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We’ll be popping corks very soon to celebrate the new year, and Champagne has always been the bubbly of choice for those celebrations. This year, for the first time, Oklahomans will be able to choose Grower Champagnes.

The name, created by wine importer extraordinaire Terry Theise, refers to small production Champagne made by the same people who grow the grapes.

Whereas big production Champagne houses can routinely make more than a million cases a year, these independent growers focus on case productions in the low thousands. That has made their product difficult to acquire in Oklahoma and many other places in the U.S. They’re also working against houses that spend millions a year in marketing.

According to a 2007 article in The New York Times, Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot account for 55 percent of all Champagne sales in the U.S.

“These two blockbuster brands, along with Krug, Ruinart and Mercier, are owned by the luxury giant LVMH. In fact, the top Champagne brands are almost all owned by conglomerates, which churn out millions of bottles annually while spending heavily to market an image of luxury,” wrote Amy Cortese in the article.

Terry Theise and Kermit Lynch, the two biggest names in French imports, have put together impressive portfolios of these small production wines, partly because both are committed to finding terroir-driven, small production wines from wineries that practice sustainable agriculture. Oklahoma City now has access to four of Lynch’s Grower Champagnes and 11 of Theise’s.

LaVeryl Lower, co-owner of The Metro Wine Bar & Bistro, 6418 N. Western, has already put Marc Hebrart Cuvee de Reserve on her by-theglass menu. The Hebrart is 80 percent Pinot Noir and 20 percent Chardonnay. Fruit flavors of pear and apple are prominent, but crisp acid and solid minerality keep it serious.

Lower said she added Grower Champagne for two reasons: “The Grower Champagnes provide a great value, and they’re often better than the bottles from the big ‘luxury’ Champagne houses.”

In fact, the Grower Champagnes are priced to be competitive with middle tier bottles like Veuve Clicquot and Nicolas Feuillatte. That price point makes them accessible to people who are going to buy good Champagne for New Year’s Eve anyway. Price point aside, there is another very good reason to buy Grower Champagnes.

“These Champagnes are very terroirdriven, producing a true expression of place and fruit,” Lower said. “They don’t have to manipulate their wines by adding additional sugar to cover flaws. The proof is in your first taste!”

Ludivine, 805 N. Hudson, has also picked up Grower Champagnes, including two notable rosés: J. Lassalle Brut Rosé and Paul Bara Brut Rosé. Red berries, pear and citrus make the beautiful J. Lassalle far more approachable than many other Champagnes, along with serious minerality and good balance. For anyone who tells you they hate Champagne, try them on this one.

The Paul Bara is only slightly more serious, thanks in part to a little fruit skin on the finish and the more traditional toasty notes. Red berry and apple flavors are balanced with good acid and light minerality. Both the Bara and Lassalle are also available at Bacchus Wine & Spirits, 17216 N. May in Edmond. Coffee Creek Wine Shop, 775 W. Covell in Edmond, and Broadway Wine Merchants, 824 N. Broadway, carry the J. Lassalle. Broadway also has the Marc Hebrart.

Mickey Mantle’s, La Baguette, Boulevard Steakhouse and Café 501 have all added bottles and glasses of Grower Champagne to their lists. Kurt Fleischfresser at The Coach House said he expects to add them after the first of the year as well.

Boulevard Steakhouse, 505 S. Boulevard in Edmond, and Café 501, 5825 N.W. Grand, have added Pehu-Simonet Brut Rosé by the glass.

This is one of the more intense Grower Champagnes available. The Pehu-Simonet Selection de Brut is available at La Baguette, 7408 N. May, by the glass. Both these wines showcase unbelievable minerality and acidity.

They are a unique spin on what can often be a category of wines that has too much toast, sulfur and yeast, and not nearly enough fruit and fun.

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Greg Horton

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