It’s tempting to pit “grower” Champagnes against the large, formidable “negociant” Champagne houses and use words like “better” or “more authentic” or “unique” or “artisanal” to describe the growers. Rather than determine some sort of hierarchy or create two distinct camps that must be at war with each other, we find it more beneficial to use words like “complementary” or “contrasting” or “there’s something for everyone.”
A quick technical explanation: grower Champagne producers produce bubbly from vineyards located in their own “backyards” and are often family run or relatively small in size. Negociant Champagne houses, like Veuve Clicquot, Dom Perignon or Perrier-Jouet, are largely part of huge conglomerate corporations, such as Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy or Pernod Ricard, and “negotiate” their grape purchases from a large variety of vineyard owners across the Champagne region and then create blends for their sparkling wines from these sources. So, ho hum, it’s a tale as old as time—David vs. Goliath, right?
Not really. Just because you have an affinity for the underdogs doesn’t mean you have to be anti-Cristal or anti-Dom. Can’t we all get along? Sure, the corporate Champagnes do have a tendency to lack personality, but the great houses, Louis Roederer for example, work closely with growers to achieve the superlative—and yes, artisanal—quality in their cuvées year in, year out. On the flip side, grower Champagnes, while consistently robust in personality, can be frustratingly inconsistent in quality from year to year due to their limited scale.
In the spirit of non-competition, the expanding world of grower Champagnes is a tremendously exciting one to explore, and we recommend our readers to join the party. A great place to start is this thrillingly beautiful (non-vintage) DEMIÈRE-ANSIOT Blanc de Blancs. Made from 100% Chardonnay, as all Blanc de Blancs are, all the fruit for this bottle is Grand Cru, meaning, from a vineyard that has been classified as the best of the best. Exquisite in character, the sparkling (and boy does it sparkle!) wine is lean, clean and focused yet rich and lofty and extravagant. It’s no polished and finely cut gem but a diamond-in-the-rough in all of its natural beauty. Not at all interested in being show-offy, the wine makes a lasting impression on the senses with its quiet grace. That extra touch of humanity is why we go for grower Champagnes, and this is one that’s made with a lot of heart. –J.M.