A Toast to 12 of the Best Grower-Producer Champagnes
Let’s raise a glass to these independent French winemakers.
A new wave of French winemakers is forging their own path in Champagne. In one generation they have revolutionised hundreds of years of tradition and ushered in an entirely new approach. It’s an experimental attitude energised by a love of farming and a commitment to craft.
Industry insiders call them “growers producers” (or “growers” for short) because they no longer sell their grapes exclusively to the big houses or négociants and maintain a focus on boutique labels. Each year they bottle idiosyncratic wines of high quality and distribute them in small quantities which only adds to their rarity. Together they demonstrate passion for making Champagne that conveys a deep sense of place. Their methods are so revelatory that they’re beginning to influence some of Champagne’s biggest players like Louis Roederer.
Grower releases are healthier because they use fewer chemicals and have lower added sugar content. Often they are made from single vineyard and single grape varieties. For example just chardonnay, just pinot noir, or just pinot meunier.
If you love Champagne and have already experienced the grand marques, expand your connoisseurship with the standout grower offerings below.
Creamy, layered, rich
Known as the “sommelier’s Champagne”, a coveted drop, especially in vintage styles. (The village of Ambonnay, where it is grown, is lauded for its abundance of decadent grand cru fruit.) The 2014 vintage is made from 40-year-old vines and is a seductive, layered and powerful expression of the region. A bouquet of subtle floral notes that is worth every cent.
$1,050; Five Ways Cellars.com.au
Stone-fruit, mineral fresh, weighty palate
A husband and wife team from Vertus, Larmandier-Bernier produce some of the best grower Champagne going. This is 100% chardonnay Champagne matured in large-format casks. The alcoholic and malolactic fermentations take place naturally, and there is no filtration. Best to drink on its own or with a delicate shellfish starter.
Lively, light and fleshy
An aperitif-style wine with wonderful ripeness, body and generosity compared to past releases. A non-vintage sparkling wine, the Ultradition is an outstanding entry-point champagne from producer. Aurélien Laherte, one of the most talented vignerons of his generation. An approachable drop that has a gentle red fruit character from the Pinot Noir, with acid that is lively, but not showy. You will want to buy two bottles.
Philipponnat Clos des Goisses 2012
Pear, grapefruit and peach
Aÿ is where Ayala and Bollinger are made. At Philiponnat, a little-known house highly regarded by connoisseurs, there is a family history of making wine that dates back to 1552. The 2012 Extra-Brut Clos des Goisses is fleshy and textural. It shows aromas of pear, grapefruit and stone fruit, all mingled with hints of honey, brazil nuts and fresh bread. On the palate, it has concentrated stone fruit at its core, bright acid and a plump, soft mousse.
Agrapart Grand Cru Venus Blanc de Blancs 2016
Citrus, almond, yellow nectarine
More like a white Burgundy than a Champagne, the Venus comes from a single vineyard in the clay-rich soils of Avize—specifically from a single vineyard and plot known as La Fosse aux Pourceaux. A single-parcel cuvée is made in only tiny quantities each year (which adds to its rarity and desirability). It’s an intense wine that demands food and will be able to handle a main course of lemon sole or even white meat.
Crisp, salty, creamy
A reputable boutique house, Clouet produces excellent rosé and non-vintage styles that are terrific value. As a 100% Chardonnay cuvée, this initial release of “Chalky” is made entirely from the remarkable 2013 vintage and dials up the crisp and salty flavours in grapes grown from these chalk-rich soils. Chalk soils have long been considered one of the key resources enabling the region to produce such intense and refined wines.
Aromatic, yellow fruit, mineral
Referred to in wine circles as “baby Krug” Jacquesson is known for crafting detailed wines that are matured in casks and made in a blended cuvée style. Acquired by François Pinault, the owner of Château Latour in 2022, founders the Chiquet brothers continue to manage every detail of the wines they produce. The minimal packaging and extra brut style of the Champagne belie the rich, full and delectably chalky profile.
