It’s easy to think that grower champagne is a recent phenomenon – only in the last few years have the Wine Society been offering it in mixed cases – but I can recall driving through France thirty years ago, armed with an explanation of the bottle codes, looking for interesting bottles in hypermarkets not made by the big names. Then it was more hit and miss – and, as I recall, there weren’t many labelled RM (Récoltant-Manipulant) which is the code for grower producers – those that farm the vines and make their own wine, rather than selling the grapes on to a co-op or a grande marque. Part of the problem is volume with supermarkets looking for more bottles than most growers can produce. Even now English supermarkets sell hardly any grower champagne. Another issue is that some of the growers, like Agrapart, have become very popular and sell out.
This is all prompted by the purchase of some grower champagne from the WS, just before Christmas when champagne prices are always keen. We’ve blogged on one of these, now out of stock which illustrates the supply problem. Actually all of them have been very good, albeit in different styles. For example last night we tried the Laherte which is very unusual in the Pinot Meunier predominates (60%) in the blend, resulting in a rich, full-flavoured drink. Laherte also make a champagne using all seven allowable grape varieties which sounds interesting.
[Edit: just checked the bottle and the Laherte is actually an NM – Nêgociant-Manipulant, which usually describes bigger champagne houses who buy in some or all or their grapes. However the WS website gives the impression that Laherte only use grapes from their own vineyards. A mystery.]
[Further edit (email from TWS): the reason that the company is registered as a Negociant-Manipulant is due to the nature of the landholdings in the family and is a bureaucratic requirement. It seems that the members of the family, the brothers and their mother, each own a portion of the vines and the company Laherte Frères ‘purchases’ the grapes from the family members and therefore have to register as a producer who doesn’t own all its own vines. Apparently, if they were registering today they would be able to name themselves as SR (societé de récoltant), but that designation didn’t exist when they registered.]
Previously we opened the Benoit Lahaye which was 90% Pinot Noir and had a strong fresh acidity and was better on day 2.
Given the choice I will always prefer champagne (English and French versions) over cava, prosecco, sparkling wine and so on. If you agree then grower champagnes provide quality and style and at a cheaper price than that charged by the grande marques.