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  • Getting Into Grower Champagne with Wine Folly

    Getting into Grower Champagne – Wine Folly

    We worked with expert, Bryan Maletis, who runs fatcork.com to help create a guide to grower Champagne. Learn some interesting details about Champagne that will surprise you and find out how to select small-producer Champagne.

    What is Grower Champagne?
    Grower Champagne is sparkling wine crafted by grape growers and their families. It embodies those who grow grapes in their own vineyards and produce cuvées (aka sparkling wine blends) that reflect their distinct vineyards and style.

    INFO: Only 5% of the Champagne imported into the USA is grower Champagne.
    Do you like the unique character of farm fresh eggs or single origin coffee and chocolate? Well, Grower Champagne is similar in that it rarely tastes the same every year and each producer is different. Of course, this is part of what makes it so compelling.

    What does Grower Champagne taste like?

    Grower Champagnes come in a very wide range of styles. What’s been noted about these bubbly wines is that the individual work of the growers really comes through in the finished cuvée. See below for details of several common styles of Champagne.

    3 Types of Producers in Champagne

    Types of Champagne Producers

    There are three general classifications of Champagne producers imported into the USA: Maisons, Cooperatives and Vignerons.

    champagne-house-maison

    Maisons

    Large Champagne Houses

    Maisons (aka ‘Houses’) make up 87% of the Champagnes imported into the USA. Champagne houses buy their grapes from lots of grape growers from all over the region. The Maisons focus on blending grapes from different regions and vintages to produce a consistent taste every year.

    How to recognize: Maisons are the large Champagne brands or ‘negotiants’ (neg-gosse-see-yont) that may have familiar names such as Moët, Veuve Clicquot, Perrier, Bollinger, etc. Maison Champagnes are widely available and are famous for making appearances at fancy events. Chances are, if you’re at an Oscars afterparty, you’re probably sipping a Maisons de Champagne!

    INFO: On the label ‘NV’ stands for ‘Non Vintage’ which is a blend of several vintages.
    cooperative-champagne-brands

    Cooperatives

    Co-op Champagne Facilities

    Co-ops are typically wines from a specific village in Champagne and from grapes grown around that village. Growers who don’t have all the sparkling wine making equipment can opt into a village co-op. There are many different ways in which co-ops function, but usually, the growers supply their grapes to the co-op and the chief winemaker makes the final cuvées. The Champagnes can be labeled individually for the growers and they can be labeled as the co-op brand.

    How to recognize: Cooperative Champagnes are typically labeled with the letters ‘CM’ for ‘Coopérative Manipulant’ in small print on the bottom of the front label. However, there are a few other types of producer who use co-ops (see below).

    grower producer rm champagne

    Vignerons

    Grower Champagne

    These are the grower-producers. The word ‘vigneron’ roughly translates to winegrower or more specifically, someone who cultivates a vineyard for winemaking. Growers typically own small parcels of vineyards in very specific places within the Champagne region. They tend to their vines all year and harvest their grapes on their own. Because their sparkling wines are crafted with grapes from specific parcels of land and blended in small lots, they tend to taste very distinct and different every year.

    How to recognize: A good tip is to look for hyphenated names. Growers often label their sparkling wines using their last name, along with a hyphenated maiden name (or two) that typically comes from the grower’s mother or spouse. This is done to honor the heritage of the land. Also, see the official producer types below for more tips.

    nm-champagne-rm-champagne
    Perrier-Jouet is a Maison under the ‘NM’ producer classification.

    Hints on the Champagne Label:

    In total, there are 7 official producer types that are identifiable by two letters small print at the bottom of the front label. Use these letter as a hint to the producer type, but remember, there are occasionally exceptions to these regulatory classifications:

    NM
    ‘Négociant Manipulant’ A producer who buys all or some of their grapes from other growers. Anything less than 94% estate fruit must be labeled NM. Maison Champagne is labeled with this producer class, but it’s not entirely uncommon to see grower Champagne under this classification as well.
    CM
    ‘Coopérative Manipulant’ A grower’s co-op that pools resources and produces wine under a single brand.
    RM
    ‘Récoltant Manipulant’ A grower-producer who uses a minimum of 95% estate fruit. This is classically considered the grower Champagne producer type, although, it’s possible for a Maison to use this classification on a sub-label or brand.
    SR
    ‘Société de Récoltants’ A union of growers who shares resources and collectively markets their own brands.
    MA
    ‘Marque d’Acheteur’ aka ‘Buyer’s Own Brand’ A large retail or restaurant that buys a finished wine and sells it under their own private label.
    ND
    ‘Négociant Distributeur’ A buyer who labels and distributes Champagne that they didn’t grow nor produce.
    RC
    ‘Récoltant Coopérateur’ A grower-producer who has their own Champagne brand made at a co-op facility.

