When it comes to Champagne, we often think of the big houses like Bollinger, Ruinart and many others. However, the Champagnes of small producers, whose work is often as good as that of the big brands, are also worth a visit. Let's take a look at them.
When it comes to Champagne, the big houses are often put in the spotlight. However, there are small producers whose Champagnes have nothing to envy to those of the big brands. The term "small" is therefore not reductive. Although the products of these renowned houses are distributed on a large scale, for some years now, Champagnes from independent winegrowers have also appeared on the international market.
In the majority of cases, the Champagnes of small producers come from a family estate. Moreover, the production is often much smaller, on small plots of land, compared to that of the big names in Champagne.
In order to let the terroir, nature and the climate do their work on the grapes, the Grower Champagnes are distinguished by a requirement to produce generally in organic or sustainable wines.
Thanks to these different characteristics, the big Champagne houses are not the only ones to offer high-end wines. Indeed, quality is almost always at stake when it comes to Champagnes from small producers. Although many people swear by the big brands, some consumers prefer small independent winemakers to make new discoveries.
Unlike small producers, the big Champagne houses establish multi-year parcel-based partnership contracts with small harvesters and purchase their grapes or wine must to produce their Champagnes. They source grapes from various Champagne appellations before vinifying them separately and blending them in accordance with age-old rules and traditions. Thus, the added value of these big houses is mainly based on the vinification and sale of different cuvées that they produce under their brand. Among these big Champagne houses, we find Moët & Chandon, Ruinart, Mumm, Deutz, Veuve Clicquot, Lanson, Taittinger, Heidsieck & CO Monopole, Vranken-Pommery, Laurent Perrier, Bollinger, Delamotte or the less prestigious Gosset.
The term "small producer" may seem restrictive compared to that of "big house", yet the means deployed for the cultivation and vinification require more merit from the producers of Grower Champagne. In the four main regions of the appellation, namely the Montagne de Reims, the Vallée de la Marne, the Côtes des Blancs and the Côtes des Bar, they produce a wide variety of cuvées including Rosé Champagne, Blanc de Noirs, Blanc de Blancs, vintage Champagne, special or prestige cuvées, non-vintage Brut.
These Grower Champagnes are in the majority of cases from family farms, such as Furdyna, Haton & Filles, Thierry Massin, François-Brossolette or Edouard Brun. Some of them produce and sell under the label of "Champagne de Vignerons": this is the case for CL de la Chapelle, Didier Doue, Le Brun de Neuville, H. Blin, Michel Furdyna and Thierry Massin.
Created in 2001 by the Champagne growers' union (SGV) to develop the reputation of Grower Champagnes, the collective brand "Champagne de Vigneron" brings together all the winegrowers and cooperatives that market Grower Champagne. Over the whole of the AOC, there are more than 5,000 winegrowers federated in this collective and competing with each other in terms of know-how in order to get the best out of the terroir with its multiple nuances. They make a wine that resembles them. More than a know-how, an imprint left in a prestigious terroir.
A Grower Champagne differs from a big brand's Champagne in several ways. The first difference lies in the production process. Indeed, as mentioned earlier, the big champagne houses buy a large part of their grapes from other wine growers. Although some brands also own vineyards, they are usually not sufficient to cover their production needs.
On the other hand, an Grower Champagne implies that the wine is made by the winegrower who follows the entire production process. The small producer takes care of several tasks, from the cultivation of the vines to the vinification and even the marketing of their Champagnes.
What can be said about the Grower Champagnes is that they offer quality and personality. They come from perfectly segmented terroirs, or even from parcel selections. Aware of the potential of their terroir, the winemakers often work on small plots of land which they take great care of. This allows them to offer quality Champagnes.
Even for the Champagne lovers who only drink Champagne once a year, the choice of Grower Champagnes is surprisingly satisfying. Indeed, the Champagne region conceals many gems offering great value for money. Indeed, many independent winegrowers offer wonderful cuvées at much more affordable prices than those of the big Champagne houses. Indeed, in addition to the costs linked to the intermediaries of transport, storage and sales, the latter also face important costs generated by marketing and advertising strategies. All these costs have a direct impact on their final selling price, which is not always within the reach of everyone.
