On every bottle of champagne is a secret code, often in a font smaller than you thought possible. Take out your magnifying glass, for you’re about to learn a neat trick. That code will start with two letters followed by a series of numbers. The numbers are simply a champagne house code, not unlike an address, so don’t worry about those. But the letters tell us a story.
By learning the definition of those little letters, you can know quite a bit about the provenance of that Champagne.
Here’s the key:
NM = Négociant-Manipulant. The larger houses, the Grande Marques, the big names. These are the houses that buy grapes from all over Champagne and produce brands known the world over. Make no mistake, we are not saying this is a bad thing. Some of our favorite and most respected champagne houses are négociants. Henriot, Krug, Bollinger just to name a few. But make no mistake: this is winemaking at an industrial scale.
RM = Récoltant-Manipulant. These are the little guys, the grower-producers. Those that own their own land and make and bottle their own wine. There’s huge number of “RM” producers in Champagne, more than most people realize, but outside of the Champagne region their wines can be hard to find. This “farmer fizz” category is a new favorite of sommeliers worldwide. By law a “RM” labeled wine must go from grape to final product on the estate of the production (no aspect of the process can be done anywhere other than the estate).
CM = Cooperative-Manipulant, is a co-op of growers that combine the product of their vineyards to form one or more brands. The grower rarely has a hand in the wine production in the co-op model, with the company usually having a winemaker or winemakers at the helm to organize the lots, make the blends, and create the final products.
RC = Récoltant Co-opérateur. An interesting category. These are labels organized and owned by single growers but the wine produced in a co-operative winemaking facility. However, often times the growers that own these labels have little to no involvement in the winemaking process, instead simply deferring to the co-op’s winemakers.
SR = Societe de Recoltants. An organization set up by two or more growers to share one winery to make and sell wine under the organization’s label. Different from the co-op model in the sense that the growers have an immense hand in the winemaking process.