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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.


 

Picking-in-Chouilly-1st-October-2013Picking is well under way in most parts of the region now and despite a gloomy start to the year, both in the meteorological sense and in people’s expectations for this year’s harvest, I am hearing some pretty positive comments from vignerons as they gather in the grapes.

Perhaps they are influenced by the lovely warm and sunny weather that we are still enjoying in Champagne, even though I am told that over the past couple of days it’s been raining in Paris, just 100 miles away from Champagne.

Something that’s a permanent feature of the harvest these days is the huge number of migrant workers - over 100,000 people - that descend on Champagne looking for work during this frantic period, and they are almost sure to find it. So much so that’s it not easy to find a French voice in the vines. This always throws me. I walk up to the pickers and ask politely in my best French if they mind me watching and filming and often they don’t understand a word I’m saying. Still, they get the gist of what I want and are happy to let me go ahead. I wonder if I’d get the same response if it were chucking it down with rain?Chardonnay-in-Chouilly-1st-October-2013

In the short video at the foot of this post you’ll see what was going on in Chouilly on 1st October in a plot that belongs to Mumm-Perrier Jouët

If you’re thinking that there are very few leaves on the vines, you’d be right. In fact just before the picking gets under way as many leaves as possible are blasted off the vines by compressed air. The machine that does this is an effeuilleuse (or de-leafer). It makes a big difference to the speed of the picking because particularly with the green Chardonnay grapes, it’s often very hard to see the bunches hidden behind thick clumps of foliage. Time is money when you’re picking and even more so when you are paying the pickers and conversely, time saved is money saved.

For a video of an effeuilleuse in action click here but be warned – it’s noisy!

Chouilly-signChouilly is not only a Grand Cru village but it is also one of the largest ‘cru’ in Champagne with some 500 hectares planted, almost exclusively with Chardonnay and about 200 vine growers. It sits right on the 49th parallel north and is home to Nicolas Feuillatte, the leading cooperative in Champagne.

Amongst the many excellent, smaller 'grower champagne' makers, Vazart Coquart, Michel Genet and Legras & Haas immediately spring to mind as being well worth your time to seek out and taste.

Chouilly was one of the villages affected by hail in July, so I’m sure that the ‘Geese’ as the local inhabitants are called, will be relieved at what looks like a very satisfactory harvest.

You’ll be able to see more videos and read more comments from the vignerons themselves as the grapes continue to come in over the next couple of weeks, so do come back soon

Jiles

 

Lucien-Roguet-sign225I recently met a champagne maker called Samuel Roguet of Champagne Lucien Roguet and I was immediately impressed. Certainly by the champagnes, but more so by the man who seems to have a real sense of who he is and what he wants to achieve

In the coming weeks I'll be doing a few more articles and videos about this champagne that I suspect will be one that will be increasingly talked about in the years to come, but for now here's a short video in which Samuel tells us a little about the village of Mailly Champagne, where he has his vines and also explains the system of Réserve Individuelle

 

 

 

 

Harvest-benne225It's Harvest time in Champagne and if you plan to be here in the next few weeks then one of the leading small champagne makers is offering you the chance to join in, have a lot of fun and take home some wonderful memories, not to mention tasting some superb champagnes.

The house of Penet-Chardonnet, here in the Grand Cru village of Verzy is offering a Champagne Experience when you get to go out in the vineyards, cut some grapes, watch and learn as the grapes are pressed and have a champagne lunch with the harvest team.

You can find full details HERE

and if you're tempted please contact us as soon as possible to make sure you have a place

Contact details are also on the link above

Oger-sign-225For Bulletin 2 from the 2013 Champagne Harvest I went down to Oger, a Grand Cru village in la Côte des Blancs, to speak with Elodie Higonet of Champagne Chapuy which Elodie manages with her sister, Aurore.

You can see what Elodie has to say about the prospects for this year’s harvest in the video at the foot of the page and to put things into context a little, below are a few more interesting facts and figures about the harvest.

 

 Weight of the bunches

Chardonnay-ripening-2-225Elodie mentions that this year’s bunches are not as heavy as she would like. Typically a good bunch would weigh about 125-130 grams, but so far this year they are still below 120 grams and picking is due to start in most areas within a very few days.

The loss in weight per bunch can be made up simply by picking more bunches but that’s more work for the pickers and potentially more costly for the people who are paying them.

 

 Ripeness of the grapes

Champagne makers are really looking for enough sugar in the grapes to produce a minimum of 10% potential alcohol before they will start picking. This year it is touch and go whether they will get to 10 or not.

