From big brand to fine wine – it’s no exaggeration to say that grower champagne has changed the notion of what champagne can and should be.

Pioneers like Francis Egly of iconic grower champagne Egly-Ouriet have invested huge amounts of time and money prioritising their vineyards, relentlessly focusing on quality and terroir expression in their wines – and ultimately going up against the big Champagne houses.

It’s a brave move, but one that is reinvigorating the region and attracting many converts to the cause.

In this episode we chat with Francis Egly and his daughter Clemence to hear their thoughts on why it’s important to harvest their grapes ripe, age their bottles extensively and see the process through from growing grapes to selling their wine.

We also hear from Charles Lea, owner and director of respected London wine merchant Lea & Sandeman, on how a lockdown trip to Champagne saw him move away from the ‘boring’ big production houses and embrace the growers’ cause.

Along the way, we provide the context and analysis, and taste through a number of quite stunning grower champagnes – including an exclusive taster of a new Egly-Ouriet wine that’s not yet been released on the UK market…

This episode is sponsored by Lea & Sandeman. We’re very grateful to them – and to you for tuning in. 



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NB: this transcript was AI generated via Headliner. It’s not perfect.

Susie: Hello. You’re listening to wine blast, the place for people with a healthy thirst and an open mind. I’m Susie, he’s Peter. And we are both slightly overexcited because in this episode, we get to talk about fascinating people doing their own thing in glorious style. Plus, we have the green light to dive into some truly outstanding wines. What is not to like?

Peter: I’m struggling to see the downside. yeah, we are talking grower champagne people. this intriguing trend of the last few decades, where small producers in this most famous of french wine regions have forced a radical reappraisal of what champagne can and should be. it’s a story of bravery against the ods. Grim know, but also one of guess, you know, authenticity, hope. Hope for the future.

Susie: You’re going all Hollywood on us again, aren’t you? And breathe.

Peter: I do that.

Susie: maybe let’s get a sneak preview of the kind of thing we’ll be hearing along the way.

Charles Lea: Some of the productions of the big companies where you taste the wine which has been blended to be perfect, and as a result, it’s so boring that you want to scream. But if you have a grower, I think you’ll taste individuality. You taste an expression of a wine. I mean, that’s the whole point, is they’re fun. They’re completely delicious. You put them in your mouth and you want to swallow them.

Susie: It’s all about the swallowing. Charles Lea of London, wine merchant Lea and Sandeman there, telling it like it is, as ever. We’ll also, be hearing from legendary champagne grower Francis Egly and his daughter Clemence of the iconic champagne Egly-Ouriet So, lots to be getting on with.

Peter: Yeah. We should say that this episode is focused on the broader topic of grower champagne. but it’s been facilitated by the sponsorship of Lea and Sandeman partly, of course, because one of their many specialist fields now is grower champagne. And so we’re going to be tasting through a range of really pretty bloody delicious grower champagnes from their range, too.

Susie: We are, aren’t we? they’ve also got a great lockdown story to tell on the grower champagne front, which is something we’ll be coming onto very soon.

There’s a new breed of ambitious grower champagne producers that has emerged

But before we get ahead of ourselves, we should set the scene, shouldn’t we? What do we mean by grower champagne? What are we talking about? Why is it exciting? Why should we bother to spend our precious time on this?

Peter: So I’m getting Hollywood, you’re getting Gordon Ramsay. Right. I see where we’re going. But you’re right, a bit of context is indeed in order. and I guess it starts with kind of the nuts and bolts of how the Champagne region works, which is.

Susie: Not straightforward, is it? No.

Peter: Over to you.

Susie: These things rarely are straightforward in France, are they? But essentially, champagne produces around 300 million bottles a year to sell. Underpinning this are the region’s grape growers, all 16,200 of them, who provide the raw materials for the wine.

Peter: So in a region of, what is it, 34,000? Just over hectares, that means the average holding is just over 2 ha. Which isn’t big.

Susie: No. But there are then three main ways these wines can make it to market. One is the grower simply sells his grapes to one of the champagne houses, which are the big brands we all know Moet M and Chandon, Laurent, Perrier, Veuve Clicquot etc. Another is the grower makes his or her wine in a cooperative seller and then sells it themselves or through the co op. And these can then become own brands or whatever.

Peter: Yeah, but it’s the final one that really interests us here, isn’t it?

