What do we want? When it comes to buying wine, I often wonder. For me, a lot of it comes down to intrigue. Yes, it’s great to be able to pop into a shop and buy something we reassuringly already like. But, isn’t it even more exciting when you’re recommended a new bottle of wine, or a label grabs your attention, and you take the lottery of trying it and it just so happens to be your new favourite mouthful?
While you can go out and do this alone, and feel like the Christopher Columbus of the wine section, chances are someone has already done half of the work for you. This is the other end of this spectrum, making exploratory wine chancing your career. It can’t all be a gamble of course, and Wine Buyers have some of the most outstanding memories in the trade. This sort of business requires invaluable experience, and someone who has taken the plunge with their own set of tools is Sip Champagnes co-founder, Peter Crawford. “I’ve been doing Sip adhoc for around a decade now,” says Peter. “I’d travel to Champagne maybe three or four times a year, collect new grower champagnes, see how they aged, and build a portfolio.”
Life has changed somewhat dramatically for Peter now. As we sat chatting over Zoom, it was refreshing to see absolute child chaos erupt every so often. He handled it well, bundling his son into a reassuring grasp on his lap and simply continuing with the interview, helped along with the occasional sip of champagne. Peter is working from home, only an internet connection away from his business partner and fellow Sip co-founder, Daniel Blatchford, to bring us, the general public, something a little different.
I’m always in awe of people who have packed in their profession for their passion. It takes bravery and a true belief in the dream which is ultimately, a skill in itself. However, I believe (and Daniel and Peter have proven) there is so much room in the wine world for a company like Sip Champagnes, who pride themselves on bringing new producers and unique artisan champagne to the UK market for the first time. I get asked an awful lot on my blog variations on the ‘what’s your favourite grower champagne and where can I find it?’ For they aren’t easy to come by and smaller productions and outstanding quality means they don’t hang around for long. This is also all too often exacerbated by the somewhat secretive and selfish murmurings of the wine trade, ensuring new favourites are often sold out before you can get a look in. I’m as guilty of the rest of them, I might tell you where I sourced my Dhondt-Grellet, but only once I’ve made sure it’s in my cellar first…
Taking a few steps back, perhaps you need a refresher course on what a grower champagne actually is. I always picture it as thus, a wine made by a farmer. Ultimately, the majority of champagne is made from grapes from Champagne of course, but they’re all traded across vineyards, flung around, it’s not really all that sexy when you think about it like that. Grower champagnes are made a little more quietly. The vigneron (farmer) grows their own grapes to make their own wine in their own style, usually with a lot more attention to the soil. This means, more often than not, that they’re working on a smaller acreage and, therefore, a more specific and perhaps identifiable terroir. It’s also a nice heart-warming thought that you’re spending money on a wine that isn’t mass produced, wouldn’t you agree?
It might be cliché to say Sip Champagnes are putting grower champagnes on the map, but they kind of are. For too long, these wines have been dauntingly out of reach, half of the names we haven’t even heard before! All that toing and froing from Champagne across the last decade and a bit has enabled Peter to source and present five unique champagnes every quarter. It’s exciting! Finally, despite Brexit and Covid and the enormous new headaches of importing, we have access to high quality and unique grower champagnes. I tried their introductory case of three very different champagnes, which is great value at £100 for three bottles. Here are my notes:
Paul Clouet Champagne, Bouzy MV, Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs
This is a Blanc de Noirs made from 100% Pinot Noir from the 2011 and 2012 vintages (MV means multiple vintages.) Bouzy sounds like some sort of new fancy marketing term but it’s actually a commune in the Montagne de Reims region of Champagne. It’s just a cute little village that happens to have Grand Cru status with maybe the greatest name of all time. This wine is not little and cute though, it’s so rich and bolshy but with the most perfectly balanced freshness. Extraordinary, a proper champagne, so toasty you could have it for breakfast.
Champagne Demière, Es’Sens Meunier
This 100% Meunier champagne is from Fleury-La-Rivière in the Vallée de la Marne, again just a tiny little village. On the nose, it has a superb intensity and grip, I’m beginning to realise I absolutely love Meunier. This is a cracker, a huge penetration on the palate, memorable.
Champagne Pertois-Lebrun, L’Extravertie, Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs
A Blanc de Blancs from the 2015 vintage, this is a superb example of the finesse of Chardonnay from Côte des Blancs. The Grand Cru classification comes from Chouilly, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Oiry and the Chardonnay grapes for this wine come from all three villages. This is a gorgeous inviting golden colour with delicate bubbles. On the nose it’s really fresh, herbal with underlying notes of brioche. Super wine, really defined and with that perfect mouth coating texture, a real pleasure!
You can buy any of the above bottles or some 70+ other unique cuvées at Sip Champagnes bottleshop, or try all three like me, with their Artisan Introduction Case. If you’d like to really get to grips with grower Champagne you can also sign up to one of their monthly Champagne Plans – for themed, curated cases, tasting notes and more.