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Jiles Halling's Blog

Jiles spent 10 years living and working in Champagne working for Moet et Chandon.

During that time, Jiles built up a vast amout of knowledge about all things bubbly, making lots of contacts in the region, and getting to know the people who've lived there for centuries while crafting their products with love and passion.

After moving back to the UK in late 2004, Jiles decided to bring this unique knowledge and contribution to the wider world.  The hidden secrets, the best champagnes and the insider knowledge that is not usually available through the normal channels, is now here for you.  Since March 2010, Jiles is once again based in Champagne, living in the small grand cru village of Verzy.

In this you'll find everything you ever wanted to know about champagne, the drink, the people, the region and the food.  Please enjoy your visit and please join in the conversation by leaving your thoughts in the comments section or liking us on Facebook.


 

The middle week of April has come to be called ‘Champagne Week’ here in Champagne: over 6 days some 18 different associations of independent champagne makers host tasting events at which anyone involved in the wine business can taste still wines from the previous year’s harvest (2015 in the case of this year’s events) and also a few of the champagnes made by each producer.


The events offer a fascinating insight not only into the wide and very diverse world of the small champagne makers  - with at least 10 wine makers in every association you could potentially meet 200 champagne makers, or more, if you have the stamina to visit every event - but also into the champagne making process itself and in particular to the complex skill of  blending which involves finding the perfect combination of still wines that will produce the result the champagne maker wants when the wine has been transformed into champagne and  is finally ready to sell at a date many years into the future.

Meunier-Institut-300
Each event and every association is interesting but this year I wanted to seek out some of the newly created associations of champagne makers and decide to visit the Meunier Institut at their event in Basiieux-sous Chatillon, a good 20 minutes’ drive outside Epernay down la Vallée de La Marne and consequently one of the less busy venues. As the name suggests the members of the Insitut are avid proponents of the virtues of Pinot Meunier (or just Meunier as we are encouraged to say now).


In the past there has been much said about Meunier  and  lot of it has not been very complementary:  ‘it’s rustic and lacks elegance’; ‘it has no finish and just disappears from the palate after a fairly short time’; ‘it’s OK for young blends but it doesn’t age well and it will never make great champagne’; it’s too sweet’. All these accusations and more have been levelled at Meunier, and perhaps – especially in the past -  there’s been some truth in all of them, although it should be remembered that Krug sets great store by Meunier and it always features significantly  in their blended champagnes – if it’s good enough for Krug it can’t all be bad.


However the members of the Meunier Insitut are no longer content with saying that Meunier is better than you might imagine, they’re presenting a different view of Meunier as a grape of great potential that can make superb champagne. Here are a few examples that may well make you want to take another look at Meunier.


Barnier-300Champagne Roger Barnier (Village: Villevenard)  100% Meunier Extra Brut
Just looking at the label is a delight for a real champagne lover – lots of information to absorb not least of which is the fact that the champagne is already a very respectable age although that is nothing compared to the age of the vines, the youngest of which were planted in 1955. Another thing that struck me about this champagne was how very light and floral the aromas were – quite the opposite of what you might have expected if you blindly default to the stereotypical view of Meunier as a varietal that produces champagnes that are pleasant but are fairly ponderous and simple.

Originel-300Champagne André Heucq (Village : Cuisles) Cuvée Originel 2001
Cuisles is prime country for Meunier: situated in a valley running perpendicular to the Marne River Cuisles is one of the rare villages where there is a layer of green clay (illite) in the subsoil that adds its own unique character to the wines.
 Actually this The Cuvée Originel wasn’t one of the wines that was being offered for general tasting so I was lucky to have the opportunity to try it and as a champagne from the 2001 harvest ( which was not one of the greatest)  it certainly gave the lie to the idea that Meunier champagnes don’t have any ageing potential. True it isn’t a pure Meunier because the blend is 30% of Pinot Noir, but there is still plenty of life and freshness is this excellent wine that must surely be thanks, in part at least, to the high proportion of Meunier.

