Farm to Glass: Why Sommeliers + Wine Directors Love Grower Champagne (and You Will, Too)

Grower Champagne

Small is big. These days it seems you can’t shake a stick — reclaimed from the fallen branch of your backyard tree — without hitting a thoughtfully crafted, local product. Online marketplaces like Etsy allow artists and artisans to create and sell their wares in limited batches. In the U.S., microbreweries are popping up at record rates while drinkers are eschewing macrobrewery offerings for the more uncommon beers in their own neighborhoods. At local farmers markets, we talk with the folks who grow our favorite apple, and we’re on a first-name basis with the cow that produces our milk. (Kidding about that last one, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility, right?)

The same is happening in France’s Champagne region. Grape growers, many who once sold the entirety of their grapes to large Champagne houses (think Moët & Chandon or Veuve Clicquot, among others) are now keeping all or a portion of their harvest to create their own wholly interesting, beautifully complex sparkling wines. Referred to as “grower Champagne,” it’s not a new practice, but it’s one that has gained popularity in recent years as consumers actively seek out a more artisanal product. There’s no need to wait for New Year’s Eve or your next big life milestone to raise a glass. Sommeliers and wine directors from some of the country’s top restaurants tell us: there’s so much to celebrate about grower Champagne.

Edouard Bourgeois, Sommelier, Ca Boulud, New York, New York
“When I started at Café Boulud, the wine list didn’t differentiate between grower Champagne and Champagne from houses. Being from this region of France, I felt it was important to promote the Champagne growers by showcasing them in their own category. (The difference between the two is simple, by the way: grower Champagnes are made by a producer who grows their own grapes and vinifies them into Champagne. They control the process from A to Z. On the other hand, Champagne houses are producers who own their land but buy grapes to feed their production.) I am constantly searching for the obscure, hidden gem wines to feature on my list, and there are many in Champagne with great personalities and a real sense of terroir.” Make a reservation at Café Boulud.

Grower Champagne

Alicia Kemper, General Manager and Wine Director, fundamental LA, Los Angeles, California
“I chose to include grower Champagne because I appreciate the pureness and thoughtfulness of the wine. These winemakers could easily sell their grapes to the big houses for more money, but instead, they choose to make something extremely complicated that could all be compromised due to unfortunate weather. Champagne from the big houses often lacks in many ways, whereas most grower Champagnes over-deliver, not only in taste but in quality and terroir as well.

My favorite grape in Champagne in Pinot Meunier. A lot of people would disagree, however, when it is done right, it is out of this world! I have one Pinot Meunier dominant wine on my list: Christophe Mignon (who comes from a long line of farmers in Le-Mesnil and makes wine that is super fresh, minerally, and has amazing texture).

Aside from the Mignon and Meunier, the Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus is just next-level delicious. It is from a single vineyard and doesn’t have a drop of dosage, so the terroir really shines through. After being left on its lees for nearly a year, it undergoes battonage, which gives it richness and that oh-so-lovely texture.

In terms of pairings, I love pairing Champagne with something fried or weighty — especially burgers. A lot of times people are like ‘Whaaaat?’ but then they taste them together, and often, their minds are blown.” Make a reservation at fundamental LA.

Grower Champagne

Jackson Rohrbaugh, Assistant Wine Director, Canlis, Seattle, Washington
“We love grower Champagne at Canlis because there is a closer connection between the personality of the grower and the wine in the glass. Single vineyard wines take this concept to its fullest expression. The Jérôme Prévost La Closerie “Fac-Simile,” a Pinot Meunier rosé from the village of Gueux, is one of our most treasured bottles. It provides a refreshing, fruitful palate cleanse alongside chef Brady Williams’s Barley Porridge with geoduck and green strawberry.” Make a reservation at Canlis.

Grower Champagne

Melanie Kaman, Director of Wine & Beverage, Addison, San Diego, California
“For grower Champagne, what I have found is the products are more organic, they’re anywhere from a third to half the price of the large Maisons, and they’re a lot better quality. They’re smaller production, they’re really well made, and you’re supporting local. Even if it’s not local California or local New York, you’re supporting a family of growers, not a conglomerate. You’re getting these beautiful, finely crafted, small-production Champagnes for a lower price, and, in my opinion, a better quality than some of the large houses.

We have a beautiful tasting menu with 10 or 12 courses, and we feature a dish in a caviar tin; it’s a smoked salmon rillette, and it’s topped with golden Osetra caviar from Galilee Farms in Israel, served with a warm brioche toast on the side. I always pair it with Champagne. One of my favorites recently has been Paul Bara, their Brut Rosé, and then I also really like the 2007 Gaston Chiquet Brut.” Make a reservation at Addison.

Grower Champagne

Thomas Pastuszak, Wine Director, The Nomad, New York, New York
“Grower Champagne continues to be one of the most exciting categories of wine in the world: we’re talking about producers in the Champagne region who farm their family-owned land conscientiously and meticulously, grow incredible grapes from noble terroirs, and create their own, unique expressions of their villages through the wines they are making. It’s now taken on a site-specific excitement that wine lovers only used to be able to find in places like Burgundy, the Rhone Valley, or the Mosel, and these Champagnes are some of the most incredible food wines, whether to start the meal or to finish it. At NoMad, we regularly recommend drinking a variety of styles and producers throughout our guests’ meal: the grower Champagne category lets us do that and create some amazing pairings with chef Humm’s cuisine.” Make a reservation at The NoMad.

