“Champagne is on the verge of profound change. There is a growing realization in the region that its viticulture has become slovenly and the subtleties of its terroir have been neglected. The era of great growers and great vineyards is just beginning.”
Andrew Jefford, The New France
In Champagne, only about 4,000 growers make their own wine; the rest sell their grapes to the cooperatives or to big brands like Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot. In fact, big Champagne houses account for about 70 percent of total Champagne production and about 97 percent of sales outside Europe. They have long been the names that stand for Champagne.
But in the past several years, things have started to change. More growers have begun exporting their wines. And more consumers have been buying them. The reason for this new popularity is terroir—the untranslatable (and frequently invoked) French term for the confluence of weather, soil and aspect that gives a vineyard an identifiable character. Unlike the big houses, which buy grapes from all over Champagne (sometimes from as many as 1,000 different vineyard sites), growers make wines with grapes from a particular place. That sense of terroir, coupled with good prices (often 10 or 20 percent less than the big brands, and sometimes even lower), has incited sommeliers to add names like Pierre Paillard to their wine lists, even according them special categories in some cases. For winemakers too small to have marketing teams, publicity departments or, for that matter, much wine, this is a clear underdog victory
How to spot when a champagne has been made by the producer that grew the grapes rather than by a bottler that bought and blended the wine. Virtually all champagne front labels carry a little code next to the name of the producer as follows:
NM négociant-manipulant, one of the big houses/maisons/négociants
RM récoltant-manipulant, a grower who makes his or her own wine
CM coopérative de manipulation, one of the co-operatives
RC récoltant-coopérateur, grower selling wine made by a co-op
MA marque d’acheteur, buyer’s own brand, usually a made-up label
So to find a grower’s champagne, look out for the letters RM.