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Grower Champagnes a ‘phenomenon’

“Grower Champagne may be the most notable phenomenon in the Champagne world,” believes Essi Avellan MW speaking yesterday at an event at Trinity House in London organised by the Institute of Masters of Wine.

Essi Avellan MW

The tasting was titled “Individual Expressions of Champagne” and, for the first time in the history of the Institute, was dedicated to so-called grower Champagnes – Champagnes made by small, independent producers who bottle their own wines and therefore present regional, local and often even single vineyard expressions of Champagne.

Grower Champagnes are an almost the polar opposite of the grandes marques whose Champagnes are mostly cross-regional blends.

“This is definitely where all the talk is these days,” Avellan told the drinks business on why she had decided to put on this tasting.

“The people here in the room were surprised that grower Champagnes only represent a fraction of wines sold, because there is so much talk. Sommeliers and wine freaks are enthusiastic about it. It is a trend many people want to follow now, but it is also because the grandes marques Champagnes are blends of the region and don’t really allow you to learn about the regionality within Champagne so people are starting to consider Champagne more as a wine. They want to know what it means when the wine comes from a certain place, so it is also an intellectual exercise for wine lovers. We’ve had plenty of really exciting maison tastings for the Institute and it was just the perfect time in this market to have an in-depth tasting of what this is all about.”

Avellan acknowledged that grower Champagnes are confined to a niche but sees a growing trend.

“Every market is individual but in every market the more mature consumers and the early adopters have discovered them and it is of course funnelling its way to a broader audience”, she explained. “I absolutely think it is already growing. I think these are Champagnes where you need quite a lot of education, there is a lot of information behind them, it’s not just a party-style of Champagne, so this sort of tasting will be the way to best discover these wines.”

One of the growers present, Mélanie Tarlant of Champgne Tarlant, explained why she thinks grower Champagnes resonate with the public.

“People are curious and they have changed their habits. People want to know what they eat and drink, that’s where the grower movement fits with them,” she said.

Was this tasting a vindication for the growers who, after all, do not have huge marketing budgets? “Yes it was,” confirmed Tarlant. “I am really happy that Essi organised this grower Champagne event today because we had time to talk, the audience had time to ask us questions and we had time to answer them. It was not just a presentation with three glasses. This is what is important and how it becomes interesting.”

Avellan estimated that “there are about 4,600 different grower Champagnes made by approximately 3,200 growers who sell the wine they produce by themselves, as opposed to the number of growers who sell what their cooperative produces. Growers own 90% of vineyards but sell 22% of Champagne.”

Every year, around 31-32 million bottles of Champagne are sold in the UK. IRI MAT data to 11 October 2014 suggests that 64% of Champagne sold in the off-trade (this excludes discounters) are by the top ten brands, whereas 10% of bottles sold are supermarket own-brands.

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