Grower Champagne: Désir de Matthieu

Most champagnes you see in stores on the export market are grandes marques – big brands from houses that buy in most of their grapes from an army of small landowners and grape growers in the Champagne region. There are also a few cooperative champagnes – Nicolas Feuillatte is perhaps the most well-known in the UK – which are made by an ensemble of growers who contribute their fruit and share in the eventual profits after the costs of pressing, fermentation and storage have been accounted for.

A much smaller category is that of so-called ‘grower champagnes’. These are wines made by the individual growers themselves and are often boutique, family-owned businesses. Growers in this category will typically have a history of selling their fruit to the big companies, or in a cooperative, but are trying to branch out and craft their own product. They will either have a micro-winery on-site or will contract a centralised winery to produce champagne from their fruit according to their own specifications.

Making champagne on a small scale is an expensive undertaking and grower champagnes are not necessarily cheaper than those of the grandes marques. They do, however, represent much better value as a higher proportion of the bottle price has gone into actually making the wine rather than into a multi-million euro advertising campaign convincing you to buy a particular brand.

Grower champagnes can be hard to find outside of France. However, for those in the UK there is now a specialist importer and distributor of grower champagnes – The Real Champagne Company. The company sources a range of high quality, boutique champagnes from small producers that present excellent value for money to the discerning champagne drinker.

I recently tasted Désir de Matthieu from the family-owned and -run outfit Pascal Leblond-Lenoir (rather an appropriate surname for someone in the champagne business I thought!). Unusually for a champagne, this wine is made from 100% Pinot Blanc. The grapes come from the Buxeuil area, which is apparently known for its small plantings of Pinot Blanc. Endearingly, the wine is hand-crafted – right down to the labelling!

The wine was medium gold in the glass, with a robust fizz. An intense, rich nose – ripe apple, nashi pear, a hint of confected apricot and cinnamon, clove and brioche that colluded to remind me somewhat of a pain aux raisins. Golden apple was the main feature of the palate with an intense entry that swelled across the mid-palate, the acidity pinching the corners of the tongue, before tapering to a fairly long finish. Crisp acidity, a rich body without being creamy and a fine mousse.

It gave me the impression of a ‘warmer-climate’ wine than other champagnes, although the alcohol remains a reasonable 12%. There was a hint of barley-sugar sweetness and some astringency. I enjoyed it as an apéritif, although if the idea of a bit of astringency in your champagne doesn’t appeal, it would go very well as a food wine.

Désir de Matthieu is still available for £28 from the Real Champagne Company. Kudos to the Leblond-Lenoir family for making such an interesting wine and to the Real Champagne Company for introducing it to the UK market! I’ll be back for more.

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About James

James Flewellen is a biophysicist at the University of Oxford. He has competed for the University in international blind tasting competitions and won several awards. In addition, James is a wine educator and wine writer, most recently co-authoring "The Concise Guide to Wine and Blind Tasting". He also writes for the international gastronome site "The Rambling Epicure", and can be contacted for wine consultancy and educational courses through the "Oxford Wine Academy".
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3 Responses to Grower Champagne: Désir de Matthieu

  1. Sarah Lowe says:

    Hey James,
    This is a really interesting blog post for me because it shows many comparisons to what is happening in Marlborough at the moment. We’ve got a few growers that we are using for different varieties now- all of whom used to be contract growers. It’s an expensive exercise to set up initially but in the end the grower wins out- they get to taste their own product and also get a bit more money in the end (so long as the wine is good!). I love seeing growers get a bit of the creative enjoyment too 😉 we will definitely try this champagne.

    Kind regards,
    Sarah

    • James says:

      Hey Sarah,
      Yes I was thinking about the parallels with the Marlborough industry as I was writing this. As you point out there are many similarities. The Sauvignon Blanc business in Marlborough was built by contract growers in a similar way to how the Champagne region is run now. It is great to see the small, boutique operators get out there and show their own take on a wine. As you know, people passionate about wine generally make a far better product than people passionate about profits!
      James

  2. Pingback: Mike Matthews – Halfwine.com. An alternative in Online Wine Shopping « Magics Wine Guide and Reviews for Newbies.

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