Some eye-popping numbers recently made me pause: Of the 300 million bottles produced in Champagne each year, a full 30 million come from Moët & Chandon; add the house’s LVMH sister brands (Dom Pérignon, Veuve Clicquot, Krug) and you get to about 100 million, a third of the storied region’s bubbly, according to Bill Marci, founder and owner of the San Francisco Champagne Society. The big houses—les Grandes Marques—go about making their Champagne in similar ways. They blend fruit purchased from many growers into wines that hew to their house style. That glass of Dom tastes remarkably similar from vintage to vintage (the producer focuses on vintage wines; most others also create multi-vintage blends that adhere even closer to a singular house character).

This year calls for something different. A toast ushering in a much better year deserves a unique bubbly in the best sense of different. That’s where “grower Champagnes” come in. Over the last few decades, many of the farmers in Champagne who traditionally sold their fruit to the big houses began trying their hands at winemaking themselves. Ariel Arce, author of the new book Better with Bubbles, celebrates these vignerons at Air’s Champagne Parlor, in New York. “To put it simply, the term grower Champagne means someone who does not negotiate for grapes,” Arce says. “They make their wine mainly from grapes they own.” Their focus, then, is a farmer’s take on the best wines from their own vineyard(s).

That’s not to say that Champagnes made by growers—the term is RM, or Recoltant Manipulant—are inherently great. As Arce says, some growers “are far more farmers than winemakers.” Michael Knisley, owner of Portland’s Ambonnay Champagne Bar, adds that, of course, “not all big house Champagne is bad.” But he sees the movement “growing better grapes, utilizing the Champagne process itself to produce variations on a theme and offering finer insights into the vast array of unique terroirs, allowing them to offer us an endless, delicious exploration of wine.”

We tapped these experts, as well as Madeline Maldonado, beverage director for da Toscano in New York; Zwann Grays, wine director at Olmsted in Brooklyn; and Tahiirah Habibi, founder and executive director of the Hue Society, for producers and bottles they’re currently in love with. As Arce puts it, “For many [growers] who have stepped out from behind the curtain, their wines are some of the most spectacular, interesting and coveted on the market.” Vive la difference!

Champagne Gonet-Médeville Premier Cru Extra Brut Rosé


Photo: Courtesy of vivino.com

“The wine is 70 percent Grand Cru Chardonnay, 27 percent Pinot Noir and 3 percent Ambonnay still red wine, with just a hint of dosage to mask the minerality. The nose is golden raspberries, strawberry preserve and almond butter (think of grown-up peanut butter and jelly), with the perfect kiss of rose petal. The palate has the right amount of minerality and a pleasant mouth-watering acidity for stuffed mushrooms, cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches, country pâté with crudité and violet mustard.” –Maldonado


Buy Now: $60

Champagne Jacques Lassaigne Les Vignes de Montgueux Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut

Champagne Jacques Lassaigne Les Vignes de Montgueux Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut


Photo: courtesy B21

“If you love wines with minimal intervention and natural fermentation, then this delicious juice is for you! Bonus note, Lassaigne disgorges the bottle by hand, a rare dedication to the process.” –Habibi


Buy Now: $50

Champagne Vouette & Sorbée Brut Nature Fidèle

VOUETTE & SORBEE 'FIDELE' EXTRA BRUT CHAMPAGNE NV


Photo: Courtesy of vervewine.com

“Fidèle is a reminder to remain natural and straightforward in the cellar: 100 percent Pinot Noir, one harvest, only wild yeast, no chaptalization [the addition of sugar], 100 percent vinification in oak, 100 percent natural malolactic fermentation [a secondary fermentation that transforms harsher malic acids into rounder lactic ones] and no dosage. Velvety and elegant, intense yet purposeful, expressing its dichotomy seamlessly. Pair with rich comfort foods like fried chicken or fresh-shaved white truffle mac n’ cheese.” –Maldonado


Buy Now: $78

Champagne Tarlant Rosé Zero Brut Nature

Tarlant Zero Brut Nature Rose Champagne


Photo: Courtesy of drizly.com

“The brother and sister duo behind Tarlant are all about finding new ways within biodynamics to keep their wines fresh. Equal parts science and Farmers’ Almanac, the wines of Tarlant are always wild and exciting.” –Arce


