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Lea & Sandeman unveils 15 Grower Champagnes at Spring tasting

Published:  18 May, 2023

The saying goes ‘When one door closes another one opens’, and in the case of top merchant and wholesaler Lea & Sandeman, the Champagne shortage has presented an opportunity.

“Grower Champagnes are a tiny part of the market – maybe 4% in value,” wrote Lea & Sandeman director Charles Lea, in a foreword for the company’s spring tasting in Foyles bookstore, London.

He continued: “Given the barriers to success, it’s not a huge surprise, but just as supermarkets don’t fulfil every need for shoppers, leaving room for specialist retailers and products, so it is for Champagne. And, surprise surprise, it’s among these niche producers that you find less ordinary, the more original, the downright arresting.”

As a result of a surge in demand during lockdown and a difficult 2021 harvest, major Champagne houses have been holding back releases.

To this point, David Porter, head of operations and buying said: “We were getting really fed up during the lockdown times when we just couldn’t get enough Champagnes from suppliers, and Charles (Lea) one day got really cross and said, ‘This isn’t what we do, we don’t work with big UK importers, with big brands, so why are we doing it with Champagne’, so we did our research and went to the region ourselves.”

Yesterday’s tasting (May 17), was three years in the making, and the first time 15 of Lea & Sandeman’s 17 grower Champagne producers were showcased under one roof. Prior to Charles Lea’s eureka moment in 2021, the business had six 'growers' on its books; since then, the company has added 11 more, including five in 2023. 

Caroline Tanner, head of marketing & PR at Lea & Sandeman added: “We are an independent merchant so we should be supporting independent Champagne growers.

“It’s all about going back to the vigneron, as opposed to going through a massive distributor with significant markups to account for marketing costs. Instead, it is 100% about what is actually in the bottle, which makes sense as an independent merchant but it’s not something that everyone does.”

However, sourcing beyond the big-name Champagne Houses doesn’t come without its risks.

“There was a little bit of trepidation with the shop team because people are very brand loyal when it comes to Champagne, but sales soon quelled those fears and we had nothing to worry about because these wines represent value and quality, which is becoming harder and harder to say about many of the Grandes Marques unless they are on a big discounted deal,” said David Porter.

By adapting its position on Champagne, in a way that mirrors the wider business, Lea & Sandeman, a perennial top 10 on the Harpers’ 50 Best Indies list, is doing what it does best, finding wines it truly loves from small producers… just hurry while stocks last!

New for 2023:

Marc Hebrart Marseuil-sur-Ay

Christophe Mignon Festigny

Franck Bonville Avize

Rodez Ambonnay (off-trade only)

Roger Coulon Vrigny