Susie: Exactly. So the final route to market is where the grower not only grows their own grapes, but also makes and sells their own wine. And this is known officially in the region as being, a recoltant manipulant or RM And you’ll see that on the bottle of the grower champagne.

Peter: Yeah. And there are something like 3200 of these growers in champagne who make what they sell, as opposed to the 16,200 pure growers. These 3000 plus actually make and sell the wines. Beyond selling the grapes.

Susie: Well, that’s what the Christie’s Encyclopedia of champagne and Sparkling wine tells us. And it also reveals a profound economic truth about champagne. This is a serious business. It’s incredibly hard to get established and make a success of producing and selling champagne. It costs eye watering amounts to buy the kit to make the wines and then finance your stockholdings. Because, of course, champagne needs to age for years before it can go to market. And then, after all that, you still have to sell the stuff in a highly competitive marketplace.

Peter: Yeah. So what does that mean for the houses and, for the growers?

Susie: Yeah, well, these champagne houses are the ones that have traditionally focused on building up the sales and the distribution networks. So there are 370 houses in the region. They only own 10% of the region’s vineyard, but they account for 72% of champagne sales.

Peter: So only 10% of the vineyard. But they account for 72%, pretty much three quarters. The houses, by and large control the majority of champagne sales.

Susie: Exactly. Yeah. So even more so when you talk about exports, the houses account for around 90% of champagne exports. So they have tended to be the commercial gatekeepers, as it, were.

Peter: So what about the growers then? Where do they fit into the commercial picture?

Susie: Well, as I say, when the balance of sales power is so concentrated in one model, which is a fairly large scale, it can be hard to compete. Moet and Chandon are thought to make upwards of 30 million bottles a, ah, year. Egly Ouriet sells 200,000 in a good year. But since the 1980s, 1990s, there has been a shift in the champagne matrix, you might call it. There’s a new breed of ambitious grower champagne producers that has emerged, aiming for top, top quality, smallish production wines, often organic, focused on the vineyard and terroir.

Peter: Yeah, and those things were never really a priority for the houses, were they? Because what they did was the big blends, often from all across the region, because they had to. Because they were buying from.

Susie: Absolutely. And this phenomenon that we’re talking about with the growers happened around the same time that wine drinkers and wine producers were really reacting against homogeneity and standardization in wine. The natural wine scene was starting to take off, for example, and people were starting to question the accepted norms, like, why do we not talk about the vineyards in champagne? Why are there so few interesting smaller producers there, like there are in Burgundy? These sort of questions.

Peter: Yeah. Ah, which is the right questions or the interesting questions? But I guess you get into a mindset, don’t you, about certain reasons. And I guess that probably created opportunities for smaller grower producers who were then able to focus on this kind of ethos and this kind of wine.

Susie: Yeah, I mean, of course there are different kinds of grower champagnes. and it’s always worth bearing this in mind when you generalize about the various sectors in champagne or look at the headline figures. Some growers make modest, good value wines that sell well in France or at the cellar door. But others, the kind of growers we’re interested in here, they’re setting very high standards with their intense focus on healthy, quality oriented vineyards and making serious, characterful wines that are light years away from your bog standard, mass produced, non vintage champagne.

Peter: and these are the guys changing the narrative in champagne, proving that champagne can be a terroir, wine can be individual, can be characterful, and, it can be eco friendly too.

Susie: Absolutely. And this comes after, of course, the scandal of the gadoues in the 1970s and 1980s, when champagne growers essentially used urban waste to fertilize, and I use that term firmly, in inverted commas, to fertilize their vineyard, with a result that you can even today see hideous colored plastic poking up through the soil in so many vineyards. I mean, a serious cleanup job was long overdue.

Peter: Yeah. So this new approach, though, it sounds like hard work, being organic in a relatively cloudy, rainy region like champagne can’t be easy, and therefore also sounds expensive.

Susie: Well, these wines aren’t cheap. They’re not cheap wines. Champagne rarely is. And I’d argue that grower champagnes often represent pretty amazing value compared to the big houses, especially given what you get in the glass. Tends to be much more rewarding and complex.

Peter: Yeah, if you like that kind of thing. but you must have to be pretty brave to take this on as a grower. it’s a big investment. Not so much time, not only on production, but also selling as well. And often these are kind of family enterprises, aren’t they? They’re family businesses. So there aren’t sort of armies of staff?

