Champagne! Champagne! And Champagne!

There are over 50,000 different types of Champagne on the market and a variety of different styles and tastes which is dependent on who has made it.  The style of Champagne made will depend on which entity it comes from - a brand flavor from a well-known Champagne House, a unique taste from a Champagne Grower, or a combination of the two styles that are made by a Champagne Cooperative.  It is therefore no surprise that choosing the right bottle of Champagne can be a less than straightforward process. Understanding the methods that each of these three entities uses to make their wines will give you a deeper understanding of the different types of Champagne and will facilitate the process of choosing a style that suits your personal taste.

Champagne Houses

There are over two hundred and sixty Champagne Houses in the Champagne region. Many of them have been making wine for centuries, while others have been founded more recently. The core activity of a Champagne House is to create their Grande Marque (a well-known brand) Champagnes. Each house has its particular style which is perfectly replicated each year as their clientele expects them to produce a style that remains constant.

They produce large quantities of wine, far more than their minuscule vineyard holdings (around 12%) in the Champagne region can supply.  Champagne Houses are very dependent on buying grapes that have been carefully selected from the finest independent Champagne Growers.  Once the required quantities of different varietals have been acquired, the grapes from the different crus are then vinified separately before being blended to reproduce the taste profile that customers expect from their brand.  

Champagne Houses represent 70% of Champagne production and account for 90% of all Champagne that is exported internationally. Champagne Houses often own and produce several different “Marques”, each with its distinct style and flavor, owning a portfolio of different Champagne Houses under a larger company.  

Champagne Growers (Artisan Champagne)

Champagne Growers either produce their own wines or sell their grapes to Champagne Houses. They are devoted to producing the very best grapes possible regardless of the size of their vineyards.  There are over 19,000 Champagne Growers who own and cultivate around 88% of the vineyards in Champagne. There is a very small percentage of Champagne Growers (around 2,000), who make their own Champagne.  These individuals have realized the economic advantage of making their own wine from their grapes, especially if they own a vineyard in one of Champagne’s Grand Cru or Premier Cru villages where the grapes are of exceptional quality.  If these premium grapes are sold to a Champagne House, they are often lost in a generic blend.   

Centuries of expertise passed from generation to generation are practiced each season as the growers, passionate about their work, tenderly care for their vines, which produce only the finest grapes that express the purest aspects of the local terroir.  These forward-thinking grape growers use methods that ensure minimal impact on the environment.  The terroir of Champagne is a kaleidoscope of different plots, each expressing its own unique qualities. Ironically, despite the monopoly that Grower Champagne producers have over grape production, only a very small percentage of their wines are exported internationally.  Champagnes produced by growers are unique as there are no restrictions on the style of wine that is produced.  These winemakers prefer to focus on the attributes and expression of the terroir that the grapes are grown in.  Grapes may come from a single vineyard or a group of vineyards that are located around a village.  The Champagnes may express completely different styles and attributes from year to year which makes them exciting to drink.

Champagne Cooperatives

There are approximately 140 different Champagne Cooperatives. These Champagne makers offer an option halfway between the Champagne growers who make their own Champagne and the Champagne Houses who depend on growers' grapes to create their wines.  A collaboration of like-minded growers and winemakers decided that by joining their tools, knowledge, and resources, they could more efficiently make and market their own Champagne.  This union has given the smaller producers the ability to successfully compete with the larger Champagne Houses.  Their unified work also encourages the creation of their own unique style of Champagne. 

Grapes are used in several different ways in a Cooperative:

1. The bottles are sold under the name of the cooperative with the Marque (brand) CM (Coopérative Manipulant. )

2. The grower retrieves their wine once it has been bottled and they sell it as their own label RC (Récoltant-Coopérateur).

3. The pressed grapes must, the still wine or the finished wine is sold to Négociants (wine merchants that might also make wine) and labeled as NM (Négociant Manipulant).

4. Produced as MA (Marques d’Acheteur) uses an agreed formula for own-label organizations such as hotels or restaurants. 

Some of the biggest cooperatives in Champagne are successfully exporting their Champagnes worldwide.

The vast array of Champagne creates an endless choice of different wine styles to choose from.  If you are still determining which type of Champagne is your favorite, then why not try wines that are made from the three different entities, you can then decide which style or styles you prefer!

The Pinots Of Champagne