For discerning wine lovers, Champagne is more than just a symbol of luxury and celebration. The diversified terroir and the complexity in the bubbles make the world of Champagne fascinating. Historically produced by negociant houses, Champagne has been dominated by big groups and large brands. In recent decades, grower Champagne has been increasingly placed in the spotlight by wine professionals and critics.
Most independent Champagne growers, or recoltant manipulant (RM) in French, possess only a dozen hectares of vineyard and produce less than 20,000 per bottle each year. Instead of having a consistent house style like the big Champagne houses, the Champagne growers work from the vines to the cellar, to make Champagnes true to the terroir.
Like Burgundy, the Champagne region has three major subregions: Montagne de Reims, Cote des Blancs and the Marne Valley, with premier cru and grand cru vineyards located at the optimal sites. Each site has its unique terroir. To discover the charm of grower Champagne, here are ten producers to start with, who are well recognized locally and by the international community.
Founded after WWII, the legendary grower of Avize became the synonym of the top-class Champagne producer during the second-generation owner, Anselme Selosse. Being revolutionary in style, Anselme Selosse harvested the grapes at full maturity vinified the wines under different origins of wood, using a solera system (the aging system of Sherry) to blend the wines. The final wines have a unique, oxidated, almost artistic interpretation of the Chardonnays of the Côte des Blancs, mainly in crus of Avize, Cramant, Oger and Mesnil-sur-Oger, and the Pinot Noirs from Aÿ, Ambonnay and Mareuil. The style of Champagnes from the Selosse, the chalky depth of the flavors, the concentration and the vibrant saline notes on the palate is incomparable. Like other fine and rare wines, it is impossible to get a bottle of Champagne Selosse at the domain, the wines are only available at the finest wine merchants in the world.
When you dive into the world of grower Champagne, Egly Ouriet is one of the producers on the pedestal. Founded in 1945, Egly Ouriet works in the vineyard mainly in Ambonnay and
also owns vineyards in Bouzy, Verzenay and Vrigny, bringing out the purest, finest expression of Pinot Noir. The vines are 40 years on average. The dosage is minimal. Antonio Galloni described Egly Ouriet as “the most unmanipulated” producer who makes champagne of terroir. Current owner Francis Égly, following his father Michel, patiently ages his Brut for four years and all vintage champagnes for more than six years before putting his wines on the market. Highly recognized by the local community and international critics, Egly Ouriet is one of the most sought-after grower champagne producers worldwide.
In the world of Chardonnay champagne, Agrapart is undoubtedly on top of the pyramid. Awarded 3 stars for the Best Wine of France of 2021 by La Revue du Vin de France, this small family estate is established at the end of the 19th century, located in the heart of the grand crus of the Côte des Blancs. The vines of Agrapart, about fifty years old on average, grow in chalky and marl-limestone-based terroirs and deliver incredible elegance and minerality. Selected with great care and precision, the grapes from more than 70 different plots are vinified separately. The aging process is taken place in demi-muids on fine lees, followed by long bottle aging in the cellar. Time and precision made the style of Agrapart the champagnes of terroir, fine and chiseled, with the maximal expression of Chardonnay and the chalky terroirs of the Côte des Blancs. Thanks to the slow process of winemaking, Agrapart champagnes have exceptional aging potential.
Situated at the best terroirs in Avize, Cramant and Oger of Côte des Blancs, with an amazing heritage of old vines in its vineyards of 11 hectares, Champagne de Sousa is the pioneer of biodynamic practice in Champagne region.
For three generations, De Sousa family has been making excellent champagne with dedication and innovation. In 1995, Erick de Sousa initiated the vinification process in oak barrels, which soon received great success among critics and clients. Soon after that, Erick adopted organic and biodynamic practices. Certified in both biodynamic and organic, the cuvées of Champagne de Sousa offer a strong personality with density, precision and profoundness, with the character of grapes and the oak influence beautifully balanced. In recent years, Champagne de Sousa is gaining international recognition and becoming a reference producer in Côte des Blancs.
Bérêche et Fils
Located in the northwest of the Montagne de Reims, Bérêche et Fils stands out for its exemplary viticulture, making expressive champagnes with character, resulting from rigorous selection and plot vinification. Raphaël Bérêche, the winemaker, and his younger brother Vincent, viticulturist, are among the most ambitious winegrowers in Champagne. Initiated by their father Jean-Pierre, the Bérêche brothers inherited the method of aging wines in 600-liter oak barrels (demi-muid). On a terroir dominated by Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, with a naturally solid expression, the search of maturity of the grapes never comes at the expense of tension on the palette. With hard work and passion, the top grower finds its place among the iconic champagne producers. The prestigious wine magazine “La Revue du Vin de France” awarded Bérêche et Fils 2 stars for the Best Wine of France of 2021.
