From Kimmeridgean soils to a second fermentation in the bottle, every facet of Champagne is enrapturing. The perennial celebratory beverage is quickly ditching its association with high price tags of ‘house style’ tête de cuvée, as I found out upon my recent discovery of grower’s Champagne.

Not too long ago I caught an episode of Wine Library TV—a video blog of Gary Vaynerchuk, the director of operations at Wine Library in New Jersey, and his trials-by-palate from super market wines to the cult variety—covering, or rather exposing me to ‘grower’s Champagne.’ In that particular webisode (#891) he compared José Dhondt NV to Moutardier Brut NV, urging his faithful following to drink bubbles more often and to carve out a space in the Champagne ‘n food debate.

After viewing, I quickly performed a quest on to see who had the wines advertised and in stock. I stumbled upon Wine Expo, not my preferred wine retailer but a good source for Champagnes that fly low on the radar.

While at Wine Expo I loaded up on a bounty of lesser-known producers, at a fraction of the price of the leading nègoçiants—those Champagnes that dominate the US Market. It was an informative trip and especially eye opening, like I had taken the red pill.

When I got home and tried one of my first bottles of Champagne—the least expensive of the galère— my tongue perked, heart pounded and eyes widened, I immediately felt the veil had been lifted and I realized that the world was much larger than Veuve Clicquot. The flavors were explosive with subtle notes of nutmeg and baked bread rounding out the tightly packed bubbles. This has since been my experience with farmer’s fizz, a truly astonishing experience with each of my selections. Hard to hit a wrong note.

Grower’s Champagne stems from the farmers independent productions, unlike those of the big name Champagne houses that most consumers are aware—Piper-Heidsieck, Mumm, Louis Roederer and Moët & Chandon to name a few. They are boutique sparkling wines that possess a lot of character and may yield better expressions of place. Though farmers are a majority in Champagne, accounting for 88% of vineyards, only a select few choose not to sell their grapes to the larger houses. It makes the dauntless few, the proud Gallic farmers worth seeking out because the quality and lower yields of fruit create small batches of Champagne with meticulous oversight in the production from growing the grapes to bottling the wine.

Aside from pushing grower’s Champagne, it is important to become acquainted with Champagne, in all its endearing aspects from color to second fermentation. 

Geography, Soil Composition, Climate and Grapes

Champagne is located east of Paris, and is roughly 84,000 acres in area. The most northern wine-making region in France, it was officially outlined for wine purposes in 1927 by the INAO (a French organization responsible for oversight of agricultural products). It is comprised of only one AOC—one of the largest in the country.

Champagne sits in Kimmeridgean soil—a sub-period of time during the upper Jurassic period where the ocean use to cover Champagne, leaving traces of broken shells and lots of clay deposits behind—that is very chalky. Champagne’s chalky soil is a desirable environment for the vine, allowing good drainage and humidity, an impetus of healthy vines.

The cool continental climate of Champagne—with little influence from large oceans to regulate temperature, makes these areas susceptible to cold winters and warm summers—can barely ripen the grapes, preserving high acidity, which lends itself to the blending of varietals.

The only allowable grapes of Champagne (the region) are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the latter two of which are red varietals, which begs the question: how do they get that golden shimmer from red grapes?


The color of most Champagne is white-golden—unless it’s a Rosé—and the more common straw-hued liquid can be achieved by using only red grapes to produce the wine, as is the case with a variety of producers. If you have ever seen ‘Blanc de Noirs’ tattooed on a label, a consumer is being informed of exactly this sort of combination of varieties, whereas ‘Blanc de Blancs’ indicates Champagne comprised purely of Chardonnay. That title will bear some weight on the buyer’s selection since each grape variety contributes unique features to the wine’s structure or perfume. The color is crafted by applying different winemaking techniques. In the case of red grapes rendering a blonde fizz, the winemaker is limiting the contact of the skins with the wine.


The defining characteristic of Champagne is what looms in the glass, making those gassy pearls? The bitty bubbles are formed under a second fermentation via, most famously, a “traditional method.”  This method sees a base wine combined with another wine, from a previous harvest, with added sugar and yeast—to spark a chemical reaction in the bottle, ergo carbon dioxide bubbles. This painstaking method can be seen here.

Fun Facts

Dom Pérignon did exist, a Benedictine monk in charge of the cellars of the Abbey of Hautvillers.  During his tenure as treasurer he oversaw the collection of grapes, wine making and blending of wines, creating wines that outsold the surrounding abbeys.

Madame Clicqout-Ponsardin did exist! She was the widow of François Clicquot. She was dubbed the inventor of Remuage/ riddling—a process to remove the excess sediment from the neck of an overturned bottle after the second fermentation—after she converted her table into a customized riddling rack to help ease the painstaking process.

Nègoçiants and coopératives—these groups create over three quarters (80%) of Champagne production in the world, and between them, only own a sliver of the vineyards. Instead, they buy the grapes for blending from farmers in the surrounding region.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for Champagne; a coarse daub of paint a la Renoir, but there is no better way to familiarize yourself with the esteemed beverage than to immerse your palate in a good bottle of grower’s Champagne.

If you are looking for more sources, then consider these links:

Jancis Robinson

Terry Theise