Following last week’s blog, some readers asked why don’t champagne producers make vintage wines every year, just like in Bordeaux, Burgundy, or practically everywhere else in the world? Champagne, being the most northerly wine growing area, faces challenging growing seasons almost all the time. To ensure a continuous supply of products and to “disguise” problems due to difficult weather, champagne producers develop this non-vintage cuvee idea. They “sacrifice” the wines from good vintage and blend with wines from lesser vintage, so to produce a consistent House blend and taste.
Nevertheless, some producers are no longer happy just to make non-vintage standard House blend. A revolution is fermenting…
Jacquesson is a mid-size Champagne house, producing wines from 40 hectare of vineyards, 75% of these are owned by themselves. Using vines only from their Premier and Grand Crus, Jacquesson began producing the 700’s series non-vintage champagne. Each year, the non-vintage is given a 7xx figure – No733 is based on 2005 vintage; No734 is based on 2006; No732 is based on 2004, etc. Essentially, this is vintage champagne being released every year. They reject bad vines, accept lower yield, and persist in showing the vintage and terrior characters in the wines. Fabulous wines indeed! Others likely to follow suit soon...
Another trend changing Champagne’s landscape is “Grower Champagne”. Also referred as “Artisan Champagne”, these are vine growers bottling their own branded wines, collectively known as RM – Recoltant-Manipulant. There are >19,000 independent growers in Champagne, owning ~88% of all vineyards. The big houses whose brands we all recognize, only own a mere 12% of land. However, the bulk of growers sell their vines to the big houses. The remaining few thousands grower champagnes only account for < 5% of total market volume. Quite rare to find in market.
These growers are dedicated to make wines that reflect the terrior. The best of all is Jacques Selosse – widely regarded as the DRC of Grower Champagnes. Selosse’s entry level non-vintage wine, “Initial”, is a massive 100% Grand Cru blanc de blancs. The wine always shows the disgorgement date so that we all know its vintage (similar to Jacquesson’s 700 series). Applying the winemaking techniques of white Burgundy to Champagne and biodynamic viticulture on his mere 15 hectare of vineyard, Selosse’s wines are always in superb quality. Selosse has since inspired many other growers to push their wines to the next level.
How can one identify if a champagne is a Grower Champagne, given there are thousands of these out there? On the label, it appears in small print as a code: RM-#####-##. That’s right, the RM refers to Recoltant-Manipulant. By the way, code name for big houses is NM – Negociant-Manipulant.
Next time, when you see others holding up a champagne bottle trying to decipher the code, you know what they are doing… and you can do it now!