Farmer Fizz: The Champagne You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
This article was originally published in Royal Oaks Living magazine and is reprinted here with permission.
Most people are familiar with the main champagne brands — Perrier Jouët, Tattinger, Veuve Clicquot, Bollinger, Laurent-Perrier, Louis Roederer and Moët & Chandon. These champagne houses have master blenders who craft a consistent “house style” of champagne year after year because they are able to purchase grapes from growers across the Champagne region.
However, grape growers (a.k.a. farmers) own roughly 90% of the vineyards in Champagne, France, according to the CIVC, the trade association for champagne producers. And some growers do make their own champagne — nicknamed “farmer fizz” — instead of selling their grapes to the big brands. And this fizz is worth trying!
Grower Champagne vs. Brand Name
A grower champagne is often made from grapes that are grown in one village, or in just a few family owned vineyards. The resulting champagne has a sense of place, what the French call “terroir,” and the unique aspects of where it’s made are reflected in the taste. Grower champagnes can be more nuanced and complicated and, for those who enjoy some contemplation with their champagne, more enjoyable to drink.
Terry Thiese, an American wine importer with the largest portfolio of grower champagnes, coined the term “farmer fizz,” and offers this explanation: “You should drink farmer-fizz if you’d rather buy champagne from a farmer than a factory. And if you’d rather eat a local field-ripened summer tomato rapturous with sweetness, instead of some January tomato you buy at the supermarket hard as a stone and tasting of nothing, then you should be drinking farmer-fizz!
Grower champagnes are slightly drier because less sugar is added during bottling. And they’re often more interesting to drink because, like wine, they can vary from year to year depending on the vintage. They’re a reflection of the land on which they are grown more than their larger counterparts. They also tend to be a better value than the well-known champagne brands because less of your money goes to PR and advertising.
Who are the Growers?
Grower champagnes are true artisanal products – made with great care and focus. I know this because I had the fortunate opportunity to visit several of my favorites this past summer, including:
Aubry Fils: “Non,” Philippe Aubry responded when we asked, “Parlez-vous anglais?” So my husband Kurt’s French from high school years in Paris came to our aid. Aubry’s champagnes are all fabulous, so it is hard to pick a favorite. His rosé champagnes, Ivoire et Ebène, Aubry de Humbert, and the various Le Nombre d’Ors, in which he incorporates ancient grape varietals like Petit Meslier and Arbanne, are all worth exploring.
Philippe Aubry with his Ivoire et Ebène Brut champagne.
Chartogne-Taillet: Upon meeting Alexandre Chartogne, I was immediately mesmerized by the intense passion and focus he brings to his trade. A passion you can taste in his champagne. His Cuvée Ste.-Anne has always been a favorite, but I am a fan of almost anything he makes, including his single vineyard champagnes, Les Orizeaux and Les Barres.
Tasting from concrete eggs with Alexandre Chartogne.
Jean Milan: Considered the best grower in Oger, his champagnes are made exclusively from chardonnay grapes. I was surprised by the variety of styles from the oaked Cuvée de Réserve to the exotic fruits in the Symphorine and the creaminess of the Millénaire.
Gaston Chiquet: Nicolas Chiquet’s attention to quality production is reflected in his champagnes. I highly recommend the Blanc de Blancs D’Aÿ, Spécial Club, and Tradition champagnes.
Nicolas Chiquet amongst riddling racks in the cellar.
While I didn’t have an opportunity to visit these growers, I recommend anything Pierre Péters produces, and Pierre Gimonnet makes a fabulous selection of grower champagnes, especially the Spécial Club.
This holiday season, try something new and pop the cork on some farmer fizz! And if you’re looking for champagne or wine to enjoy with your holiday gatherings, Double Decanted offers a collection of wines from around the world at a variety of price points. Let us help you find the perfect bottle – or bottles – for any occasion! Please email me at Kelly@doubledecanted.com. Happy Holidays!