The new kid on the block: Why everyone is talking about Grower Champagne
A friend of mine once described Champagne as “terribly nineties”, as we decided what drinks we were going to use for an event. Whilst his opinion of this wonderful fizz may appear somewhat extreme, there’s no denying that in recent years glasses of bubbly have often been overlooked, as young event goers continue to reach for G&T’s and the ever-fashionable negroni for their bacchanalian fix. However in recent years it may appear that our waning opinion of Champagne has once again U-turned, seeing this sparkling beverage return at the helm of a new cohort of exciting winemakers.
Try out that hip wine bar down your road and ask for their latest Grower Champagne bottle, then sit back as you receive a well-earnt pat on the back from those on the other side of the bar. For you will have just opened up a passage to some of the best wines being produced today, and we can only guarantee that this small-house fizz urgently needs to be on your radar.
As current trends lean towards slow-and-low produced goods, its of no surprise that Grower Champagne’s popularity continues to increase. Offering an alternative to the big-guns of French sparkling wine, this artisanal champagne draws on familial and local history, and is crafted as a true expression of the landscape and communities from which it has been born.
So what is “Grower Champagne” exactly?
The creation of Grower Champagne is far more modest than what we would usually associate with Champagne harvesting. Cultivated and bottled by the same people who grow the grapes, this artisanal bubbly is a true expression of terroir, transferred tenderly with loving care from hand to mouth, and crafted by small estates that are often passed through families for generations.
This is an altogether different way of working from the bigger houses (such as Dom Pérignon or Moët & Chandon), who often purchase and then blend grapes from different vineyards, across different regions. With Champagne, this was often the order of things for centuries, with most growers who supplied these houses only ever blending and bottling for personal consumption.
But in the mid-nineties we saw a dramatic shift. When legendary French winemaker Anselme Selosse was declared one of the finest winemakers in the region in the 1994 Gault Millau guide, many third, fourth and fifth generation winemakers who had so often supplied the bigger houses with their fruit, began to market their fizz for themselves.
Much, much smaller in size, many of these grower estates come from single-vineyard plots. Their incredibly small production thus continues to add to their almost mythical allure. But with mysticism also comes the effort of discovering your newest tipple. Luckily we’ve curated a small selection of our current favourites for you to browse below.
Ulysse Collin is having a bit of a moment right now. If you haven’t spotted their wines on some of the hottest lists in the capital you may have heard of this small domaine within the press. A true rags-to-riches story, the house as we know it today was purchased by winemaker Olivier Collin in 2003, when his old family estate was being rented out.
With just €2,500 of investment, a plethora of second-hand barrels, and used farming equipment; Collin’s vision and unrivalled viticultural education – which included a six week apprenticeship with the renowned Jacques Selosse – set him on the mission to redefine artisanal champagne.
Originally set out with a Burgundian small-house mentality, Olivier began crafting champagnes that were both single varietal and single vineyard. Today he creates many cuvees, but still pertains his original ethos of crafting precise, characterful and mouth-watering wines that are true micro-expressions of their terroir.
Described as “full-bodied, layered and muscular” by William Kelley of the Wine Advocate, the NV Blanc de Blancs Les Pierrières Extra Brut is the staple wine from this house’s magical portfolio. A pertinent example of Olivier’s disbelief in creating wines during a specific vintage, the Les Pierrières instead could be viewed as an assembly of different time periods in the estate’s history, thus painting a larger picture of their terroir and winemaking over an extended period – an ethos that characterises most of the wines created from this house.
Occupying just 5 hectares in predominantly Verzenay, Pehu Simonet represents one of our favourite hidden gems producing right now. Still pretty unknown throughout the UK mainstream market, Pehu Simonet is a pretty exciting find, and produces sparkling wines of excellent value. Currently led by fourth-generation winemaker David Pehu, this emerging winemaker interestingly disregards the technique of malolactic fermentation (seemingly classic when it comes to making traditional Champagne).
As a result, this house is known to produce wine that is both boisterous and rich, whilst retaining immaculate balance and elegance. Like Ulysee Collin, Simonet’s disdain for traditional winemaking is another example of the myriad ways that these artisanal Grower Champagne houses are challenging the often rigid formula that many Champagne houses have been following for centuries.
Launched in 1930, Monmarthe may be one of the older Champagne houses on our list, but is still a baby in comparison to its non-grower counterparts. Comprising 17 hectares divided into 12 Premier Cru plots, Monmarthe are certainly not messing around. Based in the village of Ludes in the middle of the Reims mountains, this estate has passed through seven generations. Today modern-day Monmarthe is currently under the stewardship of Gautheir Monmarthe who continues to make some of the finest artisanal Champagne in the region.
Their NV Clos A.Doré Blancs de Blancs is a favourite amongst our office, and serves as the perfect example of the terroir-driven winemaking that defines this estate. Cultivated on an enclosed singular block in the heart of Ludes, this spectacular wine details the tiny scale of which Grower Champagne houses usually operate. Typically with many artisanal bottles, expect micro-expressions of tiny patches of land. A non-vintage wine, this particular bottle exudes luscious flavours of warm buttery brioche, alongside a chalky almost velour-like texture with little snaps of acidity on the finish. Perfect with a pork pie. You heard it here first.