Susie: No. I mean, seriously, it’s a bit of a labor of love, which is why so many growers opt for an easy life and just sell their grapes and take the cash to the bank. And if you look at the figures, although there’s been a lot of chat and hype about grower champagnes over the past few decades, the actual figures for overall volume sales of grower champagnes are down by about a quarter over the past 20 years. I mean, they accounted for about 18% of champagne shipments, volumes, as of 2022.

Peter: Yeah. And I think they were, what, 24% back in 1999. So that is. Yes, down a quarter. But surely within that, there are growers doing well, evidently.

Susie: So those figures are volume sales, remember, not value. but when you talk to these producers, you do get a real sense they’re working for the survival of champagne as a serious wine region, that these are solid, profitable businesses, and they feel there is a bright future ahead.

Peter: Yeah, and that’s important at a time when champagne sales seem to be fluctuating quite wildly, don’t they? there was a huge drop in 2020, wasn’t there, because of COVID lockdowns then sales boomed in 2021 and 2022. and then the most recent figures for 2023 that have just come through show a big drop back in volume, more, in line with what was happening in 2019. So, pre Covid, but a real roller coaster.

Susie: Yeah, it’s just not easy in champagne at the moment there have been a few challenging vintages, climate change is having an impact. The cost of living. Cris is also a major headwind. Maybe people overstocked in 2021 and 22. And however you look at it, champagne isn’t cheap, as we’ve said. Average prices are actually going up as well. So inflationary is a trend and there’s more and more competition.

Peter: So I guess all the more reason to focus on quality over quantity. I think so. And carving out a niche where people buy your brand not just because of price or vague brand recognition, but actually because it tastes unique and people believe in what you’re doing.

Susie: Yeah, amen. to that. So, at this point, I’d like to bring in Charles Lea He’s the owner and director of Lea and Sandeman Wine merchants, who have five shops in southwest London and also a pretty nifty website where you can buy their wines, too. Lea and Sandeman are well regarded in wine circles, mainly because right from the start, they’ve been real treasure hunters, heading out into wine lands all over the world to find the gems in the rough, unique wines with something to say for themselves, grower champagnes included.

Peter: And this story has a Covid related twist, which needs a bit of a preface, because during lockdown, when champagne sales dropped off a cliff, as I said, the champagne producers decided to limit the 2020 harvest for fear of oversupply. So, artificially creating a small harvest, if you like, then the 2021 vintage was really quite challenging. So small again. But this coincided with a boom in sales in 2021, as I’ve said already. So you had short supply, but surging demand, as well as disruption in the supplies of raw materials, including bottles, meant that lots of the big houses put sales on allocation, which restricted their sales. What people could buy in the market, which was unheard of.

Susie: Yeah, unheard of. And it didn’t go down too well with some people, I think, Charles Lea included. so Charles decided in late 2021, to take himself off round champagne to find alternative supplies, and in doing so, found so many brilliant smaller growers that he snapped up loads of them and revamped his entire champagne portfolio in the process.

Peter: Now, we’re going to hear a little bit about this in the interview. But first off, I asked Charles how, in his view, champagne has evolved of late.

Charles Lea: Oh, no, I think there has been a real qualitative jump, which has come from, yeah, maybe global warming, even, but there is a sense in which people are getting grapes ripe now. Ah, like Egly And when we took on Gonnet Medeville, who was one we took on some time ago, he said, I want to make champagnes like I’ve tasted from the. Because I want to make champagnes that can last. And I love the taste of old champagne and the way that it develops and the way that it ages. And that’s what really interests me. And if I couldn’t do that, it wouldn’t bother, because he had the choice. He could have not done what he’s done, and so could egley, and so could quite a number of the others. But we’re seeing nowadays, in the world of fine wine in other areas. I think you see it in America with some of the productions of the big companies who have fancy labels where you taste the wine which has been blended to be perfect. And as a result, it’s so boring that you want to scream. And what interests me is to try different things the whole time. And we do it with everywhere else in Burgundy, I’ve got growers who make every style. And it annoys me when people say, oh, they’re, making such old fashioned wine. Well, old fashioned they may be. Try them when they’re 30 years old, and then tell me that you don’t think they’re great. is my answer to those people. And I think the same is true in champagne. I’m sure you can have very lovely, elegant champagnes which will taste good today and will be history, and ashes in five years. And you can have things from Egly-Ouriet which, if you don’t put it away for three or four years, you’re probably not getting your money’s worth. That would be my way of looking.

