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IPNC 2007: Grower Champagnes

DAY TWO (continued): The second morning's sparkling wine seminar was followed by another that focused specifically on "grower Champagnes", this time moderated by Eric Asimov of the New York Times and Pete Wasserman, an consultant and importer with Le Serbet / Selection Becky Wasserman, and an expert on both the wines of Burgundy and on Champagne. Grower Champagnes are those wines that are made by small producers who also grow their own grapes (as opposed to the large champagne houses like Bollinger who purchase grapes from sources far and wide).

This second session consisted mostly of winemakers and importers telling the stories of their Champagnes, which were interesting, but which I cannot do justice to here. Instead, I'll just offer my tasting notes on the wines with a little of the crucial information provided on each one.

NV Vazart-Coquart Brut Reserve Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, Cotes du Blanc, Champagne, France
Pale gold in the glass this wine offers bright aromas of apple.and salty sea air. In the mouth it is clean and very delicate, lenghty and drawn out like a straight road disappearing over the horizon, carrying flavors of lemon, apple, and pear into a long finish. 9

This wine is made of 100% Chardonnay (hence the Blanc de Blancs designation) that started the tasting as a point of departure and a comparison for all the Pinot-based Champagnes to come after it. The producer, Vazart, is a very young winemaker with 15 parcels of vineyards, and he is proudly always the last wine to harvest each year. He likes his fruit ripe and his wines full bodied.

NV Camille Saves Carte Blanche Brut Premier Cru, Montagne de Reims, Champagne, France
Light blond-gold in color, this wine has a slightly muted nose of floral and stony aromas. In the mouth it offers beautiful green plum flavors and a crisp, even sharp minerality that hangs in perfect balance with the fruit flavors, in a creamy bed of the nicely textured wine. Long finish. 9

NV Fleury Carte Rouge Blanc, Cote des Bar, Champagne, France
Light blonde in the glass, this wine has an alluring nose of yeasty aromas mixed with chalk dust and marzipan. In the mouth it has gorgeous range, zipping like a firefly through flavors of tart plum, crabapple, and unripe pear. Velvety in texture with incredibly fine bubbles, the finish lasts for a long, satisfying time. 80% Pinot Noir, with the remainder being Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, all biodynamically grown. This wine is a blend of the 2003 and 2004 vintages. 9/9.5

NV Thierry Massin Brut Selection, Cotes de Bar, Champagne, France
C: Pale gold in the glass, this wine has a familiar and comforting nose of sourdough bread and cold cream. In the mouth it is smooth and downy soft, sort of like you expect those baby fur seal pups to feel under your fingers. The flavor profile includes a mix of red plum and faint orange zest elements with hints of herbs that stretch out into a pleasing length on the palate. 100% Pinot Noir with the base wine being 2004 and reserve blending wines from 2003 and 2002. 9

2002 Jacques Picard Premier Cru Blanc de Noir, Montagne de Reims, Champagne, France
Light gold in color, this wine has a nose of brioche, unripe pear and warm sun-drenched hay. In the mouth it has a particular lightness to it, especially in the front of the mouth. Ethereal flavors of lemon zest ride a creamy, slightly less acidic body that doesn't resolve into a coherent statement for me. 100% Pinot Noir. 8.5/9

NV Godme Grand Cru Brut Blanc de Noir, Montagne de Reims, Champagne France
Light yellow gold in color with a pleasant brightness to it, this wine has a rich, liqueur like nose of apple pie and mixed berries. In the mouth it is weighty and powerful with bracing minerality that contains hard-to-pin-down fruit flavors that at times even seem like alpine strawberry in a field of summer wheat. Soft and satiny with a creamy texture and fine bubbles this wine lasts for a very long time on the finish. 100% Pinot Noir with the base wine from 2004, and 40% being reserve wine from 2003 and 2001. The fruit comes from 37 acres in three different villages. 9/9.5

NV Thierry Massin Brut Rose, Champagne, France
A beautiful medium salmon pink in the glass, this wine smells of wet chalkboard, yeast, and candied orange peel. In the mouth it offers simple flavors of berries and pink grapefruit with all the cheery citrus zing that you would expect from such a flavor profile. Made, as many rose champagnes are, 85% is vinified as "white" Pinot Noir (base wine from 2004 and reserve wine from 2003) as if it were going to be a normal Champagne, and then 15% red Pinot Noir wine (from 2004 vintage) is blended in before the first bubbly fermentation begins. 8.5

Comments (8)

wineguy wrote:
07.30.07 at 10:21 AM

Alder: Is it possible to tell from inspecting the label if a particular Champagne is made by a grower?

