• 5 Things You Need To Know

5 Things You Need to Know About Grower Champagne

Credit: Brian Samuels
By Ellen Bhang · 12/09/2019

Want to dine like a pro? Each month, we ask local experts to share the inside scoop about a particular food or beverage. Use their tips to eat and drink better, whether you’re indulging at home or in a restaurant.

When the conversation turns to Champagne, big names like Veuve Clicquot, Pol Roger, and Moët & Chandon are frequently mentioned. But a special, more rare category—grower Champagne—is definitely worth exploring. To learn more, we caught up with Master Sommelier Brahm Callahan, corporate beverage director of the Himmel Hospitality Group, which includes Grill 23 & Bar in Back Bay. Callahan is one of three Master Sommeliers living and working in Massachusetts, and among only 269 worldwide.

1. Grower Champagne is made by producers who grow their own grapes.
In the Champagne region of northeastern France, big houses (or maisons) buy grapes from multiple growers, vinify the grapes, blend the wines, then coax bubbles by means of a second fermentation in bottle. Grower Champagne, on the other hand, is made by producers who farm their own grapes. Callahan describes these wines as “narrow snapshots” of specific places, and, often, vintage years. “We’re talking about [fruit] from a village or two, or a single vineyard,” he says.

2. Grower Champagne varies from year to year.
“Veuve Clicquot is the same, year in and year out, whether you’re in Hong Kong, Boston, New York, or Santiago,” says the Master Somm, underscoring that maison-made Champagne is blended to maintain a consistent house style. Grower Champagne, in contrast, reflects grape-growing conditions that vary from year to year. Callahan points out that because these grower-producers do not buy grapes from across the appellation, they are more exposed to risk. In a year of bad weather, for example, a farmer’s entire vineyard could be wiped out by hail or frost.

3. Grower-producers believe that with risk comes great reward.
So why do these makers choose not to hedge their bets by sourcing grapes from multiple areas? For many, it comes down to showcasing the distinctiveness of their growing sites. Grower-producer Laurent Champs is the great-great-grandson of the founder of Vilmart & Cie in Montagne de Reims, one of the four principal subregions of Champagne. Champ’s finest bottle, called “Coeur de Cuvée,” is mostly chardonnay, and made exclusively from 50-plus-year-old vines grown on a single chalky-soil parcel. Callahan always makes space for this grower-producer’s bottles on the wine list.

4. You can pair Champagne with steak.
A well-chosen Champagne, says Callahan, can be enjoyed throughout a meal. A bottle from La Closerie, called “Les Béguines,” is an extra-brut style crafted by grower-producer Jérôme Prévost in Montagne de Reims. It pairs splendidly with red meat. “It has earthy tones and more grip,” says Callahan, describing the pinot meunier-based sparkler. “You could do it with a steak, especially a ribeye.”

5. Buying grower Champagne is easy—just find an importer you like.
If you’re dining out and find a bottle you love, ask who imports it. (Pro tip: The import company’s name is on the back label.) Take that information to your neighborhood wine shop and try wines within that portfolio. Finding an importer you like, says Callahan, is the key to happy sipping at home.

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