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Emilia Delfino
March 30, 2024 | Emilia Delfino

Deciphering Champagne: Big House vs. Grower

Champagne has long held a special place in the hearts of American revelers, with well-known big-house brands like Veuve Clicquot, Moët & Chandon, and Dom Perignon gracing occasions from high-profile weddings to exclusive VIP lounges and glittering New Year’s Eve celebrations across the nation. While these renowned labels have their charm, a growing number of Champagne enthusiasts are turning their attention to the nuanced experience offered by grower Champagne – a choice that embodies intimacy, authenticity, and uniqueness.

To grasp the essence of this evolving trend, let's explore the distinctions between Champagne houses and grower Champagne. Big houses, often referred to as “maisons” or “Grandes Marques,” are expansive enterprises that produce Champagne using grapes sourced from both their own vineyards and those owned by growers throughout the Champagne region. With a substantial workforce across the 370 big houses in Champagne, each vineyard's grapes undergo separate vinification processes, followed by blending to create the distinctive taste profile associated with the brand. Big-house Champagne constitutes approximately 85 percent of total Champagne exports globally and is readily available at grocery stores and wine shops in the U.S.  In contrast, Grower Champagne represents a smaller share, around 15 percent of exports, and while gaining popularity beyond France, it can be a rare find in the U.S. Grower Champagne is crafted by individuals who not only produce the grapes but also cultivate the vines. Out of over 16,200 growers in Champagne, fewer than 5,000 produce their own Champagne, utilizing grapes from their own land. These small, family-run enterprises produce limited quantities of wine, employing methods passed down through generations.

Champagne Region, situated about 100 miles northeast of Paris, is characterized by a unique Terroir that  boasts mineral-rich soil, remnants of an ancient marine bed, and a distinctive dual climate. The oceanic climate brings consistent rainfall and moderate seasonal temperatures, while the continental climate offers summertime sun but often brings harsh winter frosts. While all Champagne leverages this diverse terroir, grower Champagne places it at the forefront.

Unlike big houses that blend wines to achieve a consistent product, growers embrace their unique environment, nurturing what nature provides through sustainable and biodynamic practices. The resulting wine is distinctive and reflective of the individual vineyard where the grapes are cultivated.

Growers reprsent the tue hands-on craftsmanship. They have complete control over every stage of the Champagne-making process – from growing and harvesting grapes to blending, deciding whether to blend, and determining any dosage added to let the grapes' natural qualities shine. With meticulous attention, they monitor the wine's quality throughout, ensuring that the bubbles in the glass are of the utmost excellence.

While these carefully cultivated and crafted grower Champagnes may be challenging to find, they hold a unique allure. Each bottle narrates its own story, embodying the origin and craftsmanship behind its creation. While big-house bubbles may suit some, those in the know are reaching for the distinct and authentic experience offered by grower Champagne. Cheers to the journey of discovery in every sip!


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