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Growers Champagne - What is it?

A Growing Trend - Growers Champagne

I'm sure a lot of revelers rung-in the New Year with a champagne toast or two this year. Moët & Chandon, Dom Perignon are synonymous with New Years celebrations around the globe. But what's Growers Champagne? Have you ever heard of it before? Let's start with understanding Champagne first.

To be called champagne, which is sparkling wine, 100% the grapes must come from the Champagne region of France.  Anything produced outside that region of France is just a sparkling wine.  Other regions, outside Champagne France have certain names for their sparkling wine, too.  Take Spain, for example, where it's called Cava. In Italy, it's called Asti.

Since the 18th Century, large, private champagne makers have dominated the market. These big name Champagne ("Houses") buy grapes from any of the 19,000+ vineyards in the champagne region of France to make their cuvees. Some buy from 1000 different vineyards, which allows them to create "unique" character in the resulting champagne.

Growers Champagne are the same sparking wines made from the Champagne region of France, except, they are produced by the same estate which owns the vineyards. The vineyards owned by a Grower Champagne maker are generally clustered around a village.  

In 2003, there were 3,700 brands of Growers Champagne available, but only a few hundred for sale in the US.  

The larger champagne houses do all the branding and marketing for their product. The makers of Growers Champagne, let the retailers do this work, which may mean you have or have not heard of it before.  Classic Champagne makers capture the regional terroir of the Champagne region where Grower Champagne has the kind of singularity of character that, say, a single barrel bourbon does.

Champagne houses will put excruciating effort into creating consistency, so quality varies little. Quality can vary a lot from vintage to vintage with Growers Champagne, however.

Now you know what the difference between Growers Champagne and regular champagne is, how can you tell the difference when you hold up a bottle?  Look for two-letter initials. They are printed on the front of the label in small lettering.  The two-letter codes are acronyms for French words.  

Two-Digit Champagne Codes

RM Is the most common initials associated with Growers Champagne.
NM Large producer who buys majority of their grapes rather than growing them.  Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger, Krug, Mumm, Pol Roger, Pommery, Piper Heidsieck, Perrier Jouet and Moët [Mo-wett] Chandon are all NM Champagnes.
CM Co-operative in which the grape growers may have some involvement in the wine-making process.
RC Sourced from a single grower, but that grower will have little involvement in the wine-making process.
SR Co-operative where growers two or more growers share their vineyards, but it's sold under one brand name.  The growers have significant involvement in the wine-making process.
MA Brand unrelated to the producer or grower.
ND A company that buys Champagne and sticks a new label on it, then distributes.

So, when desiring your next bottle of champagne, try a Growers Champagne and enjoy a sense of micro terroir, “authenticity of place.” Don't forget to look for the RM on the label.


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