Peter: At it in terms of the wines in the glass. If you were going to sum up, I’m a customer who’s just walked through the door of your shop. Why should I buy grower champagnes? What makes them different in the glass? What am I going to taste that’s different about these wines?

Charles Lea: I think you’ll taste individuality. You taste an expression of a wine as opposed to the art of blending. Sometimes they’re a result of what they do in the vineyard and the art of blending. Obviously, there’s a lot of blending goes on in a lot of the non vintage cuves that we deal with. but I love the idea that you can taste the difference between a wine that comes from Le Mesnil and a wine that comes from Cramant They’re both pure chardonnay. They’re both grand cru. Why? Because of where they come from. just like in Burgundy, you can taste the difference between a Chambertin and a Pommard you’d hope. they’re perhaps more different than two champagnes from the cote de blanc, but there is definitely a difference. And I find that completely fascinating. And I think a lot of people who are in the wine world do. And that’s why the top end, the very top end of the wine market is, I think, more susceptible to being interested in this sort of champagne than others.

Peter: And are these wines accessible? Because from what you’re saying, it sounds like grower champagne is more individuality, more character. That can be scary to some people. Can they be accessible as well? Are they fun?

Charles Lea: Oh, God, yes. I mean, that’s the whole point, is they’re fun. They’re completely delicious. You put them in your mouth and you want to swallow them. And that’s what, to me, there’s a transparency about them, which just makes them completely delicious. No, I think they’re absolutely delicious. And I think the fact that they are means that people come back and buy them again and again, which they do. But they’re also, having tried one, they go, oh, well, that was good. is that one good too? And you go, yes. And so, to me, there is a real advantage in having lots of different ones, just like there is in having lots of different burgundies. I think people in the past have got a bit brand know. I’m a Bollinger man. I’m a krugist, or, it’s not necessary. You don’t have to stick with one. I would encourage you to try all of them, but then I would encourage you to try all wine, because I think all wine is fascinating, and drinking the same one over and over again is boring. I went over to champagne with a specific idea of trying to find some more supply to get us through Christmas, and I realized just how many fantastic more growers there were than, we already had. And I started to sign up more of them and got very, very enthusiastic about it. Possibly slightly too enthusiastic. But as I say, there is a sort of snowball effect, whereby people who have tried one of these wines, are much more prepared to try another and then go, well, actually, maybe I don’t need to always go back to the brand which I used to identify with.

Peter: And even you, as someone who had been importing and selling grower champagne for a while, you still got slightly over enthusiastic about what you saw out there in champagne during lockdown, in terms of grower champagne.

Charles Lea: Yeah, I think I did. I mean, the more I tasted. The more I went around, the more I went. Well, what are we doing with promoting, LVMH’s big brands, when we can have all of these and they’re individual to us? Yes, it’ll take a bit more work, but we say we’re on the side of the people who are interested in fine wine. This is where it is. So, we’ve got to promote these.

Peter: Charles, thank you very much indeed.

Charles Lea: Not at all.

Susie: LVmh, by the way, being the multinational owner of Moet and Chandon Krug, Veuve Clicquot and others. But here we’re talking about champagne moving towards terroir wines, full of character, and which clearly got Charles Lea pretty enthused, possibly a little too enthused in his own words.

Peter: But you can understand it from a wine lover’s point of view, can’t you? these are wines that invite a sense of sort of intellectual curiosity, as well as sheer enjoyment and hedonism. and you can argue that’s something champagne’s been lacking before they came on the scene.

Susie: Totally, yeah. So that’s what we’re going to come on to very shortly. How and why great grower champagne stimulates what Hercule Poirot might term the little grey cells. and we’re going to do that by chatting with Francis and Clements Egly of champagne Egly Ouriet and then tasting an epic range of grower champagnes. To recap so far, grower champagnes are a small but important part of this famous region’s output, with the best producers earning iconic status for their relentless focus on their vineyards and on tewar expression in the wines. Charles Lea was so impressed that he revamped his champagne portfolio during lockdown and he hasn’t looked back since.

Peter: Now, one prominent grower, who Charles mentioned a few times, is Egly Ouriet along with the likes of Selosse and, Larmandier Bernier, this is one of the grower champagnes with a cult following. they’re based on the Montaigne de, and are renowned for their incredibly powerful, intense wines, which are also refined and precise, the product of immense attention to detail and impeccable farming.

