France Wine

Grower Champagne

The international market for Champagne is dominated by large traditional brands, the Champagne houses. Bollinger, Moët, Veuve Clicquot, Pol Roger… just to name a few. These buy large quantities of grapes to make Champagne in their own cellars and distribute them under their own name. The official term is ‘Négociants Manipulants’.

Although they might cultivate some of their own vineyards too, the houses blend a large array of grapes from many domains and terroirs in Champagne, concocting new assemblages each year to maintain a flavour profile that is commonly referred to as a house style. This approach resembles more the mindset of the whisky market than that of the wine world.  

It is the so-called grower Champagne producers (officially ‘Récoltant Manipulant’) that follow a more conventional Burgundian philosophy in their line of wines. A more basic general assemblage covers the most affordable offerings while the higher end proposes a take on terroir specific or single vineyard wines. The dosage in these sparkling wines tends to allow the terroir to speak with the least human intervention possible. This means that the fruit character of grower Champagnes tends to be riper to balance the high acidity of this region’s wines.

If looking to taste this style of Champagne, there are some wonderful producers such as Chartogne-Taillet, Bérêche or Cédric Bouchard that deliver great value. 

Today we put the focus on three very special wines that, in our opinion, are setting the standards of what grower Champagne will be: Michel Gonet, Eric Rodez and Larmandier Bernier.

Michel Gonet 

Located in Côtes des Blancs, Chardonnay’s favoured home, Michel Gonet grows its grapes organically. With the help of Marco Pelletier, the winemaking has shifted to a low dosage approach and the viticulture to full phenolic ripeness. The wines are matured in oak to provide a more oxidative profile, then cellared for six to seven years on lees in the case of the Mesnil Grand Cru.

Michel Gonet – Extra Brut Mesnil Grand Cru 2011
Nose:Intense. Brioche, toast, yeasty. Grapefruit and apples.
Palate:Apples, toast and lime. Midpalate reveals citrus notes and saline chalky aromas. Long finish of apples, lime and chalk.
Structure:Very fine mousse, delicate astringency from the lees: silky. Very dry, high acidity. The balance is just right. The acidity-ripeness level is taken to the limit. Bravo. With a tiny dosage, the ripeness really holds the wine together. 12.5%

Also in Côtes des Blancs, Larmandier-Bernier is one of the most experienced producers in employing a terroir-driven philosophy in Champagne. Most of its plots have been farmed biodynamically for the last 20 years. The style is similar to Gonet’s, fermenting in oak barrels, then left on the lees for 5 years on lees and low or no dosage. This produces fruity wines, with a silky astringency and very fine mousse.

Larmandier-Bernier – Terres de Vertus Premier Cru 2011
Nose:Nose of pear, pineapple, white flowers, brioche. Autolysis is delicate not too intense.
Palate:The palate has an attack of green apples, mid-palate of pineapple opening to a saline minerality and lime.
Structure:Delicate mousse, very high acid for champagne, but balanced by the concentration of fruit. Dry, 12.5%
Eric Rodez

Located in the grand cru of Ambonnay, a terroir reputed for its outstanding Pinot Noir, which Eric treats biodynamically. Having worked at Krug, Rodez understands well how to blend, treat reserve wines and mature his wines in oak. The result, rich Champagnes elegantly layered with flavour.

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