Jiles's Blog

Who Am I?

17 years spent living and working in Champagne has allowed Jiles to build up a vast amount of knowledge about all things bubbly as well as a very extensive network of contacts, especially amongst the smaller and less well-known champagne makers whose champagnes will probably amaze you with their quality and diversity.

A job as area manager for Asia and Australia with Moët et Chandon was what first drew Jiles to Champagne after completing an MBA in Luxury Brand Management at ESSEC, a prestigious business school just outside Paris.

After nearly 9 years at Moët Jiles moved back to the UK where he started one of the first online businesses promoting and selling grower champagnes, wrote two books on champagne and created an online champagne study course.

However the draw of ‘The King of Wines and the Wine of Kings’ once again proved irresistible and another 8 year stay in Champagne was the result.

Jiles now puts his knowledge and contacts to work in helping businesses and individuals to create their own private champagne brand.


 

What is the difference between champagne and sparkling wine?

People often ask  “What is the difference between champagne and sparkling wine?”

In one sense you might say that there is little difference between the two and it’s true that champagne is certainly a sparkling wine, but… not all sparkling wine is champagne.

The Champagne vineyardsTo understand this first we need to look at the geography  - there is, quite literally, a world of difference between champagne and sparkling wine because sparkling wine can be made anywhere in the world, but champagne can only be made in one particular region in France called, surprise, surprise, Champagne.

So, the name of the region came first and the wine made there is called by the same name.

Plenty of things about the Champagne region , for example, the soil, the climate and the wine making traditions, are unique to that area and even though people in other parts of the world may make their wine using the same techniques, the results will be slightly different.

Then there’s the legal issue

There’s a never-ending debate about where the very first sparkling wines were made, but one thing is clear: it was the people in Champagne ( the champenois as they are called) who popularised their wine a sold it all over the world.

They have been doing this for about 300 years now and you could say, with good justification, that today there would not be as much demand for sparkling wine, wherever it comes from, if it had not been for all the time and money the people in Champagne spent marketing and selling their champagne all over the world.

You’ll appreciate therefore that the champenois want to benefit from all that investment and they want to word champagne  to be reserved exclusively for the wines made in the Champagne region.

Most countries of the world have accepted this argument and now, with a few exceptions, mostly in the USA, wine makers outside the Champagne region in France are not allowed to describe their sparkling wines as champagne.

The next thing that explains the difference between champagne and many sparkling wines is the way they are made and, very broadly speaking, that can be split into two parts: the grapes used and the wine making technique.

Bunch of Pinot NoirIn Champagne only 7 types of grapes can be used and by far the three most common are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier. This regulation is just one of many hundreds designed to maintain the style and quality of champagne.

Sparkling wine makers in other parts of the world can use these same grape varieties, but for reasons we mentioned above, the results they obtain will be slightly different to the results in the Champagne region.

On the other hand, sparkling wine makers in many areas outside Champagne have a lot more flexibility when it comes to the grapes that use. They can, and do, use several types of grapes, so this too explains the difference between champagne and many sparkling wines.

Prosecco comes from Italy and is usually made with a grape variety called Glera, which used to be called prosecco – hence the name of the sparkling wine.

Cava comes from Spain and the predominant grape varieties used make Cava are called Xarel.lo, Macabeo and Parellada.

In the UK and in many other countries the rules surrounding the choice of grapes are less strict and the wine makers can use whichever ones they wish.

Last but certainly not least, is the wine making technique.

The way champagne is made is called La Méthode Champenoise and it involves, amongst other things, two distinctive procedures:

  1. a) there are two alcoholic fermentations, the second of which must take place inside the bottle in which the wine is later going to be sold.
  2. b) the wine must be aged in cellars for a specified length of time before it can be sold – this can range from 15 months to 3 years and some champagnes are matured in cellars for as long as 10 years.

Bouteilles sur lattes 800There’s nothing to stop wine makers anywhere using the same method – Cava for example -  but if they do, they must refer to it as the Méthode Traditionelle. They can’t call it La Méthode Champenoise because that is reserved for Champagne because the champenois were the ones that first perfected it.

Some sparkling wines – in particular Prosecco - are made using what is called the Charmat method. This technique uses large vats for the second fermentation and does not stipulate long ageing in cellars before the wine is sold.

The charmat method is not only much quicker and cheaper than the La Méthode Champenoise, but it does not allow the wines to develop as many complex flavours and aromas as champagne and the bubbles are not as fine and persistent.

In conclusion, there are a lot of excellent sparkling wines, but there are many differences, some small, some large, between them and champagne which comes only from the Champagne region in France.

To learn more about champagne take a look at My Champagne Expert a fascinating online course that will take you on a journey through Champagne and will teach you more about champagne than most sommeliers learn in a lifetime.