Susie: Francis Egly is a fourth generation grower, but it was only after he started working for the family business that Egly-Ouriet began to bottle and sell its own wines in the 90s. His dad, Michele, though, famously actually refused to take the urban waste on his vineyards in the 1970s. Anyway, Francis is a man with a reputation for being a perfectionist. One of his key tenets is harvesting ripe, often starting after others have finished. Then long lees is aging to give complexity, but also to allow the terroir to shine through in the wines. Oak is used for the grand Cruz, but mainly to oxygenate the wines. And to allow small batch winemaking. Low dosage is the norm. So we’re talking dry style.

Peter: Egly-Ouriet makes proper know, serious wines, which are so popular they can be hard to get hold of. so I was very privileged to get to sit down, with Francis and his daughter, Clemence who not only makes the wines with Francis, but also was, acting on this occasion as her father’s translator. something that would strain any father daughter relationship, I think it’s fair to say. We tasted, as we chatted in a London restaurant with very creaky floorboards. about grower champagne in general. and what they do in particular. I started with a deceptively simple question.

Selling your own wines as well as growing grapes is a lot of work

What is grower champagne?

Clemence Egly: Whoa.

Peter: Simple question, but not necessarily easy.

Clemence Egly: Yeah, simple. Grower champagne is someone that do a lot of things at the same time. I would say, he’s someone that work a lot in the vineyard first, because it’s the main difference. grower champagne owns his vineyards. He knows exactly, the soil. And, he know what to do at what time, for the harvests. And, yes, it’s someone that is at the same time in the vineyards, in the cellar after to take care of the vinification. then to take care of the bottles, of the preparation of the bottles, preparation of the order. And someone also who takes the order and deal with all the clients. So it’s someone that has a lot of different facets.

Peter: So it sounds like a lot of work.

Clemence Egly: Yes, it is.

Peter: I would say selling your own wines as well as growing the grapes is a lot of work. So becoming a grower, not just selling your grapes to the big houses, that’s a big commitment. So my question would be, what’s the motivation to do that?

Clemence Egly: It’s to make something from the beginning to the end. And to see the result of your work, I would say. So it’s nice, when you are engaged in your vineyards to be able then to make wines with the grapes that you produce. If you sell the grapes, your work stop just in the middle of the process. So I think it’s better to do everything.

Peter: So a sense of satisfaction of seeing your work from beginning to end.

Clemence Egly: Yeah. And it’s the same with the commercialization. If you make the wines, but you don’t see people drinking it. It’s also not normal.

Peter: Yes.

There are more and more people engaged in the vineyards making their own champagne

How do you see the grower champagne phenomenon more broadly? how have things changed over the years? And what situation are we in now in terms of grower champagnes?

Clemence Egly: There are more and more people, engaged in the vineyards and making his own champagne. Even the young generation, we, started to make again wines, and their parents were not only selling grapes to the big houses, so they start again the production of champagne. So I think there is a big movement in champagne with the younger generation. And it’s good because it’s good for us, it’s good for the image of the grower champagne.

Francis Egly: Good for the champagne.

Clemence Egly: It’s good for champagne. And we are kind of stronger together because, for example, our own production is very small compared to the old production of champagne. And if you have other growers that, give a good image of grower champagne, you all work in the same way and it’s good for everyone.

You’re very well known for harvesting your grapes ripe in champagne

Peter: Now you talk about the connection with the vineyard. You’re very well known for harvesting your grapes ripe, in a region where this is not necessarily usual or common. Why do you do that? How easy is it to do that?

Clemence Egly: So, the vision of my father was to reach, high level of ripeness in the grapes at the harvest, because he learned it from his different, meetings with other producers, from Burgundy, for example, when he went there to meet some producer and to try to learn and try to understand the way they produce their wine. So it was an inspiration from them, from the borgundi wines. And it was his vision to get a good level of.

Peter: But in champagne, the accepted truth is sometimes that, oh, and it’s champagne, it needs to be a little bit acidic and not properly ripe to make a basis for a great wine. But that’s not what you do.

Clemence Egly: We harvest ripe, but, our wines, don’t miss, acidity. You still have, high level of acidity. The only difference is that the dosage is lower and that you have, better complexity in the wines because you have more aromas due to the ripeness of the grapes.

