The Growers’ Revolution

Champagne, FranceChampagne has evolved into three distinct types of producer – The négociant houses, (26 of which are Grand Marques), The co-operatives and the grower producers known as Récoltant Manipulant (RM on any Grower Champagne Label).

The growers have been around for as long as the Maisons. Their families have owned the land they work for centuries, and in many cases they have supplied the same Maisons with a large proportion of their grapes for many centuries. For no Maison owns outright all the land from which they produce… and the Growers have enjoyed a harmonious, prosperous and long-lived relationship in return.

The average Champagne grower now owns less than 0.7 hectares.

This has also evolved through the generations as estates have been divided among family through succession and inheritance.

However in recent times, certain growers have begun to hold back select parcels for themselves. Whilst still selling grapes to their respective Maisons, they are now producing their own Champagnes and labels. This has really arisen from a more open consumer willing to experience a more diverse range of styles and terroir from what is actually one of the most diverse wine regions on the planet, due to the tensions created between the Oceanic and Continental weather systems proverbially ‘fighting it out’ over the sloping hills of Champagne.

Larmandier-Bernier Vineyards

To say that ‘small is beautiful’ and ‘big is bad’ – is not a fair comment for the rise of the grower in Champagne. Large Négociants/Maisons produce exceptional Cuvées – however this is no longer exclusively their domain.

The secret of the growers is their intimate knowledge of their best parcels, and that these parcels show such unique sensory aspects from their land.

They truly add landscape and colour to the tapestry of Champagne. For sure the Négociants wish that they were receiving these parcels for themselves as they have in the past – but there is a growing acceptance that this diversity is adding value for all Champagnes in the region. The producers and growers have always been a very tight community – you will often find Chef de Caves from various Maisons dining, drinking and sharing time with their grower friends.

The parcels selected by the growers for their own labels are often organic or biodynamic. They search for the deepest and healthiest root systems to produce the best Champagnes… and after it is generally agreed – the great wines come only from the great vineyards, and who better to know the greatest vineyards than the grower?

At the time of writing, our picks for the greatest Récoltant Manipulant Labels in no particular order are Egly-Ouriet, Larmandier-Bernier, Georges Laval, Jacques Selosse, Jerome Prevost, Jacquesson, André Clouet.

Georges Laval Vineyards (Photo Credit to Wine Terroirs – www.wineterroirs.com)

#1 : 2002 Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas François Billecart Brut

#1: 2002 Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas François Billecart Brut; In 1999, the Nicolas François Billecart 1959 vintage was voted the “Champagne of the Millennium,” – The ’61 came second… The ’02 keeps this tradition of precision and excellence alive and well.

#2: 2006 Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon Brut Rosé

#2: 2006 Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Elisabeth Salmon Brut Rosé: Named for the Grandam of this Maison – This wine embodies the essence of feminine poise and elegance. Held for 10 years before release, this wine is worth hunting down…

Maison Cattier – Les Coutumes Familliales

At 6 Rue Dom Perignon, Chigny-Les-Roses you’ll find Cattier. A small family owned Maison boasting some of the deepest cellars in Champagne but more importantly, some of the finest champagnes.

Dom Perignon statue, Champagne Region, France

Since 1763 the family have cultivated grapes here on the northern slopes of the Montagne de Reims. However  the wine wouldn’t be for 153 years…There was a soldier sent to the front in his cavalry regiment during World War I.

Seriously injured in 1915, he was sent back home and in 1916, he started to work the family estate. Unable to find buyers for his harvest, he borrowed a few vats and decided to vinify himself his first wines.

That was 100 years ago in Chigny les Roses – His name was Jean Cattier.

Today the Cattier family still has their hands firmly in the soil and vats. Into the 11th generation of the family in champagne this family has some serious prestige in the region!Not only are they making making Champagne for themselves but also the infamous Armand de Brignac. This family owned and made Champagne has come a long from grower to Vintner and is surely one to watch…

#3: NV Armand de Brignac “Ace of Spades” Gold Brut

#3 NV Armand de Brignac “Ace of Spades” Gold Brut: Touted as the most expensive Champagne and available in the infamous 30l ‘Midas’ bottle – this bad boy is worthy of note. This is luxury personified…

#4: NV Cattier Clos du Moulin Brut Premier Cru

#4: NV Cattier Clos du Moulin Brut Premier Cru: This Maison predates the French Revolution. Their pedigree highlights this elegant expression of the Clos du Moulin – not to mention it’s made on Rue Dom Peringnon in Chigny Les Roses…

Is Jay Z’s Champagne Any Good?