Meteyer-from-decanter-300Champagne Météyer (Village: Trélou-sur-Marne) Brut Exclusif 2007, zero dosage
Interestingly this champagne was being offered from a decanter which opens up a whole new topic for discussion, but this cuvée would certainly be an eye-opener for anyone who thinks that Meunier wines are all too sweet. Yes, the natural fruitiness of Meunier does create a full, soft sensation on the palate that may give the impression of sweetness, but to the best of my knowledge the sugar content natural present in Meunier is no higher than in any other varietal.
This zero dosage champagne strikes a lovely balance between fresh acidity and soft texture in the mouth thanks to the character of the Meunier, the age of the wine and the fact that decanting has reduced the natural effervescence of the champagne.


The moral of the story?
As in all things to do with champagne and perhaps with wine in general: ‘Don’t accept what the accepted wisdom is until you have tried and tasted for yourself’.


The champagnes of the other members of the Meunier Institut are too numerous to mention them all here but there are all worth discovering. The other members are:
Eric Taillet (Village:Baslieux-sous-Châtillon)
Moutardier (Village : Le Breuil)
Xavier Leconte (Village : Troissy-Bouquigny)
Serveaux Fils (Village : Passy-sur-Marne)
Roger-Constant Lemaire (Village : Villers-sous-Châtillon)

Champagne Domaine La Borderie

A Champagne dream comes true

Domaine la Borderie NB FINAL - copie 1Odile and Jean Louis Normand have been making champagne for many years, but only as members of the local cooperative, then back in 2013 everything changed when Marie and Simon, their children, said they wanted to join the family business.

The family decided to create not just their own brand of champagne, but to build an entirely new winery based around their 11 hectares of vines near Bar-sur-Seine in the Côte des Bar region of Champagne and in October 2015 the dream came true when the winery was officially inaugurated.

Green on green

New-winery-300The winery is set in a natural hollow amongst the trees and it’s not just surrounded by greenery, it’s green inside too. The entire project has been purpose-built not just to create wines of the highest quality, to have the least possible impact on the environment.

Energy use is very low: rain water is recovered and recycled and temperature control is enhanced by the fact that the building is set into the hillside. The grapes are pressed at ground level and the juice flows by gravity feed to the fermenting and storage vats on the floor below, then the ageing cellar is one more level down - that means no energy is wasted moving the grapes, or the wine, from floor to floor.

In a stunning location, the winery is designed not only to present champagne to its full value, but also very much with an eye to wine tourism. The family operates 2 gites where visitors can stay overnight and really get to appreciate the setting, the champagne and above all, the dedication and enthusiasm of the Normand family.

Marie-and-Simon-300As Simon explains, “We want to create champagnes that reflect the different character of the plots they come from and that requires very careful and meticulous study. We have 11 hectares of vines and we want to get to know everything we can about each one and we’re only just starting - there’s a lot more to learn, but that’s the best way to grow fully mature grapes which will allow us to make the best champagnes we possibly can.”

“The vines obviously play a vital role and one of our priorities is to keep our vines until they are old (30 years is the current average age) and thereby to reduce the yield.”

“We don’t use herbicide or insecticide, we maintain the hedgerows around the vineyards, we let grass grow between the rows, we’ve planted flower on fallow plots and we’ve restored the small stone shelters in the middle of some plots – everything in fact to look after the environment and promote biodiversity.”

Jean Louis adds “Our estate was awarded HVE (High Environmental Value) status in 2013 and in September 2014 ours was the first estate anywhere in Champagne to be certified as using ‘Sustainable Viticulture’.”

“It’s simple really. We want to make our contribution to the reputation and image of champagne and you can’t make a product that people aspire to unless your work is based on strong ethical and environmental values.”

The Champagne

Marie explains “This may not be obvious to non-French speakers, but the word ‘Borderie’ in French dialect implies a small house or a small farm – it’s definitely something very modest in size and that suits us because our total production is only about 6,000 bottles per year. We like to think that our champagnes are practically hand-made.”

Trois-contrees-300‘Trois Contrées’, a brut champagne, comes from 3 plots in 3 different villages and each plot has a different orientation to the sun. It’s also a blend of 3 grapes, 2 of which, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, are classic varietals whilst the third is Pinot Blanc from a plot planted back in 1954 – the oldest plot the family owns.