Alder wrote:
07.30.07 at 10:02 PM

Wine Guy,

That's actually a good question I'm not sure I know the answer to. Any wine made by the big Champagne houses is certainly not (Veuve Cliquot, Krug, Mumm, Salon, Billecart, etc.) but I suppose there are probably a group of smaller houses with lesser known names that are not growers themselves, and these would be hard to distinguish from those that are.

Best bet: buy your bubbly from a store you trust, and ask them!

Anonymous wrote:
07.31.07 at 6:48 AM

In very small type of ever Champagne label is a short alphanumeric code. I won't go into numbers here (these have to do with the disgorgement date) but below is a list of the codes you will find on the label; these will help determine the nature of the juice. (NB- I found this floating around online, unattributed. I believe it orginates with Richard Jouhlin's essential book, 4000 Champagnes.)



NM: Négociant-Manipulant

A producer who buys grapes from growers to make champagne.

RM: Récoltant-Manipulant

A grower who produces his own champagne from his own grapes.

CM: Coopérative-Manipulant

A cooperative of growers who also make and sell champagne under their own labels.

RC: Récoltant-Coopérative

A grower who sells a cooperative-produced champagne under his own name.

SR: Société De Récoltants

A firm set up by two or more growers - often related - who share premises to make and market their champagne under more than one brand.

ND: Négociant Distributeur

A company selling champagne it did not make.

MA: Marque D’Acheteur

A brand name owned by the purchaser, such as a restaurant, supermarket or wine merchant.

Alder wrote:
07.31.07 at 8:50 AM

Wow. Cool.

Eric wrote:
07.31.07 at 9:15 AM

Yes, indeed. For a grower-producer Champagne, look for the tiny RM on the label. You may need a magnifying glass, but it will be there.

Malcolm wrote:
08.01.07 at 5:26 AM

One thing I would take slight issue with is the slight implication that "grower" champagnes are intrinsically superior to the products of those producers that buy in grapes. Like anything else these wines may be interesting in their own right due to the skill of the winemakers and the terroir of the various vineyards owned by the winemaker but to suggest anything more would I think be a mistake.

Also most large Champagne Houses do not own all the vineyards that supply their grapes for historic reasons (I think Lanson actually do not own any except for an acre or so next to their visitor centre) but have long term supply contracts.

Bollinger is probably a poor example to pick as they actually buy in a relatively small proportion of grapes - less than 25% - from farmers that have mostly supplied them for years.

In fact thinking about this as I type an argument could be made (on the non-vintage level anyway) that buying wisely from different sources could improve the consistency of the NV champagne from year to year (as one could select grapes from those vineyards that would best express the house style and quality).

I'll look out for the producers you mention next time I visit Champagne (which is all too infrequently) and seek out some of their wines.


Alder wrote:
08.01.07 at 3:16 PM


I'm not sure where you're finding such an implication in my content. I certainly don't believe that this is true. Many many grower Champagnes are in fact NOT superior to the big houses. Krug is one of the best Champagnes in the world, period. I've had plenty of 5000 case production Champagnes that can't touch it.

Also, please be aware that these champagnes are not MY selections, they're just what were poured at this seminar. When I go out to look for small production champagnes, my first stop is usually the Terry Theise catalog.

Joel Butler MW wrote:
08.06.07 at 11:09 AM

Alder et al;
Good chain of comments, Alder! It was a good program at IPNC. I would only point out, for the record, that to consider Krug a 'large' producer is a misnomer. Their annual production,what is actually sold, generally hovers in the 30,000 case level compared to the 2million plus of Moet Hennessy, the 1 million plus of Clicquot, and even the 100-150000 cases of Bollinger.
I agree there is a lot of farmer fizz that is just that; farmer fizz. The ball spins both ways! While I agree with Terry Theise (whose wine are excellent!)that good Farmer fizz may have more soul, and more to do with expressing a particular place in Champagne, at the end of the day, what's in the bottle matters most. I will certainly not turn my nose up at the wines of a Roederer, a Clicquot, nor the 200,000 cases plus made of Dom Perignon! By the way, some of the best farmer fizz I have recently had are those imported by K&L Wines in Redwood City CA.


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