Buy Now: $68

Champagne Mousse Fils L’Or d’Eugene Brut Blanc de Noirs Cépage

Moussé Fils "L'Or d'Eugene Perpétuelle" Brut Blanc de Noirs Champagne


Photo: Courtesy of klwines.com

Cedric Mousse, 40 years old, is the current-generation producer for this micro-négotiant in the Vallée de la Marne, where there have been vignerons since 1750. Marci explains that he made the jump from strictly a grower producer, an RM, to an NM, or Négociant Manipulant, to be able purchase fruit to expand production and yet he retains quality control and continues to improve. “Eighty percent of his Champagnes are made from Pinot Meunier, which is referred to as an inferior blending grape by some large producers. The ‘L’Or d’Eugene’ is 80 percent Pinot Meunier and 20 percent Pinot Noir. The first fermentation is in a 25,000-kiloliter stainless steel tank that is a perpetual reserve going back to 2003. Each year half the tank is drained to make the new release and then filled with the new harvest. The current release includes 2003 to 2018—uniquely delicious.” –Marci


Buy Now: $45

Champagne Marie-Courtin Efflorescence Extra Brut 2014

MARIE COURTIN 'EFFLORESCENCE' BLANC DE NOIRS EXTRA BRUT CHAMPAGNE 2014


Photo: Courtesy of vervewine.com

“When I think grower Champagne, I think farming first, so Marie-Courtin comes to mind immediately—grandmother of Dominique Moreau, who founded Champagne Marie-Courtin. Moreau describes her as a ‘woman of the earth,’ who apparently had a very green thumb. Marie-Courtin is a small, biodynamic-certified grower in the Côtes des Bars making single-vineyard, single-variety, single-vintage, zero-dosage Champagnes. And that authenticity is one of the draws to grower Champagnes for me. This one is citrusy and crisp, which reads acidic, but the Pinot fruit washes it out with a soft, moussy—not mousey!—balance.” –Grays


Buy Now: $80

Champagne JM Sélèque Solessence Nature 7 Villages

JM Sélèque "Solessence Nature"


Photo: Courtesy of ambonnaybar.com

“Jean-Marc Sélèque is on a rapid ascent among growers, earning a reputation for skillfully crafted, terroir-expressive wines. ‘Solessence Nature’ sees his entry-level cuvée aged three additional years on the lees and released with zero dosage. This is pure, classic Champagne pleasure—bright fruit and chalky minerality rounded out by rich, toasty pastry notes.” –Knisley


Buy Now: $75

Champagne Colette Bonnet

CHAMPAGNE COLETTE BONNET


Photo: Courtesy of lesgrappes.com

“Colette Bonnet—who also works for Nicolas Feuillatte—is a true small grower producer, making 2,000 bottles each of three Champagnes a year. She is passionate about natural winemaking and practices organic agriculture—no artificial chemicals and limited use of sulfur and copper to improve the quality of the soil, which directly improves the quality of her wines.” –Marci


Buy Now: $47

Champagne Cedric Bouchard Roses de Jeanne Val de Valaine

Cedric Bouchard 'Roses de Jeanne' Val de Vilaine Champagne 2017


Photo: Courtesy of extdoorspacebk.com

“Here’s an example—all Pinot Noir—of a winemaker using terroir from the Aube that’s not classified in any way, yet the wines are so powerful, Bouchard reigns in the south of Champagne as one of the best winemakers in the region.” —Arce


Buy Now: $102

Champagne Agrapart 7 Crus Brut

AGRAPART '7 CRUS' BRUT CHAMPAGNE


Photo: Courtesy of vervewine.com

“Agrapart was one of those singular names that I heard coming up that represented cool, class and quality. Word is within the grower Champagne community that you have gifted farmers and talented vinifiers. The greatest among them are masters of both. That’s Pascal Agrapart in a nutshell. He experiments with and believes in, the terroir of the Avize, co-planting Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Blanc, Arbane, Petit Meslier and Chardonnay. I mean, this is what excites me!” –Grays


Buy Now: $68

Champagne Christophe Mignon Rosé

CHRISTOPHE MIGNON, PUR MEUNIER BRUT ROSÉ NV


Photo: Courtesy of D-vino.com

“Because who doesn’t want to sip a nearly 150-year-old vineyard? Christophe Mignon is known for his ‘Mignon method’—strict biodynamic practices that emphasize the balance between the wine and the earth—and has been instrumental in debunking the myth that Pinot Munier is the inferior third cousin of Champagne varieties.” –Habibi


Buy Now: $70

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