In the luxury world of Champagne, a small rip has appeared in the king’s frock.

There has been a descension in the ranks.  And this thread may unravel to reveal the true beauty that lies underneath the polished exterior.

After centuries of domination, the massive Champagne houses are now seeing small renegades rising out of the cracks of their precious chalk soil.  Who are these brave stalwarts?  Multi-millionaires sweeping in with even-deeper pockets?  An operation named ‘Buffett & Gates’ House of Bubbles‘ setting up shop next door?

No, my friends, they are the grape growers, themselves.  The little guys who own small parcels of land.  Traditionally, they’ve provided the prized grapes and juice to the Moets and the Cliquots.  But now, a select few of them have decided to make their own wines from their own grapes.  They are the resistance in the world where the Death Star is fully operational.

To give you a sense of the hold the mega brands—Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot and Mumm, to name a few—have over the market, it helps to know that they produce more than 80% of the total output but only own 12% of the vineyards.  They buy from many different growers (sometimes as many as 80 different ones) to meet their output needs and to blend their “house-styles”—a process that essentially whitewashes away any specific vineyard characteristics.

Today, there are more than 19,000 independent growers in the region but due to the economics of producing themselves, only 5,000 of them make their own wines.  But they are finally coming into the spotlight.  Consumers and sommeliers, alike, are finding single-vineyard representations that are astounding, and truly expressive of the terroir of the region.

I recently tasted two examples from L. Aubry Fils, part of the Terry Theise collection of grower’s Champagne.  Owning 17 hectares of vineyards (approximately 42 acres), the Aubrey brothers produce only 11,700 cases of wine.  Compared to the more than 2 million cases produced by Moët & Chandon and the more than 1 million cases produced by Veuve Clicquot, this is a tiny drop in the bucket.  I was bowled over by their uniqueness.

Le Nombre d’Or Sable Blanc des Blancs, L. Aubry Fils, 2004
(40% Chardonnay, 30% Petit Meslier, 30% Arbanne)

In 1989-1990, the Aubry brothers planted the traditional Petit Meslier and Arbanne grapes, two white varieties that have long been forgotten in the Champagne region.  Light straw in color with hints of golden thread.  Cream puff pastry, meringue and a hint of gunmetal on the nose.  Silky and vibrant like a velvety mouthwash that leaves one feeling zippy and ready for a French kiss.  A tartness on the palate reminiscent of Pop Rocks candy or a tart lemonade served from a silk chalace.

Aubry de Humbert, L. Aubry Fils, 2004
(Equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay)

Named for Aubry Humbert, the archbishop of Reims who laid the “cornerstone” of the Cathedral on May 6th, 1211, this is a coeur du cuvée selection (meaning only the ‘heart’ of the juice is used, with the first and last pressings not being bottled).  Light straw in color, with rich aromatics of strawberry cream flecked with flint and lemon meringue.  A big, round, complex body with an elegant fatness from the red grapes.  A cleansing acidity which washes from front to back.  Rounder in its acidity than the fencing sword blow of the blanc des blancs.

For anyone who supports local farmers or praises artisan production, wave your rebel flags in support.  Ask your local wine shop and restaurants to get on board.  In 1997, growers sold only 0.62% of the total Champagne exported to the US, and today its somewhere just over 2%.  Let’s change that.

These guys are flying the Millenium Falcon and there is no better place to ride than in the cockpit with Han Solo.

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12 Responses to “Grower Champagnes: The Underdogs Bite Back”

  1. Grower #Champagnes! They are the resistance in a world where the Death Star is fully operational. Read my latest: http://bit.ly/c3OqAA

  2. RT @fixstjames Great piece by @grapesandgrains on grower fizz. Just like Star Wars, http://bit.ly/c3OqAA & expect Empire Strikes Back soon

  3. Tks Obi Wan RT @terroirNY Champagne: The Grape Growers Strike Back! READ @grapesandgrains' latest NOW: http://bit.ly/btnWSC

  4. Han Solo will fly us for Grower #Champagne party. @ilovemesomefood @returntoterroir @dailywinenews @smithandvine (re: http://bit.ly/c3OqAA)

  5. Can you imagine a world without Moet & Taittinger? I can and it looks like the true terroir of Champagne shinin thru: http://bit.ly/c3OqAA

  6. @jimwinebeer Chewbacca had to kill a lot of storm troopers to set the Ewoks free. Keep fighting the good fight! (re: http://bit.ly/c3OqAA)

  7. Peter says:

    It is nothing short of a full on conspiracy to say the negociabts produce the finest product in Champagne. It has been baffling to me that country predicated in the 1er Cru and Grand Cru system, and that is the model for the rest of the worlds attempt at vinyard development, that France could let Champagne be misrepresented as it has. I’m aware that this is a lofty or even romanticized expression BUT none the less it’s true. Homogenization is a global thing, homogeny is American but France with Romanee-Conti monopole’s and country-stopping strikes is known for it’s romance, well and it’s fierce upholding of idealism. That’s why Veuve Cliquot is insulting. I know the arguments they use about blending and selection and on and on. The fact remains that blending is a part of almost every great wine. The difference is that this blending occurs among a specific time and place within a fairly minuscule chunk of the planet. Sure it’s a blend but of tiny parcels spread out over a handful of hectares of land in a small town in the countryside. Terroir exists in these blends. Quality level cannot be kept high when you excede the limits of agriculture. LVMH. Look it up. If you want your Champagne dressed up in a pretty pink wet suit or you want it delivered in its own yellow Barbie refrigerator then they can help….oh but you’ll pay extra for the color and plastic and marketing budget. If you want the real deal, the truth, the meat and the potatos then you drunk from the grower. Do you really think he’s selling his top fruit to the establishment? Viva la France!!!!

  8. Thirsty Girl says:

    Grower Champagnes: The Underdogs Bite Back http://ow.ly/2XVBy via @grapesandgrains

  9. From @GrapesandGrains Grower Champagnes: The Underdogs Bite Back http://ow.ly/34jsN Our newest grower Champagne: Aubry!!! Delicious! $36.99

  10. Liz Palmer says:

    RT @CTWineAuthority: From @GrapesandGrains Grower Champagnes: The Underdogs Bite Back http://ow.ly/34jsN Our newest grower Champagne: A …

  11. Cheers RT @CTWineAuthority From @GrapesandGrains Grower Champagnes: Underdogs Bite Back http://ow.ly/34jsN Our newest grower Champagn: Aubry

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