Marcel Orford-Williams explains the move towards Champagne with a sense of place
Champagne may be about big brands but it should be remembered that when it comes to growing the grapes, only something like 10% of the land is in the hands of the big names. The rest is owned by some 20,000 growers and these are mostly small-holdings tended by weekend farmers, content to sell their crop to the co-op or one of the big houses. While there have always been a few grower-producers, their wines were often somewhat amateurish and lacked consistency from one vintage to the next.
But things are changing in Champagne. Partly as a reaction against marketing hype and the perceived industrialisation of Champagne, a small group of growers who are passionate about their terroir, are starting to do their own thing. Their Champagnes are not just curiosities for lovers of artisan wines either; suddenly growers are trying to make wine as if they were in Burgundy, going back to more traditional methods: barrel fermentation, lower yields and, increasingly, a much more sustainable approach to farming.
At The Wine Society, we are fortunate in that, in a way, this is exactly what Alfred Gratien, suppliers of our house Champagne, have always been about and it is no coincidence that Gratien wines are much respected by Champagne’s new and exciting avant garde. Indeed, last year Gratien were the only Champagne house asked to take part in an inaugural Growers’ Champagne tasting.
At last year’s Wine Champions tasting, where we select a range of wines from a huge series of blind tastings, we lined up a dozen or so Champagnes from many different sources. Now it has to be said that there wasn’t a bad wine there but three stood out and they were all Growers’ Champagnes. They were just a little more exciting, had more flavour and personality, and made one realise that Champagne is more than just bubbles.
These Growers’ Champagnes are handcrafted wines with individuality and character and are as far removed from the world of big brands as it is possible to be.
We believe that these wines deserve their own sub-section within our List, starting from this January and we hope that members will enjoy discovering them for themselves. If successful we shall increase the range and you can look forward to exploring more of these exciting new-wave wines in the future.