims with a small
amount of Chardonnay and a dollop of Pinot Meunier.  90 points Burghound
With a Chardonnay like color and a nose of honeyed orange and orange peel with slight mineral
notes. Nice richness on the palate with good Pinot character and a long finish. (4/5)

Jose Dhondt Blanc de Blancs “Grand Cru”
A terrific “grower” Champagne…100% Grand Chardonnay from the village of Oger in the Cote
de Blancs.  The most frequent descriptors one hears of this fantastic find….. uplifting, pure,
sublime, classy, pedigreed.  92 points Robert Parker
Straw color with loads of mineral and honeyed citrus on the nose. Concentrated but not heavy
on the palate with a seamless flow and a long finish (3.75/5)

Pehu Simonet Brut “Grand Cru”
Another STELLAR artisan, handcrafted, “grower” Champagne.  Frequent descriptors…. “malty,
meso terroir”, firm and savory, sumptuous”.  90 points Robert Parker
Mineral, lime and white flowers on the nose with honeyed citrus on the palate with good Pinot
character. A seamless flow over the palate with a very long finish. (4.5/5)

Henri Billiot Rose “Grand Cru”
One of our absolute favorite artisan, “grower” Rose Champagnes.  Only five hectares of Grand
Cru holdings, so the quantities are miniscule. Frequent descriptors include billowing fruit, lacy
length, sheer loveliness, superb grip and solidity, tiny bubbles”.  92 points Robert Parker
Stone, underbrush and orange peel on the nose with a burst of citrus peel on the palate then
stone and fruit concentration. Nice flow with a long finish. (4/5)

Our tasting group also sampled a couple of other grower-producer Champagnes including:

J. Lassalle Brut Rose “Premier Cru”

Mineral and red fruit on the nose with a moderate concentration on the palate and a very long
finish. (4/5)

1998 Michel Dervin Brut

Loads of herb on the nose with moderate fruit concentration with dried red fruit and orange
peel and loads of Pinot character with a long finish. (4/5)

Jacques Selosse Blanc de Blancs Initial “Grand Cru”

Citrus followed by brioche and spice on the nose with a good concentration on the palate. Rich
but also with a nice flow over the palate and a very long finish. (4.5/5)

You might notice that these Champagne are designated as “Grand Cru” or “Premier Cru” as you
might expect to find in Burgundy. That designation indicates that the grapes are 1st or 2nd level
quality grapes and aren’t simply from designated vineyard areas like the grapes used by the large
Champagne houses. And it’s usually the case that great grapes make great wines which in turn
makes great Champagne. Try some grower-producer Champagne and you won’t be disappointed.
A voitre sante’.
Small Bubbles from the Small Guys