Heat wave in France – what does this mean for vintage champagne?

Heat wave in France – what does this mean for vintage champagne?

Epernay heat waveIn case you didn’t see the news, France recently experienced a heat wave.

The north of France, including the Champagne area, saw some of the highest temperatures reaching 350 C (950 F) in a few places.

The last year when such high temperatures were recorded was 2003 – in some plots the grapes practically fried on the vine.

Most champagne houses wrote off the idea of producing a vintage champagne as a waste of time, judging that the yields were too low, sugar levels far too high and acidity levels not high enough. Houses that, nevertheless, declared a vintage, were considered either unwise, or just plain crazy, but there were some serious names amongst them: Moët & Chandon and Bollinger.

Perhaps that tells us something about the prospects for the 2019 vintage and about vintage champagne in general too?

35 Questions to ask before you create your own private champagne brand

Creating a private brand of champagne can be great fun – and of course enjoying the results is enjoyable too – but like many projects, it is complex and requires careful management. Here are just some of the questions that need to be answered – the list is not exhaustive!

Fortunately, you don’t need to worry about most of these because I can guide you through all 35 questions and more. Nevertheless, the questions will probably highlight plenty of issues we will need to consider.

The Champagne (what level of knowledge do you have about champagne?)

  1. What kind of champagne maker do you want to work with: NM, RM or CM?
  2. Do you understand the difference between these three?
  3. What type of champagne are you looking for: Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs, a blend, rosé champagne, vintage champagne…?
  4. How many bottles will you need this year and in 5 years’ time?

The name and design (how advanced and detailed are your plans for the brand identity?)

  1. Have you already designed a logo, a colour scheme and a visual identity the for the brand?
  2. Do you have in mind a name for your brand?
  3. Have you done any research into the name to ensure that it is not already registered?
  4. Is your preferred name likely to be approved by the regulatory body in Champagne?

The corks

  1. Which quality of cork do you require - there are at least 4 different grades?
  2. Do you want a generic cork or a branded cork?
  3. Do you want branding on the top, sides or bottom of the cork?

The plaque and wire

  1. What colour capsule?
  2. Do you want branding on the capsule?
  3. If so, a logo or text?
  4. Will the text fit in the available space?
  5. What colour wire do you want?

The foil

  1. What length of foil?
  2. What colour of foil?
  3. What finish to the foil: matt, polished, textured? ( there are dozens of possibilities)
  4. What weight of foil? (a heavier material may feel more prestigious but is more expensive)
  5. Do you want an easy-open tab or not?
  6. Do you want branding printed on the foil?
  7. In which language?

 

The label

  1. What size and shape label?
  2. Will your preferred size and shape fit on the champagne maker’s labelling machine?
  3. Have you already had a label design created?
  4. What colour, type and quality of paper?
  5. What type of printing?
  6. How many colours need to be printed?
  7. Is gold foil or other metallic printing involved
  8. Do you need a back label? (the answer is probably, Yes)
  9. Do you want a different type of label – metal for example?

The bottle

  1. What colour glass? (Green is the most common, but other colours are possible)
  2. Do you require a standard, or special, bottle shape?
  3. Would you consider a plastic sleeve on the bottle to achieve the effect you want?

To find out more and to discuss an idea you have in mind please contact me at

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Champagne shipments - A glass half empty, or a glass half full?

A glass half empty, or a glass half full?

Despite a fall in shipment volume, champagne is in good shape.


Glass half empry, or glass half full?Official figures for champagne shipments in 2018 will not be released until March but initial reports are that total shipments fell from 307 million bottles in 2017 (25.6 million 9 litre cases) to around 302 million in 2018 ( 25.2 million 9 litre cases).


A fall of 5 million bottles, or 1.5%, is not what you would wish for, but look beyond the headlines and there’s a different story playing out - champagne is in better shape than the headlines imply.


1) From volume to value

Much of the decline in 2018 is in champagne’s two largest markets by volume: France and the U.K.

Both have been on the slide for several years but in France matters were made worse by the ‘Gilet Jaunes’ disturbances during the crucial Christmas selling period that affected both the national mood and the physical distribution of goods.

In the U.K., sales have not been helped by uncertainty surrounding Brexit, although the U.K. remains the largest export market for champagne in terms of volume.

France is a low value market. Consumers have easy access to a whole host of inexpensive brands never seen outside France, and are accustomed to a wide choice of undifferentiated brands at low prices.

The U.K. is heavily influenced by supermarket brands that are sold in huge volumes, but usually at very attractive promotional prices.
But if the decline in these two markets is offset by increases in higher value markets, then perhaps the trend is favourable for the long-term health of champagne.

2) High value markets

While we wait for the 2018 shipment figures, we can infer a few things from the past couple of years.

