Robin Garr recently wrote that there is some serious talk of expanding the boundaries of the Champagne region to increase production. He reminds us that true Champagne, is made from grapes grown in the rolling, forested region around the cities of Reims and Epernay, just northeast of Paris. Historically, all the region's sparkling wine has been produced by about 75 "houses" - major companies like Moet et Chandon, Veuve Cliquot, Bollinger and Taittinger and other large firms that boast histories of 200 years or more.
But in recent years, a growing number of the more than 15,000 individual growers who traditionally sold their grapes to the major houses have begun using their estate-grown fruit to make their own limited-production Champagnes, grown, made and bottled on the premises. U.S. importer Terry Theise, previously best known for German wines, has made a name for himself with a portfolio of exceptional "farmer fizz," as he calls grower Champagne.
Carefully look at the tiny print on the bottom of the label for a "matriculation number," a unique code assigned to every grower by the Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC), the Champagne trade association. If this number begins with the initials "RM" ("récoltant-manipulant" or, literally, "harvester-handler"), you've got your hands on a grower Champagne. "NM" ("négociant-manipulant" ("trader-handler") signifies the larger houses, and "CM" ("cooperative de manipulation") indicates a cooperative.
Give a good grower Champagne a try, when the occasion calls for a popping cork.