Champagne is one of life’s true delights. The Chelsea Vintners team are passionate about this sensational sparkling wine – but there is more to this region than just the famous Grandes Marques. Grower Champagne is undoubtedly one of the most exciting categories anywhere in the world, with the quality and reputation of artisanal producers increasing with every new vintage.
In a movement considered by many to have started with industry legend Anselme Selosse, an ever-increasing band of quality-focused artisanal growers are making some of the most exciting Champagnes to come out of this world-famous region. The hallmark of these excellent producers is a single-minded focus on getting the very best from their small, farmed plots, producing sensational ripe fruit to reflect and celebrate the individual terroirs. Mostly crafted in accordance with organic and biodynamic principles and with little to no dosage, these wines are truly sensational. Once you’ve been bitten by the Grower bug, there is no turning back…
Our Private Client Specialist and former sommelier (as well as lover of Grower Champagne) Matt Love has selected a few of his favourite producers to give a glimpse into this fascinating world. He also had these words of wisdom for us – “It is important to remember that Champagne is a wine and should be treated just like a great red or white, using a very good wine glass instead of a flute will give the most pleasure”.
Francis Egly is the rock of Ambonnay and is to Pinot Noir what Jacques Selosse is to Chardonnay – both legendary trailblazers for the Grower Champagne movement. Whilst Jacques is more vocal, Francis prefers to take more of a back seat and let his wines do the talking. However, there is no doubt both men have been incredibly influential in championing the importance of Champagnes with a real sense of place which honours the vines they tend to. The Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition (in my opinion) is the best pound for pound Champagne made from 100% Grand Cru fruit from 40-year-old vines, producing powerful, intense wines with incredible purity of fruit and mineral intensity. Well worth seeking out.
Olivier Collin was another aspiring vigneron who fell into the orbit of Jacques Selosse. He was a vineyard stagiaire from 2001 to 2003 before establishing his own Domaine from family vineyards in Congy and the Coteaux du Petit Morin. Best known for crafting his wines from a single site planted with 100% old vine Chardonnay, the diverse soil found in his vineyards (the usual suspects of clay and chalk as well as black silex and the extremely rare onyx) give a characteristic smokiness to the wines. This note is most predominant in the Les Perrières vineyard, which is planted to 100% Chardonnay and is my personal favourite.
If you’ve only ever heard of a single grower, chances are that it’s Jacques Selosse. The domaine is headed up by Anselme Selosse, unquestionably the King of the Growers and widely credited as being single-handedly responsible for creating the grower revolution. Before taking over his father’s estate in Avize, Selosse spent much of his early winemaking career in Burgundy, inspired by the legendary Chardonnay vignerons at Domaine Coche-Dury, Domaine Leflaive and Domaines des Comtes Lafon. This experience, combined with a stint in Spain, left Selosse with a deep appreciation for wines which reflect the land and have a sense of place. One of the most creative, colourful, and charismatic winemakers in perhaps all of France, his wines are coveted the world over by drinkers and collectors alike – they would more than stand up to any Grand Marque in the Champagne Hall of Fame.
This dynamic young grower began his own Domaine, the poetically named Roses de Jeanne (an homage to his grandmother), in 2000 with just a single hectare of land. Based in the southerly Côte des Bar region, Bouchard seeks to emphasise the quality in every single corner of his holdings. From some of the lowest yields in Champagne (25HL/HA) to exacting biodynamic methods, the focus is singularity – single vineyards, single vintages (although all not labelled as such) and single varietals all expressed to their most magnificent potential in Cedric’s capable hands, with only about 15,000 bottles are made annually. The most memorable Champagne I’ve had was from this fine grower – Les Ursules Blanc de Noirs 2008 en Magnum.
Widely acknowledged as the driving force behind the success of Montgueux, Jacques Lassaigne is now considered by many to be the Montrachet of Champagne. Geographically, Montgueux is closer to Burgundy than Reims, the capital of Champagne, but is credited as having some of the oldest chalk deposits in the entire region. The wines of Jacques Lassaigne have so much tension and concentration that once you’ve tasted them, you will never forget them. Current proprietor Emmanuel Lassaigne left a career in manufacturing with the purpose of showing the world the potential of his home vineyards, and he has done so in fine style. Made in miniscule quantities, his Millesime is well worth hunting down.
This estate is meticulously run by Pierre Larmandier and his wife Sophie. Pierre’s family have owned vineyards in the Côte des Blancs since the Revolution and hold a special place in my heart. I have always been blown away with the quality on offer here. For many years during my career as a sommelier I poured their ‘Latitude’ by the glass and every time I opened a bottle, I was blown away with the fantastic style and quality. All their wines are exceptional, but my personal favourite is the 2012 Terre de Vertus; one of the most mineral and saline wines I have had with stacks of character and concentration.
Jérôme Prévost farms just over two hectares of mainly old-vine Pinot Meunier in the village of Gueux. Working with a variety that’s often sneered at, in a village few have heard of, Prévost’s tiny ‘La Closèrie’ estate produces some of the most sought-after wines in Champagne. The signature wine from the Les Béguinesis vineyard is made from one plot one vintage and predominantly one variety (Béguines is close to 100% Pinot Meunier, although there is now a small amount of 10 year old Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Blanc, that has been planted next to the Pinot Meunier parcel) and is in my opinion one of the greatest grower Champagnes being made today. Aromatic, floral and spicy with salty minerality and huge energy, this wine shows exceptional drive and longevity. Whilst his wines are delicious on release, I find them to show their best 6+ years after vintage.