Grower champagnes: The artisan behind it, the harvest, the vineyards and more
À ta santé
Approximately three hundred million bottles of champagnes are sold from France alone each year and these are just the ones that made the cut to be sold to consumers. Not that we're surprised, but it is a staggering number when laid out like this. Typically, the drink is a joyous pre-cursor for celebrations, bougie events, parties, and now a weekend staple for the champagne brunch cult in Singapore. But aside from the Moets and Krugs, there's a lesser-known category also known as Grower Champagnes.
Think of them as small-batch, boutique producers, who are undeniably smaller in production and quite obviously, presence, especially on our shores. In fact, it is this very reason that led Pauline Tan, a bubbly aficionado, to set up Bonjour Bubbles — an online boutique stocking Grower Champagnes, while also connecting local consumers to family-run vignerons in lesser-known parts of the world.
Below, she also shares more on the unknown bubbly and even busting some misconceptions about champagne.
What is the difference between Grower Champagnes and Champagne?
Grower Champagne is produced and made by the people who grow their own vines, harvest grapes and are fully involved in the winemaking process themselves. Although the large houses also own vineyards, a significant amount of the grapes, which are required for their annual production is far beyond what they can produce on their own. Hence they have supply contracts where they purchase from farmers.
How different are Grower Champagnes as compared to commerical names, in terms of taste, appearance, and prices?
Growers embrace holistic viticulture, and a "less is more" approach which is in line with the whole "natural" wine movement. Most of these growers are hands-on, not only in the vineyards, but also throughout the winemaking process. Many drinkers are finding it fascinating to taste from different growers as the various approaches yield very different tasting notes and appearance. For example, the bubbles in a grower champagne may appear to be much finer and smaller than one that comes from a commercial brand. There could be a few reasons, one of which is that the base wine contains less impurities which means better fruit or a more hands-on approach was used in the winemaking process (Champagne stipulates by law that it is compulsory for handpicking at harvest). Many growers are also lowering the dosage (sugar) levels to allow for the wine to showcase the terroir and the winemaking technique.
In terms of price, most entry level commercial champagnes and Grower Champagnes are around the same range ($70-80/bottle). However you would be drinking something of a much better quality if it does come from a Grower.
Why is there a need to champion Grower Champagnes? And what do you think in Singapore is lacking when it comes to the knowledge of Champagne that we drink?
Having spoken to a general audience, there seems to be a misconception that Champagne is not a "fine wine" or it is just a fun fizzy drink that is sweet, drank as an aperitif, and most of the time, not taken seriously. Of course, we do drink Champagne when there is an occasion for celebration, but there is so much more to it than what is commonly thought. Growers are making more and more Champagnes that are representative of the different terrior they come from, eg: single vineyard, single varietal champagnes, that are so interesting to taste and can be compared to say, a fine Burgundy wine.
In terms of production, Growers produce anywhere between 500-500,000 bottles a year as compared to say, LVMH (who owns Moet, Veuve, Dom, Ruinart, Krug) who produces 80 million bottles each year, close to a third of Champagne production!
What are some good labels that you would recommend for the holiday season? And what would they be best paired with?
At Christmas, people usually consume a lot of sweets and rich foods such as cheese and cakes. A classic Blanc de blanc made from pure Chardonnay is an amazing pairing for such food as the freshness from the acidity of the wines will refresh your palate, allowing you to eat more.
One of my favourite Blanc de blanc at the moment is the one from Pertois Lebrun, owned by a pair of brothers who make their own champagne in Cramant. They own less than 10 hectares of land and produce below 40,000 bottles each year but allow for their non-vintage wine to age for 48 months before release. The aromas on the nose are fresh and flavours in the mouth are toasty, nutty with a zingy acidity to refresh the palate.
To pair with meats such as turkey or a good roast, a Blanc de noir, which is Champagne made from 100% Pinot Noir is perfect as it has the complexity and roundness that can hold up against strong flavours, yet not go against it. The Frederic Savart l'Ouverture would be a good place to start. Savart is bit of a rockstar in the region where he only owns four hectares of land and grows predominantly Pinot Noir. The champagne boasts of a blend with reserve wines dated back to 2012, and smells of delicate berries and red fruits.
Buy it here.