Small independent Champagne growers rise in popularity14-12-2016
Christmas and New Year celebrations beckon and provide the perfect occasion to make a toast…with Champagne of course. While the prestigious Champagne houses remain tremendously successful, largely as a result of their luxury labels, a whole raft of smaller producers are producing Champagne that tastes just as good, with skilled expertise at the very heart of their ethos.
For independent Champagne growers, unity is strength
While prestigious Champagne houses are undoubtedly largely responsible for the success of Champagne throughout the world, they are not alone in their efforts to promote its values, and increasing numbers of more modest producers are making consumers sit up and take note. And a growing movement is encouraging growers to vinify their own grape production in order to promote the unique quality of their vineyards. Grower’s Champagne is mainly sold in France, essentially for reasons of economy.
“Depending on market fluctuations, Champagne houses can choose whether to sell more Champagne or more grapes. While Champagne houses specialise in defining and perpetuating a distinctive wine style, growers can reveal the true character of the terroir”, explains Sebastien Goulard, consultant winemaker and director of the laboratory at Champagne’s Oenological Institute.
He works alongside Champagne growers on a daily basis to lend support throughout the winemaking process. His father and brother both Champagne growers, he has seen dramatic changes among small producers over the last ten years. He highlights two major factors: “In light of administrative constraints, a decline in the French market and rising demand for grapes (and increased price of grapes/kg as a result), many growers are losing heart and selling their entire production to negociants”, explains Sebastien Goulard.
He continues, “There is however a new wave of growers who are in tune with social networks, and exporting more and more. The quantities may be decreasing, but the added value is increasing. The wines are increasingly specialised, ranging from barrel-aged or single vineyard to single varietal. These are wines specifically crafted to show distinctive character”.
And he also notes that the wines are increasingly exported to markets where Champagne consumption is already developed, such as the UK, Japan and the USA. This new generation of growers is not shy of coming together to form cooperatives to share technical equipment and manpower in order to reduce costs.
“For this generation of young growers, producing wine is the fruit of their labour”, concludes the consultant winemaker.
Champagne offering great value for money
This dynamic approach and willingness to promote the terroir comes also with the desire to drive the popularity of Champagne in France, essentially through a fairer price structure. Three young businessmen wanted to translate this willingness to make Champagne more accessible into direct action. They launched Champagne Terroir, a website focusing on Champagne terroir with the following mantra:
“And what if we wanted to enjoy Champagne from the most prestigious French vineyards without it costing the earth?”.
This online wine specialist company selects the finest Champagne Crus from independent growers. “The vast majority of Champagnes are sold under own-label or corporate brands, but there are still many independent growers producing excellent Champagnes at very affordable prices. You just need to know where to look!” states Emilien Marchal, one of the founders of Champagne Terroir. There are many other initiatives like this, but perhaps the best way is to go direct to the growers, and at the same time take advantage of this beautiful region.
A few facts and figures showing that Champagne is in good health
Figures for 2015, a historic year for Champagne, reflect the good health of this flourishing sector. Sales reached 212,531,444 bottles, including 161,822,697 in France, and the remainder spread across 190 countries, with exports accounting for 48% of sales. In 2015, the UK was once again the leading market, accounting for 42.6% of sales in volume and 34,153,662 bottles, effectively 1.5m more than the previous year. According to figures released by the regional trade body, the CIVC, (Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne), the USA is the second largest importer with 20,508,784 bottles, followed by Germany with 11.9m bottles, Japan with 11.8m, Belgium with 9.2m and Australia with 8.1m. These figures reflect just how important this industry is for France. Champagne leads the way in wines and spirits exports, accounting for 34% of wine exports in value terms. Unsurprisingly, the festive season is a key period for the 15,800 growers and 150 cooperatives making up this industry.