Champagne is spread across 34,000 hectares of vineyards in the north of France. Within this area, 90% of the grapes that are used in the production of Champagne come from around 19,000 small grape growers.
The reason there are so many small plots is due to the Napoleonic inheritance laws, which require land to be split equally among children upon the death of the parent. Today, land in Champagne is very valuable, so is seldom sold. This means that many of the big producers, who produce millions of bottles a year, do not have enough land to sustain production, so must buy in grapes from other growers
There is however a growing number of grape growers who are no longer selling to the different houses, but making their own Champagnes instead. These are known as Growers Champagnes and can be recognized by the RM – récoltant manipulant – on the label. These small producers are becoming ever more popular due not only to the quality of the Champagnes they are producing, but also to the discerning Champagne drinkers who are seeking out something different.
While many of the large- and medium-sized houses work very closely with the grape growers from which they source their grapes, there are so many that it is virtually impossible to ensure that what is coming out of the vineyards is always top quality. The advantage that growers have is that they can control this quality as their vineyard area is usually very small, sometimes only a couple of hectares. The best ones work closely with the land and often farm organically or biodynamically. They are in the vineyards daily and are able to see when the grapes are ready to harvest, and furthermore do not have the pressures on time and volume that the big houses have. Such small-scale production and attention to detail also allows the wines to take on the characteristics of the vineyards themselves – terroir in action.
In the winery many growers age their Non-Vintage expressions for longer than the legal 15 months, and although may not have as much volume of reserve wines as the larger houses they can achieve as much complexity and depth. They may not have pretty boxes and employ big stars to advertise their products, but what they don’t spend on marketing goes into the wine and they often deliver excellent value for money.
This year we will have a selection of growers for you to try at the Champagne show