La-Douce-Folie-300‘Douce Folie’ is an extra brut rosé champagne made by macerating Pinot Noir grapes harvested from just one plot of vines. “There’s an intriguing family story behind this name, but you’ll have to visit us to discover exactly what that is…” says Marie.

What does the future hold?

More cuvées are planned for the future: there’s a Blanc de Blancs vintage 2014 and a Blanc de Noirs vintage 2015 already ageing in the cellars which will be released in a few years. Currently most sales are in France and Italy, but the Normands would love to start exporting to Great Britain too.

Marie sums up “We’re ready for new challenges and opportunities and we believe that our champagnes will appeal to wine lovers everywhere who appreciate top quality and something out of the ordinary.”

www.champagne-domaine-la-borderie.fr

Benoit-Cocteaux-trio-300 There’s so much more to champagne than you might imagine, but how do you learn about it all? Sometimes you just don’t know where to start.
There certainly is a lot to learn but in fact this is one of the things I find most interesting  about champagne  - the seemingly endless number of champagne makers and the diversity of the wines they make.


Delong-Privilege-300This may sound surprising to many people because the only time most of us break out the champagne is on high days and holidays to share a toast or to bring some extra sparkle to a party and on those occasions we  don’t usually stop to give more than a brief passing  thought, if that,  to what we’re drinking. The result is that most people think that all champagnes are pretty much the same, but in reality that’s far from being the case.


For one thing there are 4 distinct areas of Champagne: La Montagne de Reims, La Vallée de La Marne, La Côte des Blancs all of which are close to the main towns of Reims and Epernay ; then there’s La Cote des Bars which is 100 kilometres south of Reims and actually nearer to Chablis than to the rest of Champagne. Each area produces wines that have their own character and if you take things a bit further there are some 20 sub-regions and so you can quickly see that things can start to get complex.


 A secret way through the maze
As with any complex topic a useful thing to do is to break it down into smaller bits and a good way to do this in terms of champagne is to focus on one area at a time and learn about the wines from there before moving on to learn about another region. Fortunately there are a few ways to do this.
One is an association of champagne makers called Secraie – it’s a play on words between Secret and Craie which is French for the  ‘chalk’ in the soil which has a significant influence of the wine.


Sezannais-map-300There are 12  members of Secraie and they come from 12 villages in the area known as Le Sézannais.

 It’s a ridge that running  north east to south west that’s centered on the town on Sézanne and it’s a sort of extension of the more famous  La Côte des Blancs to the north where the finest Chardonnay grapes in Champagne are said to grow.  Le Sézannais too specialises in Chardonnay but here there’s just a little more sunshine than further north and Le Sézannais has a reputation for producing champagnes that are softer, rounder and easier to enjoy than those from La Côte des Blancs.
Secraie held a tasting day recently and I was amazed to find such a variety of champagnes even within the group: the colour of the wines ranged from pale lemon to rich gold; there were young champagnes and old vintage champagnes, champagnes made in oak barrels and in acacia wood barrels as well as champagnes made using stainless steels vats and each variation on these themes produces a champagne very different from the next.

Allemant-at-the-northern-end-of Le-Sezannais-300The more you taste the more you understand and the more you appreciate the subtle differences. You can find out more about Secraie including the list of members on this web site.


When you’ve earned a bit about Le Sezannais you can move on to other regions and in particular to another similar association called Verzenay Grand Cru de Champagne; it’s even more focused than Secraie because all the members comes from just one village: Verzenay which we can look at in another article.
So perhaps champagne isn’t quite as bewildering as you might have though and perhaps  Mark Twain got it right when he said:

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much champagne is just right.”

Entrance-to-Trelou-300You might be forgiven if you have never heard of Trélou-sur-Marne and indeed that’s not surprising.

The village has a distinction that it was not keen to publicise: it was at Trélou that phylloxera was first discovered in the Champagne region on 6th August 1890 and even though more than a century has past since phylloxera ravaged the vineyards this claim to fame is not something that the people in Trélou really want to promote

The village is about 30 kilometres west of Epernay down the Vallée de la Marne, just past the town of Dormans where the river is broad and lazy and where one leaves the department of Marne and enters the department of l’Aisne. This particular part of Champagne is called Condé-en-Brie.