The samples taken at regular intervals in the vineyards in the run-up to the harvest have been showing 9 or barely 10, but these samples often give a higher reading than  you actually get when the grapes are pressed.

In addition there’s quite a wide variation across the region and amongst the different grapes varieties. The uneven ripeness of this year’s harvest could be a real logistical challenge for those organising the picking teams with the very real possibility of more than one pass in certain vineyards: once for the ripe grapes and again a few days later in the hope that the rest of the grapes have ripened by then.

For now the weather is fine - very warm in fact - so a few days’ wait is not too much of a problem, but if rain comes later on, then the grapes won’t get any riper and so there’s no point waiting to pick; the grapes will have to be gathered in as they are.

All will be revealed in the coming days and weeks so do come back soon for more interviews and more insights into the world of champagne.

You can keep up with things on Facebook too, at My Man In Champagne, and do please 'Like' the page.

Thanks

Jiles (Your Man In Champagne)

 

 

 

Harvest-dates-2013-Overview

 

The CIVC has just released the start dates for this year’s harvest in Champagne

Here’s a snap shot of the document

Lots of columns and figures, and I suggest that you enlarge this image and the ones below, to see all the detail.

So much for the information, but what can we understand from this?

 

Actually an awful lot that you might, at first glance, overlook and it all makes the organisation of the harvest much more complex than you might imagine…

Benne-of-Pinot-Meunier225In part I of this article on Grower Champagnes we discovered that the difference between the large champagne brands (NM) and the grower champagnes (RM) is that RM don't have the right to buy in more than 5% of the grapes they need – 95% or more must come from their own vineyards.

The two little letters - RM - on the label are what you need to look for on the label to help you identify these small scale champagne producers, but as with so many things, it is easy to over simplify and this can result in people thinking that anything that is not RM is really not worth bothering with.

That’s a huge mistake and if you believe that you will very likely miss out on some fabulous NM champagnes. Let me explain why…

Harvest-pickers-225Recently I asked the subscribers to my web site, what type of information they would most like to receive and it was clear that many people really want to delve into the intricacies of champagne and want as much detailed information as they can get.

So with that in mind here’s a two-part look at a somewhat obscure subject, but one which will give you an insight into the often complex workings of the champagne business: the rules and regulations surrounding the size of the harvest.

In part I we’ll take a look at the decisions that have already been taken about this year’s harvest and what that says about the market as a whole and in part II you’ll get an understanding of how the small grower-champagne makers can play the market to their advantage against the larger houses.

In this level of detail isn’t for you, don’t worry, there will be plenty more articles and videos coming on the web site soon for you to enjoy.

----

With about one month still to go until grape picking starts in Champagne you may be surprised to know that the size of the harvest has already been decided.

In fact it was decided as long ago as July 22nd when the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) announced that they had “ agreed today in Epernay on an available yield of 10,500 kg/ha of which 500 kg/ha will be taken out of the reserve. Moreover, up to 3,100 kg/ha can be picked to be put in the reserve (if the reserve does not exceed 10,000 kg/ha).”

If all this seems rather odd and not a little obscure then perhaps a few words of explanation may help you understand what’s going on.

CIVC-HQ-225The CIVC is the governing body in Champagne. Representatives from all interested parties sit on the board: large houses whose powerful marketing and distribution operations account for the lion’s share of the sales of champagne, but who have to buy most of the grapes they need; small grape growers who either sell their grapes, or keep them to make their own champagne and last, but not least, the cooperatives.

The short-term interests of these various players don’t always coincide. For example the grape growers want a high price for the grapes they have to sell, whereas the large houses want to buy at the lowest possible price. By the same token the growers prefer a large harvest because more grapes mean more income for them. However, if the big houses are finding that sales are slow and their stocks are already building up too much, the last thing they need is a bumper harvest and even more grapes on their hands.

One of the main purposes of the CIVC therefore, is to facilitate an agreement on the size of the harvest so that, in the mid- to long-term, the supply of grapes – and therefore of champagne – is kept in balance with worldwide demand. That should ensure that the image of champagne as a prestige product is maintained and provide stability across the industry. (I’ll get my knuckles rapped for that. The champenois prefer not to use the word ‘industry’ – it’s doesn’t quite convey the right tone of elegance and luxury, but it’s not easy to find a good alternative in English)

It used to be the case also that the CIVC determined the price of grapes per kilo, but that’s no longer true and prices are determined by the market. We can come back to that topic in another post sometime, but for now let’s get back to the size of the harvest and what the CIVC had to say about it.

