Why small Champagne growers are worth their weight in gold
Driving up to a Champagne masterclass in the Yarra Valley got me thinking about what I actually know about French fizz. The truth is, not a lot. My interaction and internal narrative when it comes to Champagne goes a bit like this: “It’s [insert loved one’s name] birthday, wedding, new job, baby shower etc… I’m going to grab a bottle of bubbles. Urrrm which one looks pretty?
“Which one have I seen before?
“Oooh Moët is on offer. It looks great and tastes ace. Celebration sorted!” If International Champagne expert and all round legend Tyson Stelzer’s insights are anything to go by, I’m not alone.
“Small, terroir-focused wines created by families are not performing well in Australia because everyone is buying big brands,” says Tyson.
I’ve certainly always had a lovely time with the big brands but my approach means I’m blind to a plethora of smaller Champagne producers. This is something that really hit home when I tasted a selection of Veuve Fourny’s cuvées. When those bubbles danced across my tongue, my eyes were opened to a whole new world. It was a wake up call to remind me to be a little more adventurous and to dig a little deeper because beneath the surface of Champagne is a treasure chest of unique gems.
Veuve Fourny is one of the region’s diamonds.
I had the pleasure of meeting the charming Charles Fourny and was instantly engaged by the twinkle in his eye and the way his whole face lit up when he spoke about Champagne. If the taste of his wines are anything to go by, no wonder he’s a happy man. I tasted five cuvées and while each was quite distinct, they were unified by an arresting focus, crystalline purity, chalky minerality, poise and finesse. It was a little hard to pay attention to what Charles was chatting about ‘cause I was being totally seduced by pure class in a glass, an experience that imprinted on both my taste and memory bank.
Charles and his brother Emmanuel are fifth-generation Champagne producers who practice magic in the Premier Cru village of Vertus in the Côte des Blancs. While steeped in history, over the past five years the brothers have been transforming their winery to be able to capture the essence of their chalk-laced land with even more precision. Speaking to Charles, it’s clear he’s totally besotted with his beloved village of Vertus and bottling its true spirit for the world to enjoy. And when I asked Tyson about what sets the Fournys apart he became very animated.
“The bottom line in Champagne is all about the soil. They’ve got beautifully situated vineyards in one of the great Premier Crus in the Côte des Blancs, right on the border of Le Mesnil, one of the great Grand Crus of Champagne.”
“They’re ultra fanatical in the winery about the way they not only grow their grapes, but then vinify it and experiment with barrels, aging their wines for a long time to capture the character of those vineyards.”
Veuve Fourny is one of 4,500 grower producers in Champagne and only one of around 100 that make it into Australia due to our importers’ discerning tastes. This is a good thing - it means we only see the best of best. So taking a punt on an unknown Champagne is a lot less scary and, because smaller players pump all their resources into their grapes as opposed to marketing, a better value bet.
I know the next time I’m invited to a celebration, I’ll be lining up my small grower Champagne next to a well known show pony and seeing which horse is the favourite. After tasting five of Veuve Fourny’s Champagnes, I know where I’d be putting my money.
If you’d like to know more about the weird and wonderful world of Champagne, read more over here. Otherwise, stock up on some sparkling goodness and find out if you’re more a ‘grower’ or ‘house’ Champagne kinda mofo. Either way, we can tell you’ve got great taste.