Trelou-map
Trélou is on the right bank of the river, meaning that the slopes are mainly south facing and enjoy relatively high sunshine resulting in harvest dates that are often a few days earlier than many neighbouring villages in La Vallée de La Marne.

The dominant varietal is Meunier representing some 250 hectares of the 350 hectares planted with vines in this terroir.
Champagnes from Trélou have the fruity character typical of this region and this grape.

Champagne-sign-in-Trelou300

Still for part IIIIt is often assumed that everything to do with organic and biodynamic vine growing and wine making is pure, natural and wholesome, but sometimes the picture is a bit more nuanced than you might imagine. In this series of videos Philippe Brun of Champagne Roger Brun in the village of Aÿ, presents the other side of the story and whilst he is certainly in favour of sensible viticulture and of looking after the environment, he has a few other points to make as well.

In the third and final video of this series on soil management in Champagne Philippe talks about biodynamic vineyards, (is it true that lower yields mean higher quality grapes?)  the threats posed by rabbits and birds (why do you not see nets over the vines in Champagne as you do in many other wine regions?) and about the use of insecticides.

 

 

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VENDRE AUX ETATS-UNIS

En bas de cette page - une présentation vidéo de 40 minutes dans laquelle vous découvrirez

Comment trouver des importateurs

et

Comment augmenter les ventes

----

Ne vous êtes-vous jamais senti déçu après vous être rendu à un salon de degustation

Car vous n'avez pas eu assez de temps pour présenter vos vins et les valoriser comme ils le méritent

Vous n'avez pas eu l'occasion de rencontrer les acheteurs clés et vous avez perdu trop de temps à parler à trop de gens qui ne sont finalement pas intéressés pour acheter vos vins.

Vous avez rencontré beaucoup de journalistes et sommeliers, mais trop peu d'importateurs.

Vous avez envoyé des e-mails après le salon à tous les gens que vous avez rencontrés, mais vous n’avez jamais obtenu de réponse.

Vous voulez recontacter ces personnes, mais vous ne savez pas quoi dire en anglais et vous vous demandez s’ils sont ou non intéressés.

Vous revenez en France sans avoir obtenu de nouvelles ventes et avec très peu de nouvelles pistes et vous vous demandez si vous avez perdu votre temps et votre argent, deux choses qui sont précieuses.

Ou peut-être si vous avez déjà un importateur, vous vous sentez mal à l'aise parce que

Les ventes ne progressent pas comme vous le souhaitez.

Il n’est pas facile de communiquer avec votre importateur.

Vous ne recevez pas d'informations assez régulièrement sur ce que votre importateur et vos distributeurs font pour promouvoir vos vins.

Si tout cela vous semble familier, alors vous aurez envie de regarder cette vidéo de 40 minutes qui porte sur la façon de réussir vos ventes aux Etats-Unis.

Vous y décrouvrirez quelques données clés de ce marché important et écouterez les propos d’un expert qui peut vous aider à résoudre tous les problèmes que vous avez déjà rencontrés dans le passé.

Si vous souhaitez vraiment commencer la commercialisation de vos produits ou augmenter vos ventes aux Etats-Unis en 2016, vous trouverez la vidéo en cliquant sur le lien ci-dessous.

Il ne vous en coûtera rien de la regarder et je suis sûr que ce sera du temps bien dépensé.

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Soyez sûr de regarder cette vidéo dès maintenant car le temps est déjà compté pour planifier une année 2016 qui soit couronnée de succès.

 

 

 

 

Francois-Seconde-300I am often struck by the fact that there’s always something new to learn in Champagne and a case in point is a recent visit to Champagne François Secondé in Sillery.


If the name Sillery seems vaguely familiar it may be because you’ve come across it in a list  of the 17 Grand Crus villages in Champagne, but that’s probably all you know about it because it’s a little off the beaten track and much less well-known than villages such as Aÿ, Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger, Cramant and Verzenay for example.


