When I wrote about all things bubbly, I alluded to the fact that I am a big fan of "grower's champagnes". Today, I just want to explain what these are, and how you can become a fan too. Just like almost every other industry, Champagne is lorded over by a few large companies. There are many "mom and pop" shops that just struggle trying to stay alive under these larger corporations. The names of these larger companies you will likely recognize, as they produce such wines as Veuve Cliquot (or as I call it "Old Yeller"), Moet & Chandon "White Star", Piper Heidseick, etc. These are the Champagnes that you see the big displays of at your local liquor store with the glitter, ornaments and such over the next month or so. The problem with these Champagne houses is that they buy as many inexpensive grapes as they can, and turn out ubiquitous wine with very little touch from "real people". For example, Veuve Cliquot produces nearly 10 million cases a year of Champagne. That's a lot of juice.
Why should you care? Honestly, if you are just looking for something bubbly that will impress the neighbors, then you probably shouldn't. The big, factory champagnes taste fine, and there are many really happy people drinking them right now. I, however, like to search out wines with a name and a place. I like to think of a wine grower with dirt under his fingernails making my wine, not some big corporate conglomeration. As Terry Theise puts it in his annual Champagne Estate Selections catalog-
"You should drink it if you'd rather have a wine expressive of vineyard, and the grower's own connection to the vineyard, than a wine "formed" by a marketing swami who's studied to the N-th degree what you can be persuaded to "consume". Do you really want to be reduced to a mere "consumer" when you can drink Champagne like a whole human being?"
That being said, let me suggest a couple of labels to look for out there:
These guys produce a meager 4,600 cases of Champagne per year. Made from 10% pinot noir, and 90% chardonnay, the wines have a "flowery" note that I really like. Check out the Rose, and the Demi-sec. You will know the wine because it has an old school label with a windmill on the front.
I like this producer, because he uses a big dose of Pinot Meunier in his champagnes (otherwise known as the "other Champagne grape".) His annual production is about 17,000 cases, and his wines have a very distinct chalky minerality to them
I like this guy because he gives glasses of Champagne to the policemen that come check on his vineyard in France. Made from 100% Chardonnay, this is a more refined style of Champagne. Come check it out at the "In the Vineyard" event to benefit the Edgewood Children's Home, I will be pouring it. His production is 13,000 cases.
See what I mean? I like supporting the "little guys" in their efforts to keep this art of making Champagne alive. Don't worry about price either. Most of these wines can be bought at a price that is equal to, or less than, the big boys.
That's enough suggestions for today- Cheers!