How to read a Champagne Label: What does N-M, R-M, C-M, and M-A Mean?

Champagne. The world's most famous sparkling wine and a drink synonymous with celebration. These beautiful wines are recognised all around the world, however their labels often hold interesting information that is revealed only to those with a keen eye. In fact, it's often the smallest text found on a Champagne label which is the most important when understanding who actually produced the wine itself. 

This article is Part One of 'How To Read A Champagne Label'. Read Part Two here which explains the meaning of Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs found on some Champagne labels. 

Usually the producer is the same as the brand, such as Deutz or Ruinart, however other champagnes such as Dom Perignon (made by Moët & Chandon) and Armand de Brignac (made by Cattier), have a more intricate backstory.

How To Read A Champagne Label

Marked on the bottom edge of a Champagne's label are two important letters that will give you very important clues about that bottle. You will find two uppercase letters at the bottom edge of the label, followed by a few digits. These numbers are a registration number and are unimportant to a regular drinker, but the letters say a lot about the type of Champagne you have in front of you.

R-M (Grower Champagne)

Stands for Récoltant Manipulant. This is a grower who produces and sells Champagne only from their own grapes grown from their own vineyards. They can buy 5% of the production if they like in order to cover weaker growing years. The concept of ‘grower’ Champagne smacks a little too much of the image of an idealized farmer, but in the best cases, the best growers actually make Champagnes that are as sophisticated and magnificent as any great NM. We call these producers ‘domaine’ -  property champagne or grower champagnes. The vast majority of grape growers in Champagne, 15,700 in total, do not make any wine, they simply sell their grapes. RM who do not make Champagne often sell some of their grapes to the big boys, the ‘Negociants.’ A total of 53 percent of the grapes are sold to NM. All RM has their own press, otherwise they would not be able to make their own wine. There are 2,015 RM, most of them largely unknown. Many of these growers have received cult status.

N-M (Champagne House)

Stands for Négociant-Manipulant, a producer who generally buys their grapes. They do not grow themselves to produce the volumes they need, and sometimes even grape must (unfermented grape juice) or wine. This does not exclude those who own large properties and Grande Marques (Louis Roederer, Taittinger, Mumm, Moët-Chandon etc.), they also own their own vineyards as well. 

Or, they have no land ownership at all. The big global and well-known Champagne brands are all NM, but there are many that are much smaller. At the latest review there were about 300 NM or ‘Champagne Houses’ as they are more commonly known. 275 of NM represents only 7 percent of total production. 

C-M (Cooperative)

Stands for Coopérative-Manipulant. The cooperatives are very important in Champagne; growers are affiliated with the cooperative that buys the growers' grapes and they produce Champagne which can be sold as individual brands to supermarkets or as own brands. It can also make wines for some of its members – (see RC below.) There are more cooperatively affiliated vineyards in Champagne than any other French wine region, 140 at the latest count, but many of them belong to large associations. As a whole, the cooperatives account for about 8.5 percent of all Champagne in the market.

M-A (Custom Wine Product)

Stands for Marque d'acheteur. A private label or BOB (Buyer’s Own Brand). Some companies, cooperatives in particular, specialize in these. The wine is made with an agreed specification. The volumes for MA are quite large -  a very important chunk of Champagne's overall market.

Bjornstierne Antonson

ELICITE Champagne Expert

Read Part Two here which explains the meaning of Blanc de Blancs and Blanc de Noirs found on some Champagne labels.

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