Ex­plor­ing the re­cent rise of grower cham­pagne

The China Post - - LIFE -

their grapes is not new, though visibility on global mar­kets is a re­cent phe­nom­e­non, led by names such as bio­dy­namic pro­ducer Lar­mandier Bernier. Some grower houses, of which there are about 5,000, work by them­selves, while oth­ers such as Paul Go­erg form co­op­er­a­tives — in this case with an an­nual pro­duc­tion of about 350,000 bot­tles.

Only decades old as a move­ment, the grower cham­pagne move­ment is new in the grand scheme of things. Crit­i­cally, th­ese wines are be­com­ing more and more avail­able on global mar­kets, and so are only now gain­ing in­ter­na­tional visibility.

The tra­di­tion in the Cham­pagne re­gion, one of the world’s most suc­cess­ful ( and self-pro­tec­tion­ist) wine ar­eas, has been for large houses to buy grapes from all over the re­gion and cre­ate wines from a vast ar­ray of “base” wines from dif­fer­ent years. This prac­tice has helped to bal­ance dra­matic vin­tage vari­a­tion and, given that cham­pagne is ex­pen­sive to pro­duce, pro­vide eco­nomics of scale. It has also al­lowed the large houses to dis­tin­guish them­selves from the oth­ers through blend­ing prac­tices that lead to a unique house style.

The suc­cess — and chal­lenge — of the large cham­pagne houses is the ac­tu­al­iza­tion of, and com­mit­ment to, main­tain­ing that style. Con­sumers bring a huge set of ex­pec­ta­tions to a glass of, say, Veuve Clic­qot. Else­where in the luxury world con­sumers sim­i­larly ex­pect an iconic per­fume like Chanel No 5 to smell like, well, Chanel No 5. A Her­mes bag will al­ways be a Her­mes bag.

On the other hand, grow­ers place more em­pha­sis on the di­ver­sity of vine­yard sites in the re­gion. The word “style” also arises a lot when talk­ing with grower cham­pagne houses, but what is in­trigu­ing is that stylis­ti­cally the wines are more about dif­fer­ence, one from the other, than about at­tain­ing uni­for­mity un­der an um­brella style. Within a sin­gle house, there is not even nec­es­sar­ily a house style.

Cham­pagne Gim­monet Gonet, which started in 1986 with five hectares but now has 13 in some of the finest Grand Cru vil­lages such as Cra­mant and Oger, is a good case in point. Work­ing al­most ex­clu­sively with chardon­nay, its Cu­vee Or has a re­ally in­ter­est­ing flo­ral-earthy-lemony nose and is a big wine, even while be­ing a blanc de blancs. The Cu­vee Pres­tige, while hav­ing a vi­brant en­ergy on the palate, is ephemeral. Mean­while, for the dense and chalky Carat du Mes­nil, of which just 500 bot­tles are pro­duced, Charles Gim­monet is even con­sid­er­ing plans to ex­per­i­ment with zero mal­o­lac­tic fer­men­ta­tion in 2016.

The Paul Go­erg blanc de blancs and rose are both del­i­cate and pure — “with­out makeup” as Moulin puts it. They dis­play the sim­plic­ity of luxury. But the Lady 2004 is fuller and broader. That vin­tage was very “open,” he says, “like an Ital­ian guy”.

Brazil­ian na­tional Clau­dio De Vil- le­mor Sal­gado is the con­sul gen­eral for greater China of the Or­dre des Coteaux de Cham­pagne, which is based in the im­por­tant niche mar­ket of Hong Kong. He stresses that grower cham­pagnes are not nec­es­sar­ily bet­ter — or “less good” — than the gran­des mar­ques. “They are just very dif­fer­ent,” he ex­plains, “and also dif­fer­ent one from an­other.”

It is not dif­fi­cult to iden­tify grower cham­pagnes. A Recoltant-Ma­nip­u­lant (ab­bre­vi­ated as RM and re­ferred to as a grower cham­pagne in English) is es­sen­tially a grape grower (an in­di­vid­ual or a com­pany) who re­lies ex­clu­sively on the fruit from their own vine­yard or vine­yards. Such pro­duc­ers are iden­ti­fi­able by a ma­tric­u­la­tion num­ber on the la­bel be­gin­ning with the let­ters RM. Those who sell their fruit are known sim­ply as Recoltants, and they sup­ply the so-called Gran­des Mar­ques who trade un­der the clas­si­fi­ca­tion of Ne­go­ciant Ma­nip­u­lant. Stephen Quinn writes about wine for a va­ri­ety of pub­li­ca­tions in the re­gion. From 1975 he was a jour­nal­ist for two decades with the Bangkok Post; BBC-TV, The Guardian, ITN, the UK Press As­so­ci­a­tion; TVNZ; the Mid­dle East Broad­cast­ing Cen­ter in Dubai and a range of re­gional news­pa­pers in Australia. Dr. Quinn be­came a jour­nal­ism ed­u­ca­tor in 1996, but re­turned to jour­nal­ism full time in 2011. He is based in Hong Kong and is the au­thor of 17 books.

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