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Champagne's Best Kept Secret

Champagne's Best Kept Secret

Published by Peter Granoff, Master Sommelier on Apr 21st 2021

Never heard of a “grower Champagne”? We are sure you are not alone, and it is probably because of the Champagne region’s best kept secret.

In the US our frame of reference for Champagne is usually based on what are called the “big houses,” or internationally known Champagne brands. These are familiar names such as Moët & Chandon or Veuve Clicquot, and they account for approximately 90% of the sales of Champagne exported from France, and roughly 2/3rds of all the Champagne sold annually. Beneath these dry statistics are some astonishing details:

NONE of these big houses grow much of the grapes needed to support their production, and some don’t grow any at all.
There are approximately 20,000 individual wine grape growers in the Champagne region!
The 10% of the export market not accounted for by the big houses is made up of Champagnes from cooperatives, and from the small producers generally referred to as “Grower Champagnes.” There are an estimated 3,000 Grower Champagnes made, many of them not exported at all.

Grower Champagne producers fly well below the radar, and typically have no marketing or advertising budgets, much less a globe-trotting sales force. This is in stark contrast to the “big houses,” who spend millions of dollars annually on such efforts. The best Grower Champagnes put all their resources and effort into the bottle, offering delicious and distinctive wines that are worth seeking out.

This is not intended in any way to denigrate the quality of the Champagnes coming from the big companies, as many of the wines they produce are superb, and the consistency they are capable of at such a large scale is really quite remarkable. Our goal is simply to encourage you to look a little deeper when you encounter a Champagne label that is unfamiliar, as it might be an undiscovered gem.

How do you know when you stumble on a Grower Champagne? Pull out your glasses or magnifying glass, because the tell-all key is hard to find. Somewhere on the edge of the label you will see the letters RM followed by a multi-digit number. All Champagne producers have a number assigned to them for taxation purposes, but the most interesting part is “RM.” That stands for “Récoltant-Manipulant,” which signifies that the producer grew a minimum of 95% of the grapes used, and made the wine in the bottle. On the “big houses” labels the two letters you will most often see is “NM,” which stands for “Négociant-Manipulant.” An “NM” typically purchases most if not all of the grapes or wine for their label.

Armed with this information, we urge our customers to look more closely when they see an unfamiliar Champagne label on our shelves. We carefully select these wonderful bubblies and they are just waiting to be discovered.

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