However that hasn’t always been the case: in the second half of the XVIII century Sillery was famous for its still wines, mainly red, which were much sought after by the aristocracy “ils ont une qualité si supérieure qu’on les reserve pour la bouche du roi” – so said Edme Béguillet, a  lawyer and oenologist at the parliament in Dijon. (Sillery wines are of such superior quality that there are reserved for the king’s enjoyment.”). These days of course the still wines from Champagne – Coteaux Champenois as they are called – are still made although not in large quantities but their fame has long since been eclipsed by the region’s sparkling wines.


Grand-Grand-Mousseux-300However, judging from the collection of old labels at Champagne François Secondé the good vignerons of Sillery were very active and it seems that their champagnes  were exported all over the world although for some reason which I have yet to get to the bottom of, they were often just described as ‘mousseux’ (sparkling wine), instead of champagne.


Another of the old labels testifies to the fact that for many years champagne exported to America had a different taste – the goût américain - to champagne sold elsewhere because, rightly or wrongly, it was thought that consumers in the USA wanted something sweeter.


Gout-Americain-300Today Sillery seems far less bustling. There are a handful of champagnes made  by the local cooperative  and sold under the own label by the members of the cooperative, but Champagne Francois Sécondé is only remaining Récoltant Manipulant in the village. Run by a gentleman of the same name who sold the first bottles under his own name in 1975, the estate now comprises 5.5 hectares planted 2/3 with Pinot Noir and 1/3 Chardonnay situated mainly in the village of Sillery and its neighbour Puisieulx which is also a Grand Cru (and very difficult to pronounce).


 There are 7 cuvées in the range which are quite widely exported and well thought of by a number of guides and experts. Strangely though, in a part of Champagne best known for its Pinot Noir, it’s Francois Seconde’s Vintage Blanc  de Blancs which is garnering the most medals, winning gold in three successive years  (2013 -2015) at the Chardonnay du Monde competition.
The village itself is about 15 kilometres south of Reims in the valley of the River Vesle where the soil is not ideally suited to growing vines and in fact the vineyards are to be found on slightly higher ground at some distance from the village nearer to Mailly-Champagne and Verzenay than to Sillery itself.


Puisieulx300Much more can be said about the history and particularities of Sillery and all that will be the subject of a separate article in due course but before leaving François Secondé I have to mention something else unique about this  small producer; it’s the only producer making a 100% Puisieulx Grand Cru champagne. In 15 years or more I had never come across this champagne until the other day which just goes to show  that there is indeed always something new to discover in Champagne.

A final thought... what a difference between the labels now and all those years ago - how tastes change!

Philippe-in-Mutigny-300This is the second in a three-video series in which Philippe Brun of Champagne Roger Brun shares his experience and opinions about soil management in Champagne. If you missed part I you can find it on this link.

In part II Philippe takes us to the village of Mutigny which has some very steep slopes that pose particular problems for vineyard maintenance. Philippe also talks about the use of copper sulphate in the vineyard and explains why organic and biodynamic viticulture may not be so environmentally friendly as many people assume.

This video is 22 minutes long so it may not appeal to the casual viewer, but for anyone with a more avid interest in learning about wine and viticulture Philippe's views are informative and refreshing.

Part III is coming soon

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Does a goldfish know more about wine than you?

And what has that got to do with organic wine?

Find out below if your attention span is longer than that of a goldfish.


goldfishThere is something almost hypnotic about the words organic and bio- dynamic. They seem to conjure up images of days gone by when everything was less industrialised, more authentic, and yes, healthier and more environmentally friendly. Indeed there was an interesting article recently in the on-line magazine The Drinks Business in which it was stated that just “under half of British consumers (45%) would be motivated to drink organic wine because the cultivation and production processes are eco-friendly, “


Perhaps it would be more accurate to modify that statement slightly thus …”because they believe the cultivation and production processes are eco-friendly, “  but is that belief well-founded and are organic wines really more ‘green’ than wines that are not so certified? There are certainly many wine makers who would reply with a resounding “No”.


Yes it’s true that organic producers reduce or eliminate their use of herbicides and pesticides, but that is also true of many, perhaps even the majority of wine makers, at least in Champagne which is the area I know best. Regulations about the use of chemical treatments are, quite rightly, getting ever more restrictive so whether a vigneron is organically-minded or not he or she has little choice but to clean up their act.


