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Récoltant Champagnes

Récoltant Champagnes are grower Champagnes, that is, Champagne that is made by the same people who own and farm the grapes. Champagne grandes marques, in contrast, source their three different grapes from many small growers. Allen Meadows and Matt Kramer, among others, have criticized the Champagnes from the well-known luxury houses because they are “more a product of successful marketing than the true substance of the wines.”

The grandes marques such as Veuve Clicquot and Moët & Chandon, also known as NMs or negociant manipulant Champagnes, own 12% of the vineyards in Champagne but their sales account for 70% of the total production. Most of their grapes are sourced from the more than 19,000 independent growers in Champagne. Only 5,000 growers produce RMs or récoltant manipulant Champagne. RMs are very limited since by law grower’s can only produce their own Champagne from 5% of their harvest. The RMs cannot blend away their unique identity so they become more of an individualistic product of terroir akin to Burgundy wines. The grower Champagnes will also show more vintage variability since they cannot blend away vintage differences.

The first of the grower Champagnes reached the West Coast in the 1970s and were made by Lassalle. Early importers were Terry Theise and Kermit Lynch. According to Jim Duane, a Champagne buyer at Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, California, about 2,200 récoltant Champagnes are produced each year, but slightly less than 3%, are exported to the United States. Fortunately, the small number tend to be the among the best made and are a good value as well.

A Champagne label will clearly indicate by initials the type of producer. For grower Champagnes look for the small initials RM. Some names to look for in RM Champagne include: Chartogne-Taillet, Gaston Chiquet, Pierre Gimmonnet, Egly-Ouriet, Guy Charlemagne, J. Lassale, Larmandier-Bernier and Vilmart & Cie. An excellent review and tasting of grower Champagnes appeared recently at www.sfgate.com (December 12, 2008).

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