Grower Champagne: An Introductory Guide

Grower Champagne: An Introductory Guide

Champagne, the iconic sparkling wine from the eponymous region in France, has long been associated with luxury, celebration, and the grand Champagne houses that dominate the market. However, in recent years, a new category of Champagne has been gaining attention among sommeliers and wine enthusiasts: grower Champagne. But what exactly is grower Champagne, and why should you care?

What is Grower Champagne?

Grower Champagne is crafted by small, independent producers who grow their own grapes and make their own wine. Large Champagne houses (think basically all the main Champagne brands) generally source grapes from numerous vineyards across the Champagne region to maintain a consistent house style. By contrast, because grower Champagne is by definition made by producers from their own grapes, grower Champagne is all about terroir – the unique character imparted by the specific place where the grapes are grown.

When you drink a glass of grower Champagne, you're experiencing the distinct flavours and aromas that reflect a single vineyard or closely located plots, the particular vintage, and the artisanal touch of the winemaker. This means that each bottle of grower Champagne tells a unique story, offering a glimpse into the fascinating world of small-scale, hands-on winemaking in Champagne.

How do You Identify a Grower Champagne?

To identify grower Champagne, look for the letters "RM" (Récoltant-Manipulant) on the label (they are often tiny and part of a larger series of letters or numbers). This indicates that the producer grows at least 95% of the grapes used in the wine. In fact, the letters on a Champagne label can tell you a lot about how the wine was made:

  • “NM” for "Négociant Manipulant": This classification applies to Champagne houses that source more than 6% of their grapes from external growers, blending them to create a consistent house style year after year.
  • “RM” for "Récoltant Manipulant": These are the true grower Champagnes, crafted by producers who grow at least 95% of the grapes used in their wines, allowing them to express the unique terroir of their vineyards.
  • “RC” for "Récoltant Coopérateur": When a grower collaborates with a cooperative facility to produce Champagne but markets the wine under their own brand, the bottle will bear the "RC" designation.
  • “CM” for "Coopérative Manipulant": When several smaller growers pool their resources and grapes to produce Champagne under a single, shared brand, the resulting wines are labeled as "CM."
  • “SR” for "Société de Récoltants": Similar to "CM," this designation is used when a group of growers collaborate to share resources; however, they maintain their individual brands and market their wines separately.
  • “ND” for "Négociant Distributeur": This label is reserved for companies that purchase finished Champagne from producers, then label and distribute the wines without being involved in the growing or winemaking process.
  • “MA” for "Marque d'Acheteur" aka "Buyer's Own Brand": Restaurants, retailers, or other businesses that purchase Champagne directly from a producer and sell it under their own private label use the "MA" classification. contrast, "NM" (Négociant-Manipulant) denotes larger Champagne houses that purchase more than 6% of their grapes from other growers.

Is Grower Champagne Better?

It really is more a question of style than quality. While the big Champagne houses are renowned for their consistency and finesse, grower Champagnes offer something different – a sense of authenticity, individuality, and connection to the land. These artisanal wines often showcase a more expressive and diverse range of styles, from the racy and mineral-driven to the rich and full-bodied. Grower wines aren't necessarily better (or worse), but they are unique and each tell their own story.

Tell Me Why I Should Care

For those seeking a more intimate and authentic experience, a grower champagne's artisanal bubbles offer a fascinating journey into the terroir and savoir-faire of Champagne's small-scale producers. In drinking them, you're not only discovering unique and expressive wines but also helping to sustain a rich heritage of family-owned vineyards and traditional winemaking practices.

As you explore the world of grower Champagne, remember that each bottle is a reflection of a specific place, time, and the people behind it. Embrace the diversity, savour the individuality, and raise a glass to the passionate artisans who craft these extraordinary bubbles. So, the next time you're perusing the Champagne aisle, keep an eye out for those magical letters: "RM." – and let yourself taste a little slice

Stay Nosey!