In 2015 the US market overtook the UK as the highest value export market and in volume terms too, it continues to grow strongly. Shipments in 2017 were up 8.5% y.o.y. to reach 23 million bottles (1.9 million 9 litre cases) and 585 million euros in value: roughly €25 per bottle.

In contrast, the average per bottle value in France is just under €14 and in the U.K. it’s just under €15.
Other markets are growing not just in volume but, perhaps more importantly, in value too: Japan (average value per bottle €24 ), China (€21). South Africa (€23) Nigeria (€29) and Canada (€24)

In fact, the final figures could well show that 2018 was a record year for champagne in terms of value.

Not too shabby and certainly not a cause for undue pessimism

 

 

Phylloxera in Champagne

Phylloxera-sign-3-300I came across this sign recently when I passed through the village of Villers-Marmery and it prompted me to do a little research into what happened in Champagne a century and more ago when phylloxera devasted the vineyards.


It’s been such a long time since the phylloxera catastrophe ( no that’s not too strong a word) laid waste the vineyards not just in France but across the whole of Europe that many people these days have never even heard the word  let alone know what it means.
Phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae  to give it its scientific name – it is also known as Phylloxéra vastatrix) is a small insect that attacks the roots of vines and eventually so weakens the plant that it dies.

Phylloxera-sign-1-300It is believed that the bug somehow made its way across the Atlantic Ocean from the USA, possibly in a consignment of timber or some other wooden product. The insect was first notice in France in 1868 in the Languedoc and from there it spread across pretty much the entire country and into other countries. Its effects were disastrous; it destroyed huge swathes of vineyard and there was very little that the vignerons could do to stop it.


Throughout the 1870s the Champagne vineyards were not affected and the champenois must have hoped that they would somehow escape the ravages of phylloxera, but in 1880 the first sighting of the bug was confirmed in the village of Chassins-Trélou in La Vallee de la Marne. From there it spread in 1882 to Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger in la Côte des Blancs and the following year it arrived in the vineyards of Epernay and eventually was spotted in La Montagne de Reims in 1904.


To give you some idea of the progress of the pest 14 hectares in Champagne were infected in 1897, by 1900 the count was 600 hectares; two years later it was 2,000 hectares, 5,000 in 1907 and by the time the First World War broke out 6,500 hectares of vineyards in Champagne had been destroyed. It’s worth pointing out also that in those days there were only 12,000 hectares of vines planted in the whole of Champagne, so over half the region’s vines were ruined.


It was in the 1890s that the vignerons organised themselves in associations to try to figure out way to combat the infestation and the sign in the picture at the top of the page presumably dates back to that period.


As early as 1879 even before phylloxera was established in Champagne a committee  was set up to coordinate the fight against the pest. The majority of 26,000 registered vine growers, large and small,  joined the committee but in a sad turn of events the committee was disbanded because the vine growers suspected the large négociants of exploiting the situation to buy up, at knock-down prices, the vineyards that had been affected by phylloxera. Perhaps the collapse of the committee was predictable and inevitable given the tenor of the times. There was huge suspicion of the négociants which culminated not many years later in the riots in Aÿ in 1911.


A series of cool years at the end of the 19th century slowed down the onward march of phylloxera and perhaps people thought they would get off lightly, but when the spread of the bug resumed the vignerons found that there was no way of stopping the insects. They tried flooding the vineyards to drown them; they tried burning the vineyards, but equally to no effect. The method most widely tried was to treat the vines with carbon disulphide by injecting it into the soil with giant copper syringes. Unfortunately this was a case of the treatment being almost as bad as, or worse than, the disease itself. Carbon disulphide is highly toxic and highly inflammable too and definitely not something you want to go spreading in the soil, moreover it didn’t work either.


Fort-Chabrol-300The search for an effective treatment went on vigorously not least in the research centre set up by Raoul Chandon de Briailles in Fort Chabrol near Epernay. Eventually it was realised that American vines,  Vitis riparia or Vitis rupestris ,were immune, or at least resistant, to the predations of phlloxera and that by grafting  French vines Vitis vinifera  onto the American root stocks one could retain the characteristics of the European vines on a plant that would not succumb to phylloxera.


This then was the news for which everyone had been waiting  for 40 years and a programme of replanting was soon undertaken, although it was interrupted by the First World War. Little by little between 1900 and 1938 the native vines were dug up and replaced by grafts using the American stocks until, on the eve of the Second World War, there were just 95 hectares of native vines remaining.


Vignes-en-foule-300One good thing did come out of this terrible episode. Until the arrival of phylloxera vines grew very much at random (en foule –  ‘in a crowd’ - as the method is called). The new vines were planted in rows as we see them nowadays. