Haven’t seen a Champagne question yet, so I thought I’d toss in a couple.
You’ve written that grower Champagnes now have something like 3% market share in the US, vs. under 1% a few years ago. There has been an explosion of consumer interest (off a small base) – more people are aware that grower Champagnes exist, are tasting and liking them, are having them with meals, etc. And, on the supply side, importers and retailers like yourself, K&L, etc. are making them available at really good prices, in many cases equivalent to (or lower than) the industrial offerings from the luxury brands. All very very good. So how long can this continue? And, will the game plan to go from 3% to (say) 5-8% be different from how we went from 1% to 3%?
Also, a question on aging… I confess, the best Champagnes I’ve ever tasted were not farmer fizz. They were… 1990 & 1995 Krug, 1995 Dom Oeno, and 1996 Salon (all but the 1990 Krug were still too young). Do you think the best vintage grower Champagnes, given enough time, can be as beautiful, complex, etc. as the best offerings from the big brands?
The most recent figure was 3.68% or all the Champagne shipped to the U.S., but bear in mind this figure encompasses only Champagnes in the “RM” category. There are growers who for various legal/financial/clerical reasons are technically negoçiants and whose shipments are lumped in with LVMH’s.
My own sense is that for the next ten years, the maximum sustainable market share would be around 5%. That’s because most of the best growers are already shipping, and by their very nature they don’t have a lot of wine.
Your second question is interesting, and my answer may surprise you. I think the very best Champagnes of all are the few absolute top wines from the best houses. Except for Vilmart and Selosse, I haven’t had a grower’s wine that equals these, but I’ve had many that compare favorably, and at a fraction of the price. Put it this way; Clos de Goisses is supernal Champagne, and Chiquet’s Special Club is about 75% as good at something like half the price.
Your price/value argument is a compelling one. Aside from this, though – considering just the wines themselves – why do you suppose this is the case? For me, it is a bit of an inconvenient truth in my worldview of Champagne. I really want to believe that the very top farmer fizz must necessarily be the best stuff… but not so. Shouldn’t it be?
Is it simply because the big houses own the best terroirs? Or do they have better resources, the financial ability to be more selective at harvest, etc.? Or maybe the best growers haven’t been bottling long enouugh for us to know?
Steve, I suspect the answer is all-of-the-above, plus better machines in the cellar and also more wherewithal to finance keeping the wines en tirage for many years. That said, a few growers are starting to show they can play in exalted leagues, and the answer to your question may well be more nuanced and qualified in twenty years’ time.
Remember, the true tête-du-cuvée is the tiny tip of a large iceberg. At the normal NV and vintage levels, the good growers almost always deliver a far more distinctive and interesting wine than most negoçiants.