The difference between independents and champagne “houses”, and a few recommendations
The big houses (Moët, Pommery, Mercier, Veuve Clicquot, Laurent-Perrier, etc.) dominate the production of Champagne. But there are also some 2,000 private winemakers who make their own Champagne from beginning to the end, so called grower’s champagne or champagne de vignerons.
The philosophy of the big houses is to maintain a regular style and taste of its champagne year after year. They can achieve this because they have the possibility to blend grapes from many different locations around the Champagne region, partially because their production volumes are large and they often source grapes from all over the region.
The growers are more limited, perhaps they have only a few hectares of chardonnay, all in the same place. That means they are less able to obtain exactly the same style every year. The character of the vintage will be more obvious. For a wine lover a grower’s Champagne is often more individual and interesting.
If you want to know what kind of Champagne you are drinking, look at the abbreviation on the label. You have to look very closely because it is often written in tiny, tiny type face:
R-M (Récoltant-Manipulant) means that it has been made by a grower who owns his vineyards and makes his own champagne.
N-M (Négociant-Manipulant) means that is has been made by a house. A house often owns a few vineyards but buy most of the grapes they need from growers.
C-M (Cooperative-Manipulant) means that is has been made by a cooperative. There are some 50 cooperatives in Champagne, some of the biggest and most well known are Nicolas Feuillatte, Pannier and Saint Gall.
Some of our favourites among the independent champagne growers
Champagne Fleury, Courteron
The family Fleury is a pioneer among organic growers in Champagne. Their Champagne Brut is made of 100% pinot noir in classic, rich and fresh style.
Champagne Tarlant, Ouilly
Champagnes with a personal touch from the Vallée de la Marne. Their bestseller is the Brut Zero, with no dosage.
Champagne Godme Père et Fils, Verzenay
Just south of Reims, this Grand Cru village is known for its fine pinot noir grapes. Champagne Godme has 11 hectares divided into as many as 80 (!) different plots of land. Organic farming.
Eric Rodez, Ambonnay
Ambonnay is another Grand Cru village, famous for its pinot noir. Here, the family Rodez has been making champagne for over 100 years. Now they have eight hectares. Some of the must is fermented in oak barrels.
Clean and fresh champagnes.
Champagne Benoit Marguet, Ambonnay
Benoit is fond of experimenting and now, after some years of trying, he is in the process of converting to organic and biodynamic farming.
Some fermentation in oak barrels and among his champagnes there is a very good Blanc de Noir.
Champagne Lancelot-Pienne in Cramant
Family company with 5.5 hectares run by Gilles Lancelot, a trained oenologists. Pleasant and complex champagnes, not least Cuvée de la Table Ronde (The Round Table cuvée). The name came naturally.
Gilles wife’s maiden name is Perceval so if you know your King Arthur you understand.
Champagne Paul Dethune, Ambonnay
Family property with a long history in Ambonnay. Pierre and Sophie Dethune ferment part of the must in small or larger oak barrels. Champagnes with a good ageing potential. The interesting range includes a great blanc de noirs.
Champagne Larmander Bernier, Vertus
Crisp and clean champagnes from biodynamically grown grapes.
Champagne Bedel, Vallée de la Marne
Françoise Bedel at Champagne Bedel is in La Vallée de la Marne, in the most western part of Champagne. She grows 7 hectares of vine organically. Her Champagne Brut NV is made of 80 % pinot meunier.
It is a pleasant champagne with some complexity and the very nice fruit that you often get from the pinot meunieur grape.
Which are your favourites? Have we missed some? Write a comment!
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