Sparkling wine is a go-to for the holiday season, and for very good reasons. Not only does that bubbly effervescence instantly make any gathering feel more festive, it’s darned delicious too. But if you’re looking to amp things up a bit on the flavor front, seek out some grower Champagne to liven up your holiday libations.
Sometimes called “farmer fizz” or single vineyard Champagne, grower Champagne is unique because it is produced directly by the farmers growing the grapes. The vast majority of the Champagne we know and love is made by large “houses” that purchase grapes from a variety of growers in the Champagne region to make that label’s signature blend. These houses are usually part of larger commercial entities that may own several labels (also called grandes marques), such as Veuve Cliquot, Dom Perignon, or Krug.
As some of the most well-known and sought-after wines in the world, the timelessness of the grandes marques demands that their style and taste remain consistent from year to year, right down to the intensity of those lovely bubbles. You might also have read how Champagne houses will save a portion of the wine produced in one year to use in future blends, which not only ensures style consistency, but also quality and volume, even during years when grape yields are low.
By contrast, grower Champagne is downright uninhibited. Known by the vineyards where they are produced, rather than their labels, grower Champagnes have distinct flavor profiles that reflect the time and place where the grapes are grown. Their flavors can also change from year to year, depending on climate variations, soil adjustments, and even the farmer’s own inspiration.
While the grandes marques must stick to the same grape blends for brand consistency (Moët & Chandon’s signature blend, for example, is 50% Pinot Noir, 50% Pinot Meunier, and 20% Chardonnay), grower Champagne can be produced from a single varietal, a single vineyard, a single vintage, or any combination of those elements.
As a result, grower Champagnes will often feature a depth and complexity that large Champagne houses can’t match outside of exceptional growing years, when they might produce a single vintage Champagne.
Grower Champagne will often have the letters RM on the label for Récoltant-Manipulant, indicating that the producer is responsible for production from grape to bottle. As you can imagine, this extremely hands-on style of winemaking does not yield large quantities, especially in years when grape yields are low. In 2016, about 87% of Champagne imported into the United States was from one of the major houses.
But your tastebuds will certainly be dancing with joy from that bit of extra effort to seek out grower Champagne, and don’t forget that Champagne pairs well with a wide variety of foods that are enjoyed throughout the year.
Hopefully we’ll see more of this delightful farmer fizz in the future. Cheers!