Many consumers have become accustomed to assuming that the grapes for their wine somehow always grow in relation to the winery. While frequent wine drinkers learn differently very quickly, many folks that pull a wine off the shelf attribute all of the work to the name on the label.
This is all part of the learning process, perhaps one of the most intricate points of understanding wine. I’ll keep it brief and very basic.
Sell Or Make
Wine grape growers work in vineyards around the world. In some cases the vineyard owner and his close associates (even family) work in the vines, in other cases the vineyard owner is a third party that hires out the care of the vines. Either way, when the grapes are harvested, the vineyard owner needs to make fast use of them, either by selling them or making wine.
In terms of a sale, it could be to one or many buyers in amounts specific or bulk. Any number of arrangements exist.
In terms of making wine, the vineyard owner could also be the owner of a winery where she or he makes their own wine. They could also be a member of a co-op, a facility that makes wine by capturing grapes of a given region (from many growers) to produce wine for the group, which can then be labeled by the winery owner, the co-op or even an additional party, depending on the arrangement.
These are the two most basic options for wine grape growers: sell or make. In that range, an infinite number of schemes and combinations exist.
Markets And Appellations
Plenty of people care that Winemaker Jill made wine from grower Jason’s Driftwood Vineyard in St. Barth. And yet… plenty of people don’t — call it a red American wine and that’s good enough for them. This is the marketplace, the economics of a realm where agriculture meets marketing, where taste meets regulation. Each and every bottle was crafted with a string of business decisions dangling from it — it’s just the truth. This should come as no surprise considering that growing and making wine is a livelihood, many things are at stake for the proprietor.
Take Champagne, for example, one of the most recognized symbols of wine in the world (even kids know about it). Champagne means that the grapes were grown in Champagne and that the winemaking process followed the strict regulations of the AOP, of which there is an overflowing handful ranging from planting to packaging (and everything in between).
Champagne is also fascinating because underneath that place designate buzzes one of the most interesting societies working through that grow-sell-or-make equation I described above.
Much of the Champagne consumers recognize (and the majority of it purchased in America) comes from a maison or house. A house may or may not own their own vineyards. Even though they may craft from a portion of their own grapes, they must purchase grapes in order to produce their wine in the amounts they make. Obtained fruit could comprise most of their wines or just part of their production. For example, they may purchase grapes for one wine but use exclusively estate grapes for another.
By the way, this happens in all wine regions — not just Champagne — but in Champagne, this is very common and dominant with wines sold in the American marketplace. Many Champagne houses strive for a consistent style, creating non-vintage, unfailingly recognizable bottles crafted through the cellar master’s blending to the expectations of the house. This designation is called Négociant Manipulant and it pertains to the grands maisons as well small and family-owned operations.
Another prominent option is when the grower is also the winemaker. They may sell some of their grapes, but rather than purchasing from anyone else, their product is crafted with grapes from their own vineyards. This designation is Récoltant Manipulant or Champagne de Vigneron — also, Farmer Fizz or simply, grower Champagne. In this model, the winemaker has control over how the grapes are grown and harvested. They aren’t subject to the marketplace to obtain grapes or to the vast consumer marketplace that expects a homogenized product. They can address terroir and take creative hold in the cellar if that’s what they feel is right.
Champagne André Jacquart
Take for example Champagne André Jacquart. André Jacquart came from a grower family that had sold their grapes for four generations. In the late 1950’s, Jacquart deviated from this tradition, crafting his own estate-bottled Champagne in Grand Cru-classified Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. In the intervening years, the operation progressed, moving to a new facility in Premier Cru-classified Vertus and eventually passed into the capable hands of the fifth generation, Jacquart’s grandchild, Marie Doyard. Doyard’s pedigree comes from the Jaquart side as well as her paternal side — her grandfather Maurice Doyard was key to integration of the AOP. Even so, her career wasn’t in winemaking until she made the personal decision to take over for her parents when they retired in 2003.
Champagne André Jacquart, under the lead of Doyard, represents a modern-style of Champagne de Vigneron. This is Doyard’s influence — she wants her wines to fill a particular niche. This begins with her sustainability efforts in a culture raisonnée, an environment where vineyard protection products are used only when necessary. Doyard also employs oak instinctively for complexity — an element that fell away from common practice in Champagne but can now be found in certain cellars — which is something her parents and grandparents didn’t do.
Doyard oversees a property of 24 hectares, a collective of plots from both sides of her family in Mesnil-Sur Oger and Vertus villages. Doyard and her team can choose parcel-by-parcel how to care for the vines and when to harvest. Being a vigneron allows Doyard the discretion of her know-how and senses at every level.
I tried André Jacquart Expérience Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru NV, a blend of 60% Vertus Premier Cru, which is vinified in stainless steel, and 40% Grand Cru Le Mesnil-sur-Oger vinified in older Burgundy oak barrels. Doyard’s team does not allow malolactic fermentation. The wine spends a minimum of five years sur lie and has very low dosage. These are active choices, implemented by Doyard in an effort to produce a terroir-driven, gastronomic (rather than stylistic) Champagne.
The French Winophiles
Our French Winophiles writer’s group has dedicated August to the theme of Grower Champagne. Join us for a chat at 10am central time on Saturday, August 18, 2018. Look for us on Twitter with the hashtag #Winophiles. Here is what we have in story for reading material:
- Jeff of FoodWineClick will be Taking a Saber to Farmer Fizz
- Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla says Skip The Butterbombs and Pair Champagne with Alpine Cheeses Instead
- Robin of Crushed Grape Chronicles will dive into Farmer Fizz? An exploration of Grower Champagne
- Jane of Always Ravenous will be Pairing Pizza with Grower Champagne
- Nicole of Somm’s Table will be offering 5 Champagne Toasts
- Payal of Keep the Peas serves up Champagne: Le Vin du Diable
- Lynn of Savor The Harvest will be sharing Fourth Generation Grower Champagne – Pierre Peters and Bourgeois-Diaz
- On L’Occasion we are taking A Closer Look At Grower Champagne With Champagne André Jacquart
- Gwendolyn of the Wine Predator is sharing #Winophiles In Epernay’s Grower Champagne Heaven with author Caroline Henry and winemaker Elodie D
- Our host Martin at ENOFYLZ Wine Blog, is taking a sip of Grower Champagne From The Chalky Slopes Of Avize: Franck Bonville Prestige Brut Blanc de Blancs
Next month, on September 15th, our theme will be Cahors, hosted right here by L’Occasion!