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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.


 

Church-at-Chavot-300If you’ve ever been to Champagne the chances are you noticed the church in Chavot perched on the top of a rise about 3 kilometres south west of Epernay and overlooking the valley of the little River Cubry. The church can be seen from far away and is something of a local landmark.


The history of Chavot (old name Chavost) goes back a long way, at least to Roman times and archaeological digs have shown that 1,000 years ago there was a wooden fort and look-out post on the top of Mont Félix just behind and slightly above the location where the church now stands.


In 1852 the next door village of Courcourt asked to be joined with Chavot and since then the two communities go under the joint name of Chavot-Courcourt.
Today Chavot-Courcourt is one of the 10 villages, plus Epernay, that make up the sub-region called Les Coteaux Sud d’Epernay that bridges the gap between La Côte des Blancs to the south and La Vallée de La Marne to the west.


Coteaux-sud-map-extract-300The vineyards in Chavot-Courcourt are situated in an arc and are west / north-west facing in Courcourt and north / north east facing in Chavot giving rise to a complex variety of soils. Of the 125 hectares just 6 hectares are planted with Pinot Noir and the rest are split roughly equally between Chardonnay and Meunier.

The top soil contains more clay than in La Côte des Blancs and less than in La Vallée de La Marne, consequently champagnes from Chavot and the surrounding Coteaux Sud d’Epernay area have a profile that is a cross between the two larger areas with more roundness to the Chardonnay than you would find in La Côte des Blancs and more minerality in the Meunier than in the neighbouring Marne River valley.


Chavot is home to some 80 vine growers but few brands of any fame with the exception of Laherte Frères, a small récoltant manipulant producing excellent quality wines. Chavot also boasts a bustling cooperative.

Entrance-to-Cuisles300You can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Cuisles, let alone visited it. It’s a little village hidden away in a valley leading off the main valley of the River Marne and despite its château and its long history Cuisles has never been anything more than tiny (mind you there was a period between 1793 and 1851 when the population ‘exploded’ by   63% … from 152 to 248 people) and today there are still only some 150 inhabitants. Despite its size however, Cuisles is well worth a second look.


Cuisles-factsThe 33 hectares of vines, almost all of which are planted with Meunier, are all situated on a single, broad and rather steep, south-facing slope that runs behind the village and looks down on the houses below and on a stream called Le Ruisseau de La Maquerelle which runs into the Marne at Chatillons-sur-Marne a few kilometres away.


Hillsides-at-Cuisles300Many years ago there were two brick and tile factories in the village which gives a clue as to the nature of the soil.  Underneath a covering of top soil is a layer of sand and clay and at about 75cm down there’s a layer that is predominantly argilo-calcaire: a mixture of clay and limestone that drains well but which, unlike the purer chalk soils of many other areas of Champagne, retains very little water underground.


This can be a problem especially when combined with the mysteries of micro-climate. The Vallée de La Marne is not generally thought of as an area lacking in rain. Typically you can see clouds blowing in from the west bringing rain and sometimes spectacular storms rolling down the valley and drenching the vineyards. Strangely enough though Cuisles, tucked away in its little vale perpendicular to the Marne, gets 25% less annual rainfall than the villages actually on the river. To make matters more complicated the rainfall in Cuisles has fallen another 25% since the construction of the Paris- Reims motorway some 20 kilometres away to the north.


All in all the quality of the soil in Cuisles is poor but vines do well on poor soil and Meunier seems to thrive in this little enclave and there’s a finesse and purity to the wines that compensates for the generally low yields.


Illite300To-Cuisles350However, what’s unusual about Cuisles and the two or three neighbouring villages is that between the layer of sandy soil near the surface and the chalky-clay lower down there’s a layer of green clay called Illite. This is the same type of clay that is used extensively as a natural ingredient in cosmetics and in beauty treatments.


The Illite clay retains water better than the chalky-clay and is rich in nutrients. If you were to cut a cross section through the vineyard you’d find that most of the roots of the vines are concentrated in this layer of green clay.


Thanks to this unusual combination of soil and micro-climate, Meunier wines from Cuisles can truly be said to be ‘champagnes de terroir’. They have a mineral quality that is rare in other Meunier wines and, contrary to what is sometimes said about Meunier, they have good ageing potential.


Champagnes from Cuisles that are eminently worthy of note are Champagne Moussé Fils, a member of the prestigious Club Trésors de Champagne and the maker of the first 100% Meunier to receive the Club’s seal of approval and Champagne Huecq, situated just a stone’s throw away in rue Eugène Moussé.

In case you are wondering, Yes, the two families are related. After all, there are only 150 inhabitants in Cuisles Smiley-Face1

Cédric Moussé is pretty pleased with this year's harvest. In this one minute video he'll explain why

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Off To A Good Start

Every year there are choices to be made by the champagne makers:

If the weather is good the question is 'Do we start picking whilst the sun is shining or do we wait to see if the grapes ripen even more?'

If the weather is poor the question is ' Do we wait to see if the weather improves and the grapes ripen a bit more, or will the weather get worse?'

In the short video below you'll find out what has been going through the vignerons' minds in the first few days of the 2015 harvest.

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CumieresCumières facts

Region : Grande Vallée de La Marne

Premier Cru

Vineyard area: 171 hectares

Pinot Noir: 92 Hectares

Chardonnay: 47 hectares

Meunier: 32 hectares

Many years ago, back in the 17th century before champagne had become popular, the Champagne region was best known for its still wines, particularly red wines. One of the centres of production was Cumières and Cumières Rouge is still produced to this day although it’s something of a curiosity that is rarely found outside Champagne.