Benoît Lahaye has been a reference grower for Bouzy over the years. Transformed mechanics to animals, he chose to work with horses and to treat his vineyard biodynamically with plants and minerals. “We have to reclaim the land.” said this pragmatic winegrower. Primarily growing on vineyards where Pinot Noir is king, between Bouzy, Ambonnay and Tarifières-Mutry, Benoît decided to plant a few extremely rare historic grape varieties of Champagne, like the Arbanne and Petit Meslier, which are close to extinction.
When it comes to winemaking, Benoît avoids any chemicals and seeks the expression of the soil. Vinification is taken place in oak barrels and no sulfur is added. The champagnes of Benoît Lahaye go beyond the fruity characters of Pinots Noir, building the mineral and deep dimension that one expects from real artisanal grand cru champagnes.
For the past few years, Benoît Marguet has embodied one of the most dazzling advances in Champagne. This zen young man is a follower of biodynamics, phytotherapy and aromatherapy in his vineyard located exclusively in Grand Cru, in Ambonnay and Bouzy. Fermentation takes place in oak barrels, which are carefully selected from the designated forests. Only natural yeasts are used. Thanks to the great work done in the vineyards, the grapes reach perfect maturity, making it possible to turn out to be much more expressive, authentic wines, naturally balanced by their terroir, without dosage. The extra brut Shaman range is the perfect interpretation of the terroir and the philosophy of the grower, while the cuvées of parcel selection highlight the richness and complexity of the old vines. The champagnes of Marguet are on the wine list of a number of the most famous Michelin starred restaurants in France and worldwide.
Awarded 2 stars for the Best Wine of France of 2021 by La Revue du Vin de France, recommended by Tyson Stelzer in his 10 Best Champagne Wineries, numerous references from French and international wine critics and magazines, Pierre Péters is a family champagne grower for six generations.
The estate is located in the heart of the Côte des Blancs, in the village of Mesnil sur Oger, with only grand cru vineyards. Unlike the many top champagne growers, all the wines of Pierre Péters are vinified and aged in stainless steel vats and undergo malolactic fermentation. As a result, the wines are distinguished by their great finesse and elegance. The cuvée Les Chétillons is the iconic wine of the estate. The grapes are selected from old vines of three plots in the lieu-dit Chétillon, which is one of the best Chardonnay-based champagne.
If Anselme Selosse is the master of Pinot Noir in the Champagne region, Pierre Larmandier is the expert of Chardonnay. Encompassing 15 hectares of vineyard in Côte des Blancs, Larmandier-Bernier works with vineyards in Vertus premier cru and Cramant, Chouilly, Oger, Avize grand crus. Inspired during visits of great winegrowers in Alsace and Burgundy, the Larmandiers decided to convert their domain to biodynamics at the beginning of the 2000s.
The vines are cultivated with respect for the terroir, plowing to reach deep rooting. the estate uses controlled grassing, which is a very unusual practice in Champagne. The vinification is the continuation of the philosophy of the estate, as natural as possible, gentle pressing of the grapes, natural yeasts for fermentation, separate vinification in stainless steel vats then aging in casks or barrels, no filtration before bottling. The champagnes of Larmandier-Bernier bring the purest, most elegant expression of Chardonnay and the terroir of Côte des Blancs.
Ulysses Collin is a rising star champagne grower over the years. The family estate is currently run by Olivier Collin, the most talented winegrower in the Champagne region. Olivier got his training by the side of Anselme Selosse in Avize for years. In 2003, he took over the family estate in Congy, an unclassified historic cru in the south-east of the Côte des Blancs. Since the takeover, Olivier initiated the biodynamic practice in the vineyard. The wines are vinified by plot and aged in barrels for two to four years. Unlike most champagne producers, Ulysses Collin doesn’t label the champagne by the village. The reason why he only makes non-vintage single varietal, single cru champagnes is that, said Olivier, “I chose plot vinification because I have sufficiently diverse and important geological units to obtain a singularity of taste for each of them. ” Today, the champagnes of Ulysses Collin are among the most sought-after wines in the region and the quality continues to progress.
Where to Find Grower Champagne
Unlike commercial champagne, it can be harder to find a nice grower champagne in a general grocery store or franchised wine shops. Sometimes it can even be hard to find information online. But learning about smaller growers making interesting wines is part of the fun. It’s also important to remember that grower producers don’t always make better Champagne than large producers or Champagne houses. It all depends on what you’re looking for. At Champagne school, our goal is to help you learn about Champagne so that you can explore and develop your own favorites, and navigate the world of Champagne with confidence.