“My favourite champagne is Veuve Clicquot” I said naively, as the waiter poured Krug. Truth be told, I’d never had anything else.
What is it about the blockbuster brands of Veuve Clicquot and Moët et Chandon that are almost always the portal key into the world of champagne? The association with luxury, the powerhouse advertising campaigns, and the consistent sponsorship of high-end events probably has something to do with it. Who hasn’t sat under the signature yellow umbrella of Veuve Clicquot at the polo or a food and wine event? Who hasn’t marvelled at Mumm’s Space Campaign, and their subsequently spectacular Melbourne Cup marquee? The Grand Marques are everywhere, and we inherently associate them with our idea of champagne and what it represents.
Like most champagne consumers, I began my journey in champagne with the Grand Marques. Established and dominant brands who are the main players in the Champagne region. There is no official designation; but brands such as Veuve Clicquot, Moet et Chandon, Taittinger, and GH Mumm are among the many household names who sit under the banner of the Grand Marque.
Some Houses such as Taittinger remain proudly family owned; whilst others have been bought up by luxury conglomerate corporations (LVMH, I’m looking at you). Their champagnes are consistently reliable, and you come to expect a certain standard of quality when you release the cork and pour your glass. These Grand Marques seek to showcase an expression of the House rather than an expression of individual or specific terroirs (although there are some very expensive exceptions). It takes an incredible palate and a tremendous amount of skill to create a consistent champagne, year after year, through the meticulous selection of grapes. Grapes that have often been sourced from hundreds of sites throughout Champagne. Their champagne becomes a mosaic; a blended art. Due to their impressive economies of scale, their champagnes are available globally; creating champagne that reaches the far corners of the earth in vast quantities. For many of us; the Grand Marques are our tickets into the mystical world of Champagne.
In 2017, I took the journey of a lifetime with Kyla and Kyri. I was exclusively a fan of the big brand champagnes. Grand Marques I could recognise and were comfortable with; champagnes I knew would deliver quality and a familiar taste.
I have a very vivid memory of a hillside marquee, the hot breeze blowing. Champagne and fresh baguettes; the smell of brioche blending into the familiar air of the countryside. There is something very special about drinking champagne in the vineyard in which it was made. Hearing the stories, feeling the chalky soil beneath your fingertips underneath the soaring sun. There is something magical about tasting your surroundings. This experience was my first introduction to grower champagne, and I was subsequently hooked.
Grower champagne is created with intent, with a purpose. It is designed to tell the consumer a story, to take us on a journey which illuminates all our senses; our sight, our smell, and our taste. Whether you’re in Champagne or locked down in your living room, you are transported. Often sourced from a single vineyard or very closely located vineyards in a village, grower champagne will often vary according to the conditions of each vintage. It is artisanal, with a focus on the expression of the fruit, the land, and the winemaker. It is also often unpredictable, yet beautiful and complex.
The economies of scale which the Grand Marques enjoy in Champagne simply don’t exist in the world of the grower. Champagne is produced in minute quantities, with the individual touch of the winemaker becoming an integral part of the process. It is expressive and often tells a story; we understand the conditions of the weather, the soil, the harvest, and the human hand all through the wine in our glass. Because of the smaller quantities, grower champagnes typically cannot access the advertising available to the Grand Marques. They rely on reputation and small-scale importers to distribute their wine globally.
In Australia, only 1.43% of champagne sold is grower champagne. Grand Marques continue to dominate our taste preferences in Australia, but the I believe grower movement will continue to make its mark with the introduction of champagne specific delivery services such as Emperor. As more consumers are exposed to the artisanal style and versatility of the grower, I believe that the demand in Australia will grow.
As a consumer, I am greatly excited by the grower. I enjoy the individuality of the wines and the journey my palate takes. There is certainly a place in my heart for the Grand Marques; I admire their exceptional and consistent quality, as well as their promotion of Champagne as a region and as a wine. In grower champagne however, I am able to emotionally connect with the wine, creating a lasting sensory experience. I admire the tenacity and drive of the growers, always adapting to new conditions, and creating wine that reflects the ever changing landscape of Champagne.
Annabel van der Nagel
Annabel is one of our lovely champagne club members. With qualifications in history, wine, and healthcare, Annabel loves to explore champagne from all angles! Follow Annabel and her adventures on instagram @annabelvandernagel