So, to enjoy quality at a modest price, choose a Champagne produced by these small producers, that are respectful of their heritage. Among them are:
Respecting the specifications of the Champagne AOC, the independent winegrowers produce their own Champagne with passion, reflecting a unique terroir. However, they also often put forward a family know-how transmitted from generation to generation. Indeed, the Champagnes of small producers are in the majority of the cases resulting from the family exploitations following the example of the houses Furdyna, Haton & Filles, Thierry Massin, François-Brossolette or Edouard Brun. In these Grower Champagne producers, the current generation perpetuates age-old traditions by preserving the know-how of their ancestors while refining it in order to maintain the regularity of the quality of their wines.
In addition to respecting traditions, Champagne winemakers often also apply sustainable and environmentally friendly viticulture. They implement different techniques for a more responsible production allowing them to elaborate quality Champagnes, healthy and favourable to the preservation of the planet. Although the majority of Grower Champagne producers have chosen to use a more respectful viticulture, the paths adopted are not necessarily the same.
The organic Champagnes have been produced in compliance with the European regulations on organic farming. The organic farming label and the Euro leaf logo guarantee grapes and vines free of synthetic products, weed killers and chemical fertilisers. Winegrowers are also required to comply with strict restrictions on winemaking, such as the use of organic raw materials or the lowering of the maximum dose of sulphites in the wine.
The adoption of good practices, particularly respectful of the environment, allows small producers to receive other certifications, notably the HEV or High Environmental Value label. This is particularly true for estates practising integrated viticulture. In this case, the winegrowers favour natural solutions as much as possible and use fewer chemical products. The idea is to make intelligent use of pesticides, especially in regions where conversion to organic farming is difficult to achieve.
Established by the Grenelle de l'Environnement, the HEV certification is a recognition for farms committed to environmentally friendly approaches. The objective of this label is to promote the good practices of producers on the basis of indicators of results for the entire estate. This certification is based on environmental performance in terms of biodiversity protection, fertilisation management, water management and phytosanitary strategy. The Champagne houses Nicolas Maillart, Thierry Massin and CL de la Chapelle have received this certification.
Certified Demeter or Biodyvin, biodynamic Champagnes are the result of an organic production method in which practices must be in line with the cycles of nature and the stars. The grapes are thus cultivated in accordance with the rhythms of the seasons and the lunar calendar. The techniques used also aim to strengthen and improve the quality and fertility of the soil (composting, natural fertilisation, etc.). Various winegrowers practice biodynamics today, including the Champagne House Fleury.
The VDC or Sustainable viticulture in Champagne label is the official recognition of the performance of Champagne winegrowers. This certification is based on the application of the principles of sustainable development to vine growing. It testifies to the daily commitment of winegrowers to three areas of action, namely the biodiversity footprint, the carbon footprint and the water footprint. This label mainly aims to reduce the pressure of winegrowing practices on the environment (landscape, air, water, soil, climate, biodiversity). This is notably the case for the Maison CL de la Chapelle.
Many small Champagne producers use grass between the rows of vines. In this case, the grass is no longer considered a weed. On the contrary, it favours the development of fauna (such as ladybirds) slowing down the proliferation of parasites that can harm the vine. Moreover, a grassed vineyard has a soil that is better protected from erosion and the harmful effects of direct exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays, rain and frost. Thanks to the addition of organic matter, this practice also increases the biological life of the soil, which becomes more porous and permeable, improving the transfer of water to the deep soil. It should be noted that the grassing of the vineyard is included in the specifications of the HEV and VDC labels.
At the heart of the wine and gastronomic heritage, Champagne is a real French treasure. Today, small Grower Champagne producers are increasingly motivated to make a place for themselves alongside the big houses and Champagne brands that have been exporting their products to every corner of the world for years.
However, it is important to know that Grower Champagne producers generally have few means to prospect abroad. They therefore often choose other areas of investment such as organic, single-vineyard or by joining forces with other winegrowers. In addition, they can rely on their family know-how and their particularities, but also on the promotion of their terroir. These avenues of development are essential at a time when the French Champagne market is in decline.
To discover quality Champagnes, don't just rely on the prestige of the big houses. The know-how of the Grower Champagne producers is indeed just as high in front of the manufacturing requirements imposed by the Champagne appellation. Moreover, some delicious Grower Champagnes are available on our site. For you to discover!