Francis Egly: Never a problem. Acidity champagne, it’s not a problem. Acidity, it’s always, enough.

Peter: And that harvesting ripe, what does that give you? Is it complexity?

Francis Egly: Yes, complexity with ripe grapes, complexity, more.

Clemence Egly: Aromas, more flavors in the wines, it’s, more natural flavors.

Peter: And you can have a lower dosage at the end of it as well.

Clemence Egly: Yes.

Francis Egly: Dosage is always with, good harvest. And when the harvest is good, the ripe is ripe.

One of your stated aims is for your wines to reflect your terroir

Peter: Now, one of your stated aims is for your wines to reflect your terroir as well. How do you achieve that?

Clemence Egly: by the ripeness of the grapes. we try to respect as much as we can, the terroir. so for that, we go almost every day in the vineyard to walk the vines. And then, as we said, it’s very important to harvest very ripe. Of course, you need to wait a longer time, so you take more risk. sometimes you never know what can happen. But at the end, it is with ripe grapes that you have the best flavors in the bottles and the more complex cc. So after also to highlight the terroir, we also barrels, we work with barrels, for most of the production. So all the grand cruva are vinified in barrels. So it’s parcel by parcels. so everything is vinified separately.

Francis says champagne flavors only come out after three or four years aging

Peter: And Francis, you’ve also said something about terroir and champagne is much more than about just yeasty or the flavours that derive from the lees and the yeast. And that those characters only come out in the bottle after you give it time in the bottle. And I was interested in asking you more about that. Why is that?

Clemence Egly: So at the beginning, after the fermentation, the wines, has more yeasty flavor. and it’s only after three or four years of aging, that this yeasty flavor disappear, and after you have more the flavor of the terroir that, take place in the bottles. So at the beginning, it will more be the yeasty flavors. And after three or four years, it will more be about fruits, flowers. And after you have also the tertiaries aromas. But it’s very personal.

Peter: But for you, it’s a minimum of three years before those kind of characters can start to come out in the bottle.

Clemence Egly: Yes.

Peter: And it loses. Loses the yeasty before use fermenter. It’s fermentation around fermentation.

Charles Lea: Yes.

Francis Egly: It’s good also fermentation, but it’s different.

Peter: And champagne can be more than just fermentation flavors.

Francis Egly: You can like champagne with, one year or two years of bottles. But this is, the test of this goodly.

Peter: Francis you said one of the biggest mistakes in champagne is to go against nature. What did you mean by that?

Francis Egly: Particularity preferred.

Clemence Egly: So not going against nature. It’s, obvious. because, of course, when you walk outside with the vineyards, you cannot go against nature. but, what is more important is not going against the vintage. for example, when it’s, an od vintage, there is no sense to harvest earlier. To get more acidity in the wines, you need to make wines that reflect the vintage, and highlight the year.

Peter: So to make sort of singular wines, wines which have a unique identity, which have a consistency of quality, but not a consistency of character. All the time.

Clemence Egly: Not all the time in the vintage, no. In the wines that are blends, it’s different. We try to compensate, by adding reserve wine to the wine of the year to have something more consistent. But for the vintage, if you make a vintage 2018, you need to have something like, ripe.

Peter: so just thinking about this then, this consistency or character. If you could summarize Egly Uri’s style, character in three words, what would it be?

Clemence Egly: ripeness, aging labor.

Francis Egly: Vineyard labasi.

Peter: What does the future hold for you, but also for grower champagne in general?

Clemence Egly: I hope it’s a bright future. I don’t know. I think that if everyone is working in the good way, respecting the wines, the vines, trying to make, good wine, it will be good.

Francis Egly: Lafuture, silver, santrebone.

Clemence Egly: so people are more and more looking for, high quality product and authenticity in the product that they buy, for craftsmanship. so I think the future of, grower champagne can be a good future if, people try to make quality product and, put a lot of effort in their winemaking process and the way they conduct their vineyards.

Peter: Clemos, thank you very much indeed.

Francis Egly: Thank you.

Clemence Egly: Thank you.

Susie: I loved his solution to the three word summary challenge, you know, speaks volumes, doesn’t it? The vines. The vines, the vines.

Susie: I wanted to pick up on one thing, you know, his point that the wines need at least three to four years of lease aging before the tower, can start to shine through.

