What is Champagne?
Champagne is a type of wine produced in the Champagne region of France. If it is produced outside this region, located about an hour’s train ride due east of Paris, it is simply termed Sparkling Wine.
The Champagne region is among the more Northern wine regions in Europe. The weather is therefore colder and more unpredictable. This increased variance affects the grapes and is the reason why Champagne taste differs from year to year.
The three primary grape types are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Four additional grapes are sometimes permitted but seldom used. They are Fromenteau, Arbane, Pinot Blanc and Petit Meslier.
How Champagne is Made
Warmer temperatures in recent years have meant that Harvest in the Champagne region has begun as early as August. The first date for picking is determined each year by the Comité Champagne. Once picked, the grapes are processed in tanks for fermentation then bottled and deposited in a cool humid cellar.
The bottles sit in the cellar for a second period of fermentation, typically lasting 15 months or more. This second period is what distinguishes the Champagne method as the yeast consumes the sugar and produces CO2 which is trapped in the bottle and creates the fizz. During these months, the bottles are regularly twisted in their racks, as often as daily, in a process called “riddling”. This keeps the dead yeast cells, known as “lees”, in the neck of the bottle.
Once removed from the cellar, corking is done by machine and a wire cage is then affixed. Just before this, however, the bottles are turned upside down so that the lees settle at the neck. Most houses freeze the neck so that when the cork is removed for serving the lees shoot out with a satisfying pop and the champagne served is clear. This process is known as “disgorgement”.
Types of Champagne Producers
Grapes are farmed by thousands of small vineyards in the Champagne region. However, production is dominated by a handful of large “Maisons”, also termed “Négociant Manipulant”, who often source their grapes from smaller “Growers” to make their wine. These smaller Growers, also termed “Récoltant Manipulant”, produce Champagne from grapes harvested exclusively from their own vineyards.
The larger Maisons make up roughly 87% of the Champagne imported to the US and provide a consistent taste by blending grapes from different regions and years. In contrast, the smaller Growers aim to bring the taste of their unique terroir and therefore provide a distinct taste from year to year. Furthermore, they are often operated by a family on a vineyard of several hectares, and are thus termed “Vignerons”.
In 2012, Mr. Hodges and his son traveled to Epernay. A novice connoisseur at the time, years of subsequent visits to the region have imparted the knowledge and appreciation required to buy and sell Champagne in the United States. A successful business owner for over 30 years, converting this passion into a business venture is a natural progression.
Over the years, Growers Champagne has forged close relationships with some of the rarest and most delicious Récoltant Manipulant growers in the region. We are a small company who enjoys working with small family growers who produce with meticulous care their unique and special cuvees. We are pleased to import and distribute to fine French restaurants in the New York and New Jersey area.