Benoit Lahaye NV Brut Nature
Deep, taught and spiced
From a small-scale vineyard that produces true ‘Champagne de vigneron’ quality wines, Benoit Lahaye is made from ripe, biodynamic fruit mainly from the village of Bouzy in Montagne de Reims. A rare wine to see on a wine list, but well worth trying. A wonderful expression of terroir.
Citrus, baked bread and creamy cashew
Hailing from Mesnil sur Oger, an all-star part of the region, Pierre Pieter BdB with refined yeast lees, citrus and baked bread aromas followed by faint scents of oyster shell and cashew. The front palate is backed by a subtle toastiness and some brioche. Finishes dry and finely textured with stimulating acidity and a long savoury aftertaste.
Wine-like, textural and generous
This wine has a cult-like following. Only around 3,000 bottles are produced each year and all the Selosse Champagnes are akin to an artistic expression of the region. Version Originale (VO) is a blend of three successive vintages from Avize, Cramant and Oger, but there is more Avize fruit in this release which brings plenty of texture and generosity to the palate. The VO is complex, more like a white wine or a traditional white Burgundy than your standard sparkling.
$850; United Cellars
Rich, vibrant and refreshing
Maison Bérêche create stunning expressions and their latest release Brut Reserve NV is no exception. Rich yet refreshing, it hums along the palate with unflagging energy and character. The depth and delicacy of the flavours are unfathomable for an entry-level offering. Must be tasted to be believed.
Nutty, grapefruit, complex
The ‘house’ Brut cuvée is a blend of 60% Vertus and 40% Le Mesnil. There is no oak to the nose, instead it shows roasted nuts and complex notes of autolysis. Crisp and dry there is a rich creamy mousse on entry, then fresh grapefruit acidity, a fine mineral thread flowing through to a dry finish. A graceful balance of power and freshness this is a perfect aperitif style to serve by the glass.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why choose a ‘grower’ Champagne over a well-known brand?
Buying a grower-producer champagne is casting a vote for the future of the Champagne region itself. These top makers are independent and they represent the future of Champagne as it transitions to a more sustainable approach to growing the best grapes possible.
What should a good bottle of ‘grower’ Champagne cost?
The best advice is to buy the best you can afford. From time to time it’s prudent to try a bigger, bolder Champagne and spend more—for example by splurging on quality grower blanc de blancs, a rosé or vintage.
You can find fairly good quality grower Champagne like those by André Clouet for $60 per bottle; $100 is pretty standard for non-vintage wines and then the quality skyrockets from about $150 upwards. You can still get a great grower Champagne for around $100-120 dollars in good wine stores, and they will cost anywhere between $250-400 on restaurant wine lists. But in very basic terms you can’t go wrong.
How do I know whether the Champagne I am choosing will be dry?
Like fashion, Champagne has instructions on the label. The term Brut means dry. Extra Brut is very dry. Brut Nature means very little sugar has been added. Brut Nature Champagne is more common with global warming and it will be a crunchier and zestier wine with a less lush, or viscous mouthfeel. Zero Dosage means little or no sugar has been added to the final wine so this is bone-dry Champagne. If you want a light refreshing aperitif wine then zero dosage can be good. It will still pair well with a rich entrée or canapé.
Sec means sweet in French, and Demi-Sec means semi-sweet. Avoid these styles if you can. You will find that even if you are serving your Champagne with cake or rich desserts, a dry style with great acid and nervy will help to cut through sugar and cream.
Where do I go to source these speciality wines? How do I know I am buying the best quality?
Most hatted restaurants and dedicated wine bars will have a good grower Champagne on the wine list. Use your restaurant sommelier to help you find something that is to your taste and budget. Good wine stores such as the City Wine Shop in Melbourne, Best Cellars in Darlinghurst, Prince Wine Store Sydney and Melbourne, Cru Cellar and Bar on James Street in Brisbane, East End Cellars in Adelaide along with Five Ways Cellars and Annandale Cellars in Sydney are absolute experts who can guide you to finding a superb wine in your budget.
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