Peter: Yeah, I found that really interesting, too. I had no idea about that. It’s interesting, isn’t it? He says it takes that time for the wines to shrug off their fermentive or leaves dominated aromas of yeastiness, to start to show their terroir and nuance and subtlety. Which is why his wines are long Lee’s aged. So it’s not just about the intense focus on the vineyard and harvesting ripe and using oak barrels. It’s also about judging your maturation process, getting it right so that you can emerge the other end with a wine that’s not only rich and complex, but also very individual and very detailed and not at all standardized.

Susie: I think that’s the point, I think he said that about other champagnes, that we’ve been conditioned to think that these characters of yeast and fermentation are the real characters of champagne, those sort of bready, biscuity flavors, when they’re not. And he’s trying to show that isn’t true.

Peter: and he was clear that this isn’t easy doing what he’s doing. Facilite, I think he said at one point, it’s not the easy path, but in his mind, it’s the right path and it’s the best path. And you have to say his wines do back him up. Francis says, champagne, before anything, is a wine, and the bubbles are kind of a bonus.

Susie: Well, you can say that because you got to enjoy a rather nice tasting with Francis and Clemence didn’t you?

Peter: I confess I did.

Susie: You did?

Peter: Yes. And in the process, I believe I became the first person in the UK to try a brand new cuvet of theirs. At least it’s new to the UK. I think the first release went to friends and to the US in tiny quantities. It’s called Les Vignes de Bisseuil just thinking about being the first to try it in the UK. Does that make me like a wine superhero?

Susie: Oh, I’m sure it does, yeah. Marvel. You are marvellous.

Peter: M. I think I’m just lucky, aren’t I? The right mouse in the right place at the right time. Story of my. You know, we have both tasted their wines over the years, haven’t we? we’ve always been interested. and we’ve got one of them here in front of us, too. but, yeah, no, this was an intriguing tasting with them both. And.

Susie: Any highlights?

Peter: Yeah. So, Les Vignes de Vrigny premier crew, which is pure pinot munier, was, full of clotted cream and red apple. Really juicy and lifted. Made in stainless steel, not oak, to preserve the freshness in that wine. Three years on the leaves, which, according to Francis, is the minimum you need for sort of finesse of bubbles. and the grand Cru Ambonnay non vintage with the 2023 release was really powerful and rich, but also really fresh and revitalizing, immensely serious wine.

Susie: And then this super duper new cuvet that you mentioned.

Peter: Oh, yeah, sorry. Les Vignes de Bisseuil premier crew. It’s unusually for them, it’s a chardonnay dominant cuvet. mainly they’re all about the Pinot noir, but this one’s Chardonnay mainly from a new vineyard they bought ten years ago, but they’ve been restoring. It’s vinified in oak. and Francis says we had a lot of fun making this. We’re known for Pinot noir, but this is something different. and then he flashed that very impish smile. he’s a wonderful guy. but the wine is gorgeous. it is apple pie, baked cream. Yeasty but delicate lead, wonderful, juicy acidity. Very vinous It’s a word I’d use about a lot of their wines. They’re serious wines. I just wrote stunning.

Susie: Okay, so one to keep an eye out.

Peter: Sorry, you missed out on that one.

Susie: I did, didn’t I? Yeah, I bet you are enjoyed together soon. I’m glad you enjoyed it. Anyway. Yeah, let’s keep an eye out for that. By the way, we will put all details of the wines and prices on our website. All of these are, of course, available from Lea & Sandeman Although I don’t think the bissay has been released.

Peter: No, I think they told me it was coming to the UK in late 2024. and they didn’t have a price yet. Anyway. So we move on to other things that are here.

Susie: Yes, good call. Ah. So we tasted, through a bunch of grower champagnes from Lea & Sandeman And it was without doubt one of the best small tastings we’ve done in quite some time. Just amazing character and complexity in the wines. These are not coffing wines.

Peter: No.

Susie: You need to sit with them, think about them, interact with them.

Peter: Yeah, didn’t you say?

Susie: You’re doing that now, aren’t you? I’ve lost you to interact.

Peter: Just pouring a little bit. Just a little bit extra. Anyway, as you say, they’re serious, proper wines. These are not crowd pleasing champagnes. It’s a different kind of champagne. Anyway, first up we’ve got the Christoph Mignon, adn de monier, brute, natur. So this is pure pin de monet from the Manne valley. Quite deeply coloured, isn’t it, in the glass?