    “Champagne is on the verge of a profound change… The era of great growers and great vineyards is just beginning.”
    Andrew Jefford, The New France


    Is Grower Champagne Better than Cooperative and Maison Champagne?

    No. While Grower Champagne is certainly more artisanal, it’s not necessarily better than Maison Champagnes; this a matter of personal preference, taste and occasion.

    Recent Top/Best Champagne Vintages to Seek Out

    1996, 2002, 2004, 2008
    The best vintages in Champagne over the last 20 years are debatable and have a lot to do with the individual producer, but, 1996, 2002, 2004, and 2008 are pretty great across the spectrum. Find out more about cool climate wine regions

    Quick Breakdown: 5 Primary Styles of Champagne

    If you’re just getting into the different styles of Champagne, here are some useful tips on where to find the style you like:

    Look for Brut Nature from Montagne de Reims and Côtes des Blancs
    Brut Nature Champagne

    Bone Dry & Minerally
    Expect to spend: $50–60

    Very dry with keen acidity backed up with citrus and floral notes. Because these are dry with high acidity, they aren’t for the timid and probably shouldn’t be tasted immediately after brushing your teeth! Brut Nature is a great wine to pair with a wide range of foods for its palate cleansing effects.

    cotes-des-blancs-champagne-map
    Look for Blanc des Blancs from Côtes des Blancs
    Blanc de Blancs

    The 100% Chardonnay Champagne
    Expect to spend: $40–50

    Chardonnay is full of white flower and citrus aromas and depending on where it’s grown, it can also have flavors of chalk and minerality. As Blanc de Blancs age, they develop aromas of fresh baked bread, butter, and roasted nuts.

    vallee-de-la-marne-champagne-map
    Look for Blanc des Blancs from Vallée de la Marne
    Blanc de Noirs

    Fruity & Funky
    Expect to spend: $30–40

    Blanc de Noirs have rich aromas of white raspberry and apple and sometimes a subtle funky note that is often described as Parmesan cheese. A Pinot Meunier dominant Blanc de Noirs tends to be more funky and is meant to be drunk relatively young to preserve acidity.

    Rose Champagne

    From Minerals to White Cherry Cream
    Expect to spend: $55–65

    Rosé Champagnes come in a wide variety of tastes and colors. Some are almost orange, some are deep red, some are totally dry and tart, and some are full of ripe, red berry flavors. These wines differ based on the producer, where they are from, the Champagne sweetness level and the vintage.

    montagne-de-reims-blancs-champagne-map
    Look for Vintage Champagne from Montagne de Reims and Côtes des Blancs
    Vintage Champagne

    Creamy & Nutty
    Expect to spend: $55+

    Marzipan, honeycomb and hazelnut are often noted on vintage Champagne as well as baked apple, white cherry and lemon curd. Vintage Champagne must be aged for a minimum of three years and, the longer it ages before release, the more creamy and nutty it becomes. Therefore, the older the vintage, the more developed it will be with nuttiness. num.

    How to find great Vintage Champagne?
    Look for ‘recently disgorged’ vintage Champagnes where the producers have done extended aging on the lees in their caves. Many growers label disgorgement dates on their bottles so you know when it left their cellar; this is useful in determining how long the wine has been sitting on a shelf getting UV damage!

    So, begin drinking and educating! And if you need support, we’re here to help!

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    We Are A Seattle Hidden Gem!

    Seattle Rain or Shine Guides came to the Cave this weekend to talk to us about Fat Cork! We are featured in their Hidden Gems section. Check out the full article here. 

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    All About Rosé

    Bryan introduces us to Rosé just in time for Valentine’s Day! Video by Geena Pietromonaco.

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    How to Open Champagne

    A quick tutorial from Bryan Maletis on opening a Champagne bottle the right way! Video by Geena Pietromonaco.

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    When to Drink Champagne? Everyday!

    Champagne Corks

    Don’t wait for a special occasion to open up a bottle of Champagne; open a bottle to make any occasion special! Follow these four simple steps to drink Champagne like a pro, Jedi, aficionado, or whatever title you choose!

    1) Chill Champagne

    Champagne should be stored in a cool dark place until it’s ready to enjoy. When you’re ready to chill a bottle to pop, place your Champagne in the refrigerator (at least 12 hours before popping the cork), or put your bottle in an ice bucket (or a sink!) filled with half ice and half water for 20 minutes. Watch Bryan’s complete tutorial on chilling Champagne here! 

    Pouring Champagne

    2) Open Champagne

    When you open Champagne, there shouldn’t be a loud pop or a lot of fizz. Instead, remove the foil, place your thumb over the top of the cork (on the metal cap), and while holding the cork firmly in place, slowly turn the bottle away from the cork. When you feel the cork start to give, apply a slight onward pressure and let the cork gently sigh as it comes out. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, saber your Champagne for a real show! 

    3) Drink Champagne

    Enjoy bubbles on their own, or pair your Champagne with a variety of easy foods. Get geeky as you taste, or simply sip and enjoy.

    When to Drink Champagne

    4) Most importantly: Celebrate!

    Toast with a glass of Champagne often! Raise a glass to your spouse, a birthday, a bad day, a Tuesday night. Bring a bottle to a friend’s house, on a picnic, or on a vacation. A bottle of Champagne turns any occasion into a grand celebration.

     

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    Champagne Gift Guide

     

    Champagne Gifts for Everyone

    Find Champagne for anyone on your list! Take the quiz above, then browse the results: Pascal Redon Brut Tradition, Jean Baillette-Prudhomme Rosé de Saignée, JM Goulard Paul Tradition Magnum, Gimonnet-Oger Blanc de Blancs Millésime 2002, and Alexandre Lenique Cuvée Excellence Brut. As always, contact us for customized gift ideas and pairing suggestions.

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    Should you Age Champagne?

    Champagne Bottles Aging in cellar

    To cellar, or to drink, a question many of us ask when purchasing a beautiful bottle of wine. Champagne is unique in that it’s aged to perfection in the caves of producers in France before release. Champagne benefits from long amounts of time on the lees (the dead yeast cells) leftover from secondary fermentation. When Champagne is aging in the caves, the lees have not yet been removed, so the Champagne is becoming more complex as it ages. Before corking, the lees are removed from bottles through a process called disgorgement. And, once the cork is in place, the Champagne is gradually exposed to a small amount of oxygen, let in by the porous surface of the cork over time.

    Below: Champagne aging on the lees. 

    Champagne under temporary bottle cap

    Producers taste their Champagnes at all stages of development, and will only disgorge and cork them when they’ve reached their prime. Therefore, in most cases, the Champagne will taste its best, as the producer intended it to taste, 6 months to about 3 years after corking.

    However, many people enjoy the flavors of a cork aged Champagne. The oxygen will open up flavors, often expanding the range of flavors present. But if you’re not starting with perfect, high-quality Champagne, aging it too long can make the Champagne taste funky. Below is our general guide for aging your Champagne, based on type.

    Rosé Champagne riddling racks

    ROSÉ – Drink within 1 year after purchasing

    Delicate and fruit-forward, most rosés are best enjoyed soon after they have been corked. The exceptions are vintage specific rosé Champagnes and rosé Champagnes made with the pinot noir grape. Both have the structure to generally age for 3-5 years under cork.

    NON VINTAGE BLANCS – Drink within 3-5 years after purchasing

    Non-vintage Champagnes are blended wines, made from a mix of recently harvested wine, and reserve wine. Most producers craft a non-vintage Champagne as their house style and most are aged to perfection in the cellars of their producer and don’t need to be kept under a cork for too long. The oxidation can eventually overwhelm the beautiful fruit flavors resulting in a mature effect.

    VINTAGES – Drink within 10-15 years after purchasing

    Vintage Champagne is always aged by the producer for a minimum of three years and often much longer. Vintages are only bottled in extraordinary years, when the grapes are perfect and weather conditions are ideal. Therefore, when buying a vintage Champagne, you can assume it’s high-quality, and age-worthy. Though still unpredictable, aging a vintage Champagne under cork will often open up the flavors and expand the range. Like wine, Champagne vintages are distinct and will taste different as they age. 1996, 2002, 2004 and 2008 are some of our favorite, most age-worthy Champagne vintages.

    Champagne pour

    CELEBRATE EVERYDAY!

    Our philosophy is to pop open Champagne as often as you can, to make any occasion special! Instead of keeping your “best bottles”, waiting for the perfect moment to pop the cork, open the bottle to celebrate any day! Toast to a home-cooked meal, your spouse, a bad day, a promotion, or anything. Opening that special bottle will create lasting memories and smiles for all.

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    Introducing Champagne Xavier Leconte!

    Fat Cork Champagne, exclusive importer of Xavier Leconte

    For an incredible six generations the Leconte Family has passed down a passion for crafting exceptional Champagne from their vineyards in the heart of Troissy-Bouquigny, a small town in the Vallée de la Marne region. The terroir benefits from a moderate oceanic climate and identifiable chalk, limestone and clay parcels where the different grapes are specifically planted where they are best situated to grow.

    Champagne Region Map

    Alexis, along with help from his parents, Xavier and Sylvie, has led his family operation since he took the helm in 2013. In addition to spending his entire life training with his family in Champagne, Alexis has experience in many different Champagne houses and wineries. After working in the Grandes Maisons de Champagne, Alexis earned his National Diploma of Oenology and spent 4 years working in Bordeaux and Alsace. These outside experiences have helped Alexis come back to lead his family Champange business into the next generation.

    “Even being an oenologist, we need an outside opinion. My group of friends, from wine school help me taste. They are each winemakers on different soils, with different stories, and it helps. We grow from sharing.” 

    -Alexis Leconte

    Grower Champagne exclusively imported by Fat Cork

    We’re honored to be the exclusive U.S. importer and retailer of yet another remarkable Champagne family, Xavier Leconte! Check out the Champagne Xavier Leconte collection of 10 distinct cuvées!

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    How To Taste Champagne

    Bryan shares his tips for tasting Champagne! Smelling, swirling, sipping, and enjoying, learn the best way to taste Champagne in this quick video.

    Wonderful video by Geena Pietromonaco!

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    How Champagne is Made

    How to Make Champagne

     

    Producing Champagne is a fascinating art, passed down from many generations. From vineyard to table, the process takes years! Learn the laborious and extraordinary steps of making Champagne below.


    CHAMPAGNE VINEYARDS

    All Champagne begins as grapes growing in vineyards located in the Champagne region of France. There are three main grapes permitted in Champagne: chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. The cool climate and soil content (regions with limestone, marl, and chalk) in Champagne creates grapes that are deliciously tart, and high in acid. Once the grapes have reached their peak ripeness, growers harvest by hand-picking every grape and transporting them back to the presses. Although the process is extremely laborious, hand-picking ensures that only the highest quality grapes go into each pressing.

    How to Make Champagne

    Pascal Redon Champagne Harvest

    Grower Champagne Harvest

     


    THE PRESS & PRIMARY FERMENTATION

    Immediately after harvest, grapes are de-stemmed and delivered to cuveries for pressing. Many small growers still use traditional wooden presses (pictured below), that gently press grapes into juice that is channeled to tanks underneath. Between each pressing, the grapes are mixed with pitch forks to ensure maximum juice extraction.

    After pressing, the grape juice is stored in barrels, concrete tanks, or stainless steel vats for primary fermentation. The juice is tasted at various stages of fermentation to determine future blends and vintages.

    Wooden Champagne Press at Champagne Jean Baillette-Prudhomme

    Chardonnay juicing in traditional wooden Champagne press

     


    SECONDARY FERMENTATION

    After lots of tasting and blending, the recently fermented wine is often combined with older reserve wine to make a cuvée. Or in exceptional years, the wine will be bottled on its own as a vintage. Once the blend is determined, the wines are bottled with yeast and sugar to start secondary fermenation. The bottles are stopped under a temporary bottle cap that keeps the bubbles inside each bottle. The reaction of the yeast and sugar inside the bottle creates the Champagne bubbles!

     


    AGING

    The Champagne ages in the bottle under a temporary bottle cap for a minimum of 15 months to be called Champagne, and a minimum of 3 years to be Fat Cork Champagne. Many producers age their cuvées for several years, and some even decades to produce complex and unique wines. The process of aging Champagne on the lees (dead yeast cells) creates more complexity and depth.

    Champagne Cave in France

    Champagne Cave in France

     


    DISGORGEMENT

    After aging is complete, and the bottles are ready to enjoy, the process of riddling begins. Bottles are slowly turned onto their necks so that the lees from the bottom of each bottle settle into the neck. Once stable, the bottles are disgorged, meaning that the lees are removed; the necks of bottles are flash-frozen so that when the bottle cap is removed, only the frozen wine (that contains the lees) is lost. Once the lees have been removed, a small dose of still wine and sugar (the dosage) is added to balance the levels of high acidity. Or, in the case of Brut Nature Champagne, the dosage will be skipped, creating a dry and acidic wine.

     


    CORKS & LABELING

    Once the Champagne is complete, corks are inserted into the bottles then covered with wire cages and foil. Finally, the front labels and the Fat Cork back labels are applied by hand.

     


    VOILÁ! 

    The process of making Champagne is complete! Fat Cork Champagne is then loaded into cases and shipped to the United States in temperature controlled containers. Once the cases reach our Seattle warehouse, they are unloaded by hand, and stored in our cool, underground Champagne cave. There the bottles await to be sent to celebrations across the U.S.!

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