Big Champagne doesn’t really have any terroir. It’s one soiled little not-so-secret aspect of the Champagne industry: that the grapes used by the big guys — Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot, for example — don’t come from just one vineyard. They come from all over the Champagne region, as many as 1,000 different places. Which is fine. Champagne like Veuve are great thanks to technique. But, like wine, if you want to really taste the influence of the area (or how the terroir has shaped the taste), it’s not going to happen.
That is, until now.
Meet grower Champagne. This is a small movement that’s been gaining traction in recent years. In a few words, grower Champagne is small growers using grapes that they cultivated. There are about 5,000 grower Champagnes in the region, but the reason you may not have heard of them is that they only produce a small amount and few of the bottles end up across the Atlantic. After all, Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot dominate the market, making up 55% of sales of sparkling wine in the United States. Save for the aficionados, bubbly buyers are likely choosing based on name recognition alone. One criticism of grower Champagne is that it’s not always great. The key is to find a Champagne house who has the technique down and the boutique operation.
I’ve met a lot of travelers who have gone to Champagne to seek out the big names and take tours of the vineyards. When I go, I’m going to hit up the small Champagne vineyards.
One such small-batch grower that I’d put on my list (and whose Champagne you can get in the United States) is Louis de Sacy, a family-run outfit that that has been making Champagne since 1633 (Jonathan Sacy is the 13th generation of bubbly makers in the family). Louis de Sacy is located in Verzy, one of 319 villages in Champagne that make the bubbly stuff. But it’s only one of 17 that can use the “Grand Cru” appellation. I recently tasted the vineyard’s brut grand cru. It had toasty elements to it and a lot of spice with a super smooth finish. Until a friend recently introduced me to Sacy, small-batch Champagne was something I didn’t know existed.
How can you tell grower Champagne? You just have to look for the “secret” code. The big Champagne producers will have NM. Grower Champagne, though, has RM. You’re certain to arouse suspicion in the wine shop but at least you’ll walk out with a nice bottle (and for about the same price or cheaper) than those well-known labels.
So, with the Champagne-toasting season upon us, let us raise our glasses to the small guys.