Susie: Yeah, it is lovely.

Peter: Yeasty, mealy, rich red apple and dried flour aromas. And then on the palate, it’s really long and very dry, but also quite saline and great with food. and this from an estate that works with biodynamic, homeopathic and geobiological farming. they harvest ripe, they’re low intervention and mostly focus on meniere. Just really lovely wines.

Susie: Now, I’ve got the Nicola Maillart platinum premier crew, extra brute, which is about 40 pounds. So a little bit less than the mignon. Now, this estate is based in the Montague Deraz, like Egly-Ouriet and works mainly with pinot noir and with barrel vinification. And this wine is all about hedonistic richness. You’ve got, again, this deep sort of antique gold color. and then bready, peachy, biscuity aromas. It’s mouth coating. It’s self assured. It’s kind of like a gnarly old boy sinking back into a leather chair in the pub. At ease with the world. It’s just fabulous. And so much wine for the price.

Peter: Yeah, I love, love that, that. So, I’ve got the Egly Orier Les Premices extra brute NV it’s a 2022 release, so based on the 2019 vintage, this is a cuvet they introduced relatively recently, actually, almost as a sort of easygoing introduction to what you might term, their house style. it’s got a very classic champagne character, hasn’t it?

Clemence Egly: Really classic.

Peter: One of the most classic here, but in a very expressive and really engaging style. It’s full of fresh bread, roasted red apple, super fine bubbles. really complex on the palate, isn’t it? Seamless and cogent. It’s proper wine. amazing energy and precision. Like all of their wines.

Susie: Now, Larmandier Bernier is another celebrated grower based in the Cote de blanc. So more Chardonnay focused, fully certified organic and biodynamic, with the wines known for being pure and precise. Now, this is their latitude. Extra brute. Blanc de blanc premier crew nv. Non vintage. And it’s so fragrant and fine. Classic chardonnay in its lemony green apple aromas and tangy acidity. You’ve also got some oyster shell and flinty notes, and then overlaid with bready complexity and hints of acacia honey. Lots of pure fruit here. A, slightly ethereal quality to it. Sort of filigree and. Beautiful. Yeah, just beautiful.

Peter: Yeah. Almost sort of dainty, you could say. and then finally, champagne. Roger Coulant farms. Organically, across the coat de blanc and Montana deras, he uses agroforestry, ripe fruits, oak vinification, low dosage. Are we spotting a trend here?

Clemence Egly: We are, indeed.

Peter: And the wine. The wine. The Russia Coulomb wine, the milazim 2013 blonde de noir premier crew is just sensational, isn’t it?

Susie: It really, really is.

Peter: It’s a blend of equal parts Monet and pinot noir. It smells like toasted bread and truffles and red apples. It’s elegant and enjoyable. It just unfurls across your palate. It’s just, gorgeous.

Susie: I’d agree. I’d agree. I don’t normally, but I would, in this particular instance, it’s not cheap. That one’s, the most expensive one we tried at about 112 pounds a bottle. But I’d argue it’s still definitely value for money. It’s a very special wine. A good moment, a high note to wrap things up on.

Peter: Yeah, well said. going out with a bang, as ever. One, thing I would say is that there are so many good growers out there. it’s so much fun experimenting and trying new things, and supporting this really exciting brigade of brave, independent producers. The wines will not leave you disappointed. in fact, the inspiration for this episode was a tasting of a whole load of Leon Sandeman’s growers. And it was just sensational. It was mind blowing, it was brilliant. It featured the producers here and then also ones like gras, Frank Bonville, Lancelo Pien, Barneau, Marquera. Gone medville, Margate, you know, it’s a whole new world of champagne and it’s well worth exploring.

Susie: So there we have it. No more screaming from boredom of big production wines. As Charles Lea might say, grower champagne is here to spice up your sparkling life. By way of closing summary, top grower champagne emerged as a pioneering force in the 1990s and widely celebrated for the emphasis it places on the vineyard and teller expression in the wines, wines which tend to be characterful, complex and thought provoking. While not cheap, these wines are revitalizing the region and giving wine lovers a new kind of champagne with which to tantalise not only our taste buds, but our little grey cells too.

Peter: Cheers to that. thanks to our guests, Charles Lea and both Francis and CLemence Egly We’re very grateful to Lea and Sandeman for sponsoring this episode. Thanks also to you for listening. Until next time, cheers.