If you ask how many ‘champagne houses’ there are in the officially-denominated area around Rheims, you will get what is to most people the surprising answer of 5,000. Yes, you heard right, 5,000 wineries of varying sizes making the world’s most expensive sparkling wine, in a small area in the Ardennes on the same latitude as Paris
Some of them, like Ruinart and Tattinger are veritable industrial giants, in these two cases founded nearly 300 years ago, but many are small family businesses that just manage to make a living selling their tiny production to the same local customers year after year.
The big firms tend to buy in wine from all over the area – which is why there are 19,000 independent growers. However a recent trend is for the smaller producers not to sell their grapes to the big houses but to make their own champagne, with the obvious drawback that if something goes wrong they have little to fall back on. Not surprisingly there is a demand for this rather more exclusive product, particularly if the winery can claim to be situated in one of the Grand Cru villages of the area.
On the logical basis that a champagne drinker will, in all probability, also be a wine drinker, the Cordoba firm of Alvear, famous for its Montilla-Moriles wines, started distributing Saint Gall champagne since 2007. Saint Gall as a corporate entity is a relative newcomer on the Rheims scene, dating from 1966, and the present winery is the result of fusion of 1,800 growers that control 12,000 hectares of vines – a healthy one third of the total in the area, many with Grand Cru and Premier Cru classification.
The champagnes available in Spain via Alvear, and distributed in Malaga by Narbona Solis, range from the Brut Tradition, through several Blanc de Blancs and a couple of rosados, to the Brut Millésimé Grand Cru, the Extra Brut Grand Cru, and the Cuvée Prestige Orpale Brut Millésimé Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru. Grapes used are mainly Chardonnay, with a sprinkling of Pinot Noir and a few local varieties. For such a quality product the prices are surprisingly competitive.