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Watch: How to Saber a Champagne Bottle

Want to make a splash on New Year’s Eve? Saber a bottle of bubbly. Nothing rings in a new year quite like Champagne, loud cheers, and the suggestion of a little danger.

We asked Johnny Slamon, sommelier at Alexander’s Steakhouse in San Francisco, to show us how to saber a Champagne bottle like a pro (and, of course, safely). Johnny worked at the Fifth Floor restaurant for five years before joining the opening team of Alexander’s, where he’s built what he calls an “aggressive” Champagne program.

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Party Like a Rock Star in the New Year at Musician-Owned Restaurants

Jogging, shmogging. Make it your resolution to party like a rock star in the new year. At least once, get ushered around town in a stretch Hummer, knock back magnums of Dom Pérignon with your friends, and wear enough bling so that your selfies are just a blizzard of glittering lights reflecting off your jewels. Such a baller evening wouldn’t be complete without dining at a restaurant that epitomizes the high life. We recommend reserving a table at one owned by a chart topper. Here are five musician-owned restaurants where you can party like a rock star and live like a celebrity any day of the week.

Jay Z’s 40/40 Club, New York, New York
Hova has 99 problems, but running a super swanky sports-themed nightclub isn’t one of them. The luxe lounge takes its name for a record only four MLB players – Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, and Alfonso Soriano – have ever achieved: hitting 40 home runs and stealing 40 bases in a single season. As you would expect, the space is decorated with sports memorabilia galore, including signed jerseys you might be tempted to rip off the wall so you can hang them in your man cave at home. Don’t. Jigga would definitely not approve. The menu features bar food done right – from king crab sliders and spicy, skin-on fries to Southern fried shrimp and four cheese mac ‘n cheese. If you happen to be there at the same time as Jay and Bey, don’t interrupt them while they’re eating to ask for a picture with them to post on your Instagram. Wait until they’re enjoying a digestif, then bum rush them.

Musician-owned restaurants

Sammy Hagar’s Cabo Wabo Cantina, Las Vegas, Nevada
You’ve probably sung one of Hagar’s songs at the top your lungs with the windows cranked down and the accelerator kissing the floorboards. Maybe his signature solo hit, “I Can’t Drive 55” or one of his many smashes with Van Halen, such as “Why Can’t This Be Love,” “Poundcake,” and “Right Now.” His Mexi-minded cantina – which takes its moniker from a track on VH’s 1988 album OU812 – specializes in South of the Border favorites. Think queso fundido with chorizo, short rib burritos, carne asada tacos, and chipotle-spiced chicken fajitas. Oh, yeah, and there’s a lot of tequila to be had, including Sammy’s own brand. Have a few glasses of Cabo Wabo tequila and you may be, um, inspired to belt out a tune in between courses. Just don’t make the amateur mistake of singing a Van Halen song David Lee Roth originally sang. So. Not. Cool.

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House of Carts: 8 Restaurants Offering Tableside Service to Make You Feel Like a VIP

Why walk over to the bar, the kitchen, or the cheese display when it can come to you? Restaurants are now using carts to convey everything from cocktails and Champagne to entrees and the cheese course to their guests. The mobile filling stations allow staffers to give diners a show by accompanying their meal by crafting a top shelf martini, cracking open a clay-baked fish, or popping the cork on a rare bottle of bubbles for them. Here are eight restaurants offering exquisite tableside service, guaranteed to make you feel like a VIP.

Bourbon Steak, Washington, D.C.
Head bartender Torrence Swain created the Monkey Business tiki-inspired cocktail just so tipplers could enjoy a show at the table. Made with Monkey Shoulder Scotch and Drambuie, it’s served over ice with flame-kissed, brûléed banana and freshly grated nutmeg. Warning: if you enjoy too many, you may be inclined to start swinging from the chandeliers while loudly proclaiming you’re the king of the jungle.

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Charlie Palmer at The Knick, New York, New York
Legend has it that that Knickerbocker Hotel was the birthplace of the Martini. To honor that legacy, the restaurant offers a cart packed with all the components for the classic cocktail (available upon request or for special events). Expect to find a bottle of Tanqueray No. Ten, dry and rouge vermouth, and orange and citrus bitters, as well as all the necessary equipment. (Ed. note: I seriously hope there’s a vodka option available.)

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Kachina Southwestern Grill, Westminster, Colorado
Echoing a traditional Native American cooking technique, rainbow trout is stuffed with lemon, thyme, and pungent epazote leaves, shrouded in cornhusks, and wrapped in clay etched with a fish drawing. After it’s baked, the pescetarian entree is wheeled to the table and cracked open for the guest.

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The Source, Washington, D.C.
On a foggy Sunday morning, there is no more welcome sight than this Bloody Mary cart coasting in our direction across the dining room. Choose from three options: classic, Chesapeake topped with Crab Louis Salad and horseradish panna cotta, or spicy Sichuan accompanied by pickled chilies. Then add your choice of celery, olives, and a slew of salts. Suddenly, our hangovers aren’t that bad after all.

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The Palm Court at The Plaza Hotel, New York City
Paging 007, your Martini cart awaits! James Bond would choose between perfectly chilled Chopin Potato vodka or Ketel One while those who prefer gin can opt for either Tanqueray No. Ten or Plymouth. His is shaken, not stirred, of course, but you can go your own way. Licensed to thrill.

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