Cumieres-sign300View-over-Cumieres300The vineyards of Cumières are rated as Premier Cru and lie just at the very entrance to the main valley of the Marne River. Just a few kilometres beyond Cumières you enter into the heart of the Marne valley where Meunier reigns supreme but in Cumières itself Pinot Noir is the most widely grown grape varietal in the village, but both Chardonnay and Meunier are grown as well.

Cumières sits on the north bank of the river Marne just 2 or 3 kilometres west of Epernay. A trip on the river by paddle steamer provides an original and enjoyable way to enjoy the peaceful landscape.

Whilst the village ‘ dips its toes’ so to speak, in the waters of the river, behind the village is a broad and steep, south facing slope where the grapes can ripen in the full warmth of the sun. Consequently Cumières is regularly amongst the first villages to start harvesting and this year (2015) is no exception – picking started in Cumières on September 3rd and only 4 villages, out of well over 100 in the Marne départment, started earlier.

Paddle-steamer300Amongst the many small brands in Cumières Georges Laval (organic) and René Geoffroy are particularly worth mentioning. Georges Laval is hard to find hidden as it is behind a big yellow door with no sign in the tiny Rue du Carrefour. Geoffroy moved their offices to Aÿ a few years ago their vineyards and perhaps the heart of the brand also, are still in Cumières.

Warning-Vendanges300The harvest in Champagne is under way. The first village to start picking was Montgueux down in the south of the region near the town of Troyes, but that's 100 kilometres south of Reims and Epernay and in this moire northerly areas they're not going to get started for a few days yet.

Typically the villages on the north and north-east facing slopes of La Montagne de Reims are amongst the last to start picking and in this short video, filmed in the Grand Cru village of Verzy,  you can see why they need a few more days yet for the grapes to reach full maturity.

You'll also learn an easy way to tell a Pinot Noir vine from a Chardonnay vine.

https://youtu.be/HQYcDnZ_mms

Come back soon for more harvest news from Champagne

 

Do you struggle to find the right words to describe wine aromas? I know I do.

The pictures below, courtesy of the CIVC, may help. They show how champagne aromas develop with age ranging from 2 – 8 years.

Many champagnes can age for far longer than 8 years, provided they are stored in good conditions, but it’s always hard to know exactly how long to keep champagne.

Here’s a useful rule of thumb that I was given several years ago. It’s a bit simplistic, but if you use it you’re unlikely to go far wrong:

Keep champagne after purchase for as long as it was aged in the cellar before being sold –

i.e. 2-3 years for non-vintage champagne and up to 7-8 years for vintage champagne

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Pictures by the CIVC (Comité Champagne)

Resu-matu2In last week’s post I mentioned the Réseau Matu which is a network pf small teams of vignerons in selected villages that sample the grapes every few days in the run-up to the harvest so as to track the ripeness of the grapes and thereby to determine the start date of the harvest. In this bulletin you can discover more about the Réseau Matu and really get to understand why it is so important in planning the harvest.

August 9th 2015

Harvesting-above-Verzenay2-300Not much is happening in the vineyards in Champagne at the moment because August is the month when many French people go on holiday and that includes champagne makers. As people head off for the beaches or mountains we’re entering the final 5 or 6 weeks before the harvest starts and the grapes are slowly ripening on the vines under the warm sun and we’ve had lots of it this year.

The heat hasn’t been as intense or prolonged as in 2003 when the grapes almost roasted on the vines, but it’s been a lovely summer with very little rain. The lack of rain is not ideal for growing grapes because rain is needed to plump up the grapes, so at the moment the grapes are looking a bit small and vignerons are keeping their fingers crossed that there’ll be a few more downpours in the coming weeks.

A month or so ago the general estimate was that picking would start around 15th September although this would vary from region to region and even from village to village, but if there’ s no break in the hot weather the start may well be as early as 10th.

Vraison 2In a couple of weeks the black grapes will start turning colour – at the moment all the grapes, be they black or white varietals, are all green. The process of turning colour is called La Véraison.

Many people assume that days of hot, sunny weather must inevitably lead to a superb vintage, but that’s not necessarily the case. The sunshine certainly increases the sugar content of the grapes which is good, but the greatest vintage years are those when the sugar is perfectly balanced with a health level of acidity too; without enough acidity the resulting wine would be dull and uninteresting.

Reseau-Matu300To track the levels of both sugar and acidity over the coming weeks a system called the Réseau Matu, roughly meaning Maturity Watch, is put in place. A small group of vignerons chosen by each community will start weekly and then later, daily sampling of the grapes on the vines so that they can be analysed for sugar and acid content.

Ideally picking will be delayed as long as possible in order to get the perfect levels of both sugar and acidity. However this doesn’t happen every year; other factors such as the weather forecast and the health of the grapes on the vines have to be taken into account and sometimes the vignerons have to accept a less than perfect balance because to wait any longer would not bring any improvement and might take the grapes past their peak.

It a critical time of year when the result of all the work of the previous 12 months hangs in the balance.

PS

As I write it’s been raining steadily, but not violently, for 2 hours. Exactly what the doctor ordered.

Wine tastingI was at a champagne tasting the other day. In fact it was me who had organised it on behalf of one of my clients – a champagne producer who wanted to get an independent evaluation of his champagnes.

Seeing that they were tasting champagnes the discussion soon came around to the issues of dosage, the amount of sugar added after disgorging to adjust the sweetness of the finished wine. Some of the comments got me thinking that there may be a complete divergence between on the one hand, what sommeliers are interested in and are happy to promote and, on the other hand, what the consumer actually wants.

Whether you’re a sommelier or a person who sells or makes wine I’d love to have your views.

Read the rest of the article and see what you think.

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