The average annual yield from a hectare of vineyard in Champagne can be anything from about 10,000 to 14,000 kilos and of course there are years when it can be much less, or even more, depending on the weather and a host of other factors.

It’s because of this unpredictability that the champenois came up, many years ago, with the system of reserves which entails taking part of each harvest, pressing the grapes, making the juice into still wine and storing that until it is needed in subsequent years. There are different ways of storing the reserve to obtain different results, but again, that’s topic for another time.

The reserve wines serve two main purposes: first they act as a cushion against poor harvests in the future and so they provide a guarantee that there will always be a reasonable volume of champagne each year. Second, because they are left to age a few years, reserve wines add depth and complexity when blended with wine from the most recent harvest. Harvest-benne-at-Billecart-Salmon225

 So getting back to the announcement by the CIVC, they have said that 10,500 kilograms of grapes per hectare can be used this year to make into champagne, but they also said that 500 kilograms worth has to be taken from existing reserves so that means that only 10,000 kg of grapes per hectare may be harvested this year

So using some rough calculations we can see approximately how many bottles of champagne are going to be made from the 2013 harvest

10,000

Kilos picked per hectare

6,375

= Litres of juice from 10K kilograms

8,500

=> 75cl bottles of champagne

34,000

Hectares under cultivation

289,000,000

=> Total production potential in bottles

 

If we now add back in the 500 kg that may be taken from the existing reserves, and use the same method of calculation, that translates into

500

Kilos that may be taken from the reserve

319

= Litres of juice from 500 kilograms

425

=> 75cl bottles of champagne

34,000

Hectares under cultivation

14,450,000

=> Total production potential in bottles

 

So that gives us a likely total of about 303 million bottles that will be produced this year for sale in about 2 to 3 years’ time.

To put that into context, the maximum production capacity of the Champagne region is approximately 320-330 million bottles.

indexThe record for sales was in 2007 when slightly less than 339 million bottles were shipped, but that level wasn’t sustained or sustainable. Shipments dipped back under 300 million in 2009 and although demand has firmed up a bit since, last year’s shipments were still only 309 million bottles.

So it looks as if the CIVC is still pretty cautious about the market in the immediate future and they certainly aren’t looking to increase stocks in anticipation of a champagne boom any time soon.

History suggests that they know what they are doing, mind you. I can’t think of any other product that has maintained such an exclusive image in good times and bad over a history as long as that of champagne.

In part II we’ll look into some of the other things that the smaller producers can do to maintain the balance between them and the giant brands and in the meantime, if you have any comments or questions about this article, please drop me a line at

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Meanwhile...Stay Bubbly,

Jiles

Alexandre-Taillet225

 

Remember my post about Champagne Chartogne-Taillet a few weeks ago?

It's good to know that Jancis Robinson, no less, rates these champagnes too.

http://www.jancisrobinson.com/articles/a201308011.html

Come back here soon to learn more about superb grower champagnes

Bubbly best wishes from Champagne

Jiles

Hail-damage225In the past couple of weeks we've had really hot weather in Champagne and this has inevitably lead to some spectacular thunderstorms and, unfortunately, to hail too.

Drinks Bulletin reports that according to the CIVC some 300 hectares of vines have been badly affected.

You can read more here

http://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2013/08/hail-destroys-300-hectares-in-champagne/

Take a look at this picture, taken today, of the windmill at Verzenay and compare it to the picture in the Drinks BusinessWindmill-without-paddles225 article. You'll see that the paddles have been removed. Is this because of the store or just for routine maintenance?  

I'll keep you updated as the weeks and months to this year's harvest unfold

WHY I DON’T DO TASTING NOTES

Part I

Tasting-at-Henriet-Bazin225A friend of mine recently posted a comment on Facebook about my web site. He said that anyone interested in champagne, particularly grower champagnes, could find just about anything they wanted on my site, except tasting notes.

That may surprise some people, so I thought I should explain why I don’t believe in tasting notes.

First and foremost I’m not an oenologist or sommelier and although I have tasted hundreds of champagnes over the years I still don’t think that I have a particularly discerning palate, so I don’t think I can add anything of value to that sort of discussion. Besides there is no shortage of other people writing their thoughts on how wine tastes and that’s part of the problem for me…

I should make a distinction between on the one hand, people who love wines and simply want to share their ideas amongst one another. (I have no right, or wish, to criticise the way they enjoy themselves) and on the other hand tasting notes intended as some sort of a guide for the general public and it’s the second category whose value I find hard to appreciate. So with that proviso put of the way and my assurance that I don’t want to offend anybody, let me explain my point of view

^