Today's New Generation of Champagne Growers are Making Revolutionary Changes in the Taste of the World's Most Famous Wine
The past five years in Champagne have been some of the most thrilling I’ve seen in my 24 years in this business. We were lucky enough to get in, way early, on the grower Champagne movement, so I have been lucky enough to watch the evolution from one of the really good seats.
The “flavor” of Champagne is not really just one thing anymore. Bready and yeasty flavors are being overtaken by wines that are showing loads more focused fruit, minerals, and layers of cool floral notes, salinity with some brioche or crust-like notes tucked behind them. More like a frame for all the beautiful and exotic and less of a heavy blanket you have to dig around under in order to excavate some flicker of fruit. A great thing for many of us, and the market continues to increase as people discover that the wines beneath those bubbles, they are truly remarkable wines first, bubbly wines second.
Couple of factors at play here; more and more organic and thoughtful farming, a generation of vignerons who have traveled the world, and the sharing of information about responsible farming with each other. They are out there tirelessly, literally shaking things up from the soil to the bottle. Healthier fruit comes from soils that haven’t been robbed of life by commercial pesticides, and this younger generation of farmers are much more focused on higher quality fruit than cranking out more tonnage per acreage. They are truly dedicated to returning life to those vines, that soil, that makes their particular patch of land distinctive from their neighbors in the next village.
Another important element at play here, warmer climates. No political message there, just go talk to the farmers and they will tell you that it is just flat-out warmer now. Harvest dates are moving up as the grapes are getting riper earlier, and in Champagne they have seen ripeness levels that would have been unfathomable to the two previous generations. Where the time from flowering to harvest was 100 plus days then, today there are regularly 90 days. In certain vintages, and varieties, harvest is necessary 80-85 days after first flowering.
So, the weather is causing some drama, but for the most part those of us who adore the very pure, more mineral and fruit flavors that small Champagne growers are able to coax from their wines, the purity of fruit and lack of crustiness, it’s rather thrilling. Is it going to be a long-term problem for the region? Only time will tell.
So how about we drink more Champagne and watch what happens?
I know there are a few customers who long for those deeply bready aromas and flavors that they have attached to Champagne in their flavor/aromatic internal rolodex, and there are still a bunch of the larger Champagne houses that have that style down to a recipe. And some small growers who are using more oak and more reserve wines in their blending, they are producing wines with more richness and toasty notes. But as I mentioned earlier, these more focused and diverse wines coming from Champagne these days are inspiring droves of impassioned wine drinkers to reacquaint themselves with the wines of one of France’s most famous, but maybe least understood regions, the wines of Champagne.
I could not love that more. Cheers, a toast to less toast!
Here are a couple producers making wicked cool, pure, precise, and focused wines, with bubbles, from Champagne, to start getting acquainted with. Pick anything from one of these amazingly dedicated small growers and start your adventure.
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