Recoltant Manipulant…or Farmer Fizz

The Champagne barometer of fun and bubbles has seen COVID19 wash away the flagging 2019 sales of Champagne in Australia, to experience a fizzy buoyancy of consumption. Statistically it all started to turn around on Mother’s Day 2020, a day that marked the first celebration period following COVID lockdown. But that is here in the land down under – not the rest of the world where celebratory social events have been locked down to an abstemious trickle.

Bubbling along within this effervescent celebration is the rising trend of the obscure on wine lists. And in the Champagne stakes that can mean “Grower Champagnes” or “récoltant manipulant” (RM) Champagnes.These Champagnes are produced by the owners of the vineyards opposed to many of the large Champagne Houses and negociants who may source their fruit from many grape growers in the region. Whereas, Grower Champagnes sometimes called Champagne de Vigneron or irreverently, “farmer fizz”, use the grapes from their own vineyard/s and are a typical expression of that particular terroir.

Explaining the RM on the label is almost like them being invited into a secret club.

‘Clarity’ is how some sommeliers describe the attributes of these Champagnes. A clarity in what they are drinking, whether it’s from a single vineyard or single block…and the blend proportions. With Growers Champagnes, sommeliers frequently have a back story to tell to engage with customers. Explaining the RM on the label is almost like them being invited into a secret club.
Peter Bourne “The Wine Man” says of Grower Champagnes: ‘If you look at an everyday consumer – they can have reliable big brands or Grower Champagnes which are the cult wines of the region.

‘The wine’s character might be quirky but more singular than perhaps Bollinger and the style of wines can be dramatically different from the purity of say a Pol Roger or freshness and ripeness of a Tattinger. Not in terms of their viticulture but in their wine making,’ he says. ‘There is a lot of organic and biodynamic with a lot going back to barrel fermentation of the base wine and having totally natural yeasts.’

Independent wine writer Huon Hooke says; ‘Grower fizz is big on wine lists as any wine that has a retail presence is poison to a restaurant, because the customer knows the retail price,” he says. ‘Another thing that makes these wines desirable is the perception that their makers are more sustainable, eg. organic and bio dynamic.

‘I don’t think it’s a passing fad. It’s a trend paralleled in other regions, especially Burgundy, where 30 years ago growers who’d always sold their fruit to negociants realised their grapes were better than the anonymous blends into which they were junked. They also realised there was a new, emerging market for small-production, hand-made wines from superior parcels of land.’

Bourne similarly observed; ‘Small individuals can see the economic opportunity – with the next generation going off to become wine makers and with new distribution opportunities to new customers around the world.’

At Quay Restaurant in Sydney, where wine Director Amanda Yallop created a champagne listing years ago that gave details of dosage, grape varieties, disgorgement dates and an explanation of the differences between RM, NM, and ND Champagnes, they think Grower Champagnes have legs.

‘I think we’ll continue to see Australia’s love for champagne exceed our expectations and thrive on Grower Champagne,’ says Quay’s Head Sommelier Shanteh Wong. ‘Maybe not as rapid with Grower Champagne as I would like, but I think that quality and the personality of RM offer a world of different and exciting champagne experiences.”

Perhaps Grower Champagnes aren’t the new black on wine lists but they are certainly here to stay and worth searching out.

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