The Many Faces of Champagne

The Many Faces of Champagne

A region situated in the northeast of France, Champagne is renowned the world over for its rich heritage in the production of sparkling wine. Its chalky soils, cool climate and diversity of white and red grapes - notably Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier - yield wines of exceptional quality and character. Located near the northern margins of wine production, the cooler growing seasons foster high levels of acidity in the grapes, ideal for sparkling wine, though changes in the climate are undoubtedly proving a challenge to the established order of things.

The region boasts approximately 390 houses, 125 cooperatives, and 16,200 growers spread across five départements and 319 villages, with the region's behemoths, aka Les Grandes Marques - established names like Bollinger, Pol Roger, Taittinger, Krug - producing the lion's share of the region's output. Whereas traditionally the larger houses blend their own grapes with purchased fruit from across the many villages, a new movement of smaller growers cultivating their own land to produce vineyard-specific cuvees, Burgundy-style, is becoming ever more influential.

Though early adopters of single-vineyard Champagnes, like Philipponnat's Clos des Goisses and Krug's Clos du Mesnil, would likely contend this movement is merely copying what they've been doing all along! Today more Grandes Marques are producing village-based cuvees (e.g. Bollinger's PN series) while other notable names are signalling specific blends and disgorgements for their standard house blends (e.g. Krug's Editions and Jacquesson's '7' Cuvees).

As the distribution of the so-called Grower Champagnes - Récoltant-Manipulant in French - becomes more mainstream, so the market has identified the movers and shakers amongst them in the same way a small number of Burgundy producers have caught the zeitgeist with prices following. Small production, single-vineyard cuvees by quality-focused artisan growers have become the darlings of collectors globally and demand for their Champagnes continues unabated.

It will be interesting to follow how the Grandes Marques react to this trend - perhaps we will see more village or vineyard-specific Champagnes from the big houses in the future? Similarly, will we see a new generation of vignerons stop selling their grapes to the big houses and instead harness this new dynamic to bottle their own? Whatever happens, Champagne promises to be an exciting, fluid region open to creativity and innovation in the years to come. For the curious collector and experimental consumer, there has never a better time to explore the brilliant wines coming out of Champagne's best producers.

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