For being relatively small, Champagne may be the most regulated wine region on the planet. Overseeing all of the rules and regulations is the Committee for Viticulture of Champagne, whose professional staff is directed by a board of governors, consisting of both growers and houses.
While growers actually own ninety percent of the 84,000 acres in the appellation, it is the “houses” that produce the majority of all Champagne in the region. Some houses have their own vineyards and buy additional grapes from the growers. Most growers sell the majority of their grapes to houses, but some growers keep the fruit and produce wines for their own label. Other growers have formed cooperatives that use their grapes under a specific label. This arrangement has set up a working relationship filled with layers of complexity – like Champagne itself.
Since one hectare (about 2.5 acres) of vineyard land in Champagne costs approximately $1.4 million dollars, newcomers are rare. Most growers have had the land in their families for multiple generations and maintain long term contracts with cooperatives or houses.
Co-ops will usually collect grapes from vineyards in a specific region and will produce wines based on a style. Growers who produce wines from their own vineyards have the ability to make vineyard-specific wines that reflect more of a sense of place as opposed developing a brand style. This week, I’ll review wines of growers and cooperatives and next week I’ll cover houses.