Absolutely. Thereâ€™s no law that says you have to pay hundreds of dollars for good Champagne, and no guarantee that cheaper bottles will be rubbish. The fact is that an increasing number of growers are producing their own excellent bubbly, so why not give them a try?
We’ve all heard of micro-breweries, and those among us whoâ€™ve sampled their wares generally attest to the superiority of their beverages over their more famous mass-produced counterparts, so why should Champagne be any different? The short answer is that really, itâ€™s not.
Most of the 20,000 growers (vignerons) in the Champagne region sell their harvests to les Grandes Maisons â€“ the big Champagne houses (e.g. Veuve Clicquot, MoÃ«t & Chandon, Krug, et al). Although these world-famous maisons produce around 80% of all Champagne thatâ€™s sold in France, they only own 15% of the vineyards in the region, so have to buy the harvests of approximately 60% of the other growers. These vigneronsÂ never produce their own wine â€“ their vineyards exist to supply the maisons.
A quick look at the label on a bottle of Champagne will tell you whether the wine was produced by a maison; it will have the initials, NM, followed by a code number. NM stands for NÃ©gociants-Manipulants (dealers-handlers).
Around 2,000 vignerons never sell their harvests – they keep their grapes in order to make their own Champagne. Again, reading the label will help you here; grower Champagnes have the RM designation – RÃ©coltants-Manipulants (harvesters-handlers).
Buying grower Champagne means that youâ€™re not only buying a great bottle of wine but also generations of family know-how and a way of life. Youâ€™re buying into a passion for winemaking that is centuries old. And honestly, wouldn’t you rather buy from the vineyard, where you can see how the grapes are grown, and meet the people who grow them, than browse seemingly endless shelves in a giant supermarket?0