Updated: Dec 18, 2020
an introduction to Grower Champagne.
A Grower Champagne house works only with fruit that their estate has grown.
While the wines of the Champagne region deserve a place at the table all year round (given their unmatchable food-friendliness), there will always be one time of the year when the huge majority of sparkling wine sales take place. And now is that time!
And since many of you are getting ready to stock up, we thought we’d let you know about a specific group of Champagnes that are near and dear to us, and fill you in on the world of grower Champagne
Among the producers in the Champagne region of France, there is one major dividing distinction: négociant vs. grower (or in French, recoltant). Put simply, a négociant buys in fruit from various growers (though many also grow some of their own fruit as well), whereas a grower produces all their fruit on their personal estate. So while the winemaker at a négociant house may work with fruit from scores of different vineyards owned by dozens of different families and companies, the winemaker at a Grower Champagne house works only with fruit that their estate has grown.
So why does this distinction matter? In some ways, it doesn’t. If the end goal is to produce an excellent wine, then numerous négociants and growers have achieved that in equal measure. However, beginning in the early 20th century, Champagne became a *brand* just as much as a region. And the major players from that time period—Moët, Cliquot, Perrier-Jouet, etc—are still behemoths today. Even the ones that have been swallowed by luxury goods conglomerates are still powerful brands of their own accord, with Veuve Cliquot perhaps being the best example. Though owned by LVMH (Louis Vitton Moët Hennessy), the distinctive Orange label of Cliquot is as unmistakable a brand as one will find.
A snapshot of the champagne section at Cork and Cap.
And here is where we approach the crux of the issue: what are you paying for when you buy Champagne? Your wine will be expensive because Champagne is expensive to make, but what makes a bottle of major négociant wine cost $80, while grower bubbles can be had for half the cost? Namely, marketing.
The advertising budgets for the large négociant houses run into the hundreds of millions, and price has to take that into account. These brands are likewise often built on the perception of luxury, and some people simply won’t be happy if you don’t charge them enough. If Veuve Cliquot were to drop their price to $29/bottle, their sales would plummet, since many people aren’t drinking Cliquot for the taste, but for the experience of having something fancy.
Grower Champagne tends to come from smaller houses with more terroir-focused product.
Grower Champagnes, on the other hand, largely eschew this practice. They don’t usually have the money to buy billboard space in Times Square, or sponsor the British Open, or what have you. What they *do* have is superlative fruit, much of which they’ll often sell to the négociants to help with cash flow. But since they don’t have to subsidize outrageous advertising budgets, they can likewise bring their wines to market in more accessible price ranges. In short, you will very, very often get more bang for your buck by seeking out grower bubbles.
It is imperative to stop again and remind ourselves that négociant vs. grower is not a matter of “good vs bad.” Many, many négociants produce delicious and praiseworthy wines. Charles Heidsieck (found on our shelves) is a storied négociant whose wines we are proud to champion. But we find ourselves disillusioned sometimes when we’re asked to spend $70 on a wine that tastes n