Beyonce and Jay Z at the 40 / 40 in New York, brandishing a bottle of Armand de Brignac (Photo by Johnny Nunez/WireImage)


Jay Z and Champagne seem almost as synonymous as hip hop and gold chains. So it makes complete sense for a mogul such as him to not only imbibe, but to own his own champagne house: Armand de Brignac, aka “Ace of Spades”. However the real question is; Is it any good?

Image from Armand de Brignac's instagram: @armanddebrignacFirst a little context…
In 2006 there seemed to be an end to hip hop’s love affair with Louis Roederer Cristal! This was all after Jay Z accused the then managing director, Frédéric Rouzaud of racism in light of a comment made to the economist; “that’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Pérignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.” So shortly after this Jay Z publicly removed everything Cristal from his personal life, nightclubs and businesses. Then an all-gold bottle “Ace of Spades” was spotted with him everywhere from video shoots to court side.

Recently Decanter magazine asked just this question and put this luxury brand through its paces. Made by the Cattier family whose Maison was founded before the french revolution – there is definitely a good pedigree but the proof is the juice! All of the wines smashed expectations hitting above 91 points. Not only are you getting a magnificently decadent bottle but you are getting some “damn” good wine too.

Image from Armand de Brignac's Instagram: @armanddebrignac

#6: 2009 Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus Premier Cru

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#6: 2009 Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus Premier Cru: This 100% chardonnay, single vintage, single terroir masterpiece captures the essence of spring in Vertus.

“Perfectly balanced without a drop of dosage, its vibrant acidity confirm this magnificent vintage.” –Tyson Stelzer

Maison Billecart-Salmon – A Love Affair

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Portraits of Nicolas François Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon

Nicolas-François Billecart met Elisabeth Salmon in 1818. They fell in love. They were soon married.  For their wedding gift from the Salmon family, they were bestowed a small plot of perfect land in the beautiful Mareuil sur Ay in the Marne region of Champagne. They decided to found a Champagne House with this land that was above all a beacon of excellence and purity. This was a very pioneering venture. ‘Sparkling Champagne’ at this time was still in it’s early days. Exploding bottles were still a major issue in the process – but then, this was an explosive love.
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The Maison as it stands today

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The current generation of Billecart-Salmon

Their Maison is one of the most sterling examples of Louis XI architecture. It is one of the few left standing today following the Napoleonic revolution where so much of the great architecture of Louis XVI was destroyed. The Maison today is still family owned jointly by two brothers – the seventh generation of the family. The secret of the Maison has been the ‘savoir-faire’ passed down from generation to generation. The eighth generation – Nicolas-François Billecart came on board alongside his father Francois, Uncle Antoine and grandfather Jean in 2010.

“My father turns 90 next March and we are very lucky that he still joins us for every tasting,” Antoine reflects, “He began working in wine when he was 16 and has over 70 harvests in his memory. His experience of terroir is so great that he can comment on the effect of every parcel in a blend and challenge us to consider what a wine will be like in 20 years. ‘This sample wont last, and in 15 years you’re going to cry!’ he tells us. He has such experience that he can feel a vintage by smelling and tasting the musts building the blend in his mind before we even taste it.”
The art of crafting elegant, graceful champagne requires the most exacting skill. Sweetness, richness and breadth cover all manner of sins in Champagne, but a wine in its unadorned, raw nakedness reveals even the slightest blemish for all to see. In the words of Tyson Stelzer –
‘The mark of Billecart is made not by the heavy footfall of concentration, power and presence but rather by the fairy touch of delicacy and crystal clear fidelity.’
Every one of its dozen cuvées articulately speaks the house philosophy of ‘respecting’ the integrity of the fruit, freshness and acidity.
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The stunning Billecart-Salmon range as represented by Dhall & Nash

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