Spraying-Mantis-300The big question with organic viticulture is the use of copper sulfate to combat mildew. This is less of a problem in more southerly climates where the drier weather is less conducive to diseases such as mildew, but it becomes a major issue the further north you go. Unable to use chemical (phytosanitary) products to spray their vines to protect against these diseases, the only weapon left at the disposal of organic producers is copper sulfate or ‘bouillie bordelaise’ as it is also known. The problem with this is that organic farmers often have to apply copper sulfate many times and also that copper is a heavy metal that is detrimental to all living organisms and which remains in the soil for decades.
That’s why many vignerons, whilst wanting to be as green as possible, are resolutely opposed to organic viticulture.


So it seems that one should take the words organic and bio-dynamic with a pinch of salt and gather more information before jumping to conclusions.


To help you do just that here - below - is the first in a series of three videos in which Philippe Brun of Champagne Roger Brun presents some of the information you may not yet have heard. Philippe is a real character; he speaks excellent English and feels strongly about what he will present to you. The videos are relatively long in this age where the attention span of a goldfish is longer than that of a human – yes it’s true according to a recent survey by Microsoft http://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/
– but if you really want to learn about wine I think you’ll find them interesting viewing.

Don’t forget to come back for video 2 and video 3


All the best from Champagne

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Dussert-GerberFor those of you who haven’t heard of him, Patrick Dussert-Gerber is a well know wine writer in his native France and author of a highly respected wine guide http://www.guidedesvins.com/

One of the characteristics of Patrick’s guide is that he doesn’t give any scores to the wines and if you can wean yourself off the need to have a score given to each wine Patrick’s guide is well worth examining alongside, or even instead of, the many other guides that use the 20 point or 100 point system.

Patrick concedes that scoring wines is very fashionable but in his view it is far too simplistic a way to judge something as complex as wine which he refers to as “the blood of the land and the sky”. According to Patrick, scoring cannot possibly take in all the subtleties and nuances - the influence of the wine maker for example – not to mention any subjective bias. You might as well, he suggests, try to score the performances of actors and actresses.

When I discovered this it was music to my ears although, to be clear, I should say that Patrick Dussert-Gerber’s refusal to give scores to the wines he tastes pre-dates mine by many years. Nevertheless it was very gratifying to find a kindred spirit in so respected an authority.

Patrick’s method is to classify wines into three categories that take into account such elements as consistency of quality over several years and also the price. The categories can change over time and within each category there are some wines which are considered to be particularly noteworthy – these are marked with a *

Looking at his classifications for champagne which you’ll find on this link you’ll see that the top of the tree ( Premiers Grands Vins Classés) is not the exclusive domain of the big well-known brands, excellent though many of these undoubtedly are. There are a few grower champagnes and cooperative champagnes in the topmost category too.

Lots more to discover

What I find even more exciting is that Patrick’s selections are much more representative of the wealth of talent in Champagne that is yet to receive the recognition it deserves. In fact his Deuxièmes and Trosièmes Grands Vins Classés categories are full of names you probably will not have heard of, let alone tasted, but you should do whenever you get the chance. (after all, isn't that what we all want to find: a little gem that other people don't know about yet?)

These days most champagne lovers know that there is much more to champagne than the grandes marques - there are some superb wines amongst the grower champagnes too. However, even amongst these a sort of elite category is emerging such that there are only some 20 or 30 grower champagnes that have really caught the attention of the wine trade. Their rise in popularity is certainly due in large part to their outstanding quality, but it’s also due to the fact that they have been knocking on the door, so to speak, in export markets for many years already and now their turn has come around, but I can assure you that there are many other grower champagnes who also make superb wines but who have never had to export to survive and consequently they are playing catch up in the marketing and promotional game.

You may not have heard of them yet, but I suspect you will do in the not-too-distant future. To discover a few of them take a look at the link shown above and remember the names; for consumers they offer an insight into the diversity of champagne that you may never have suspected and for importers, they offer a chance to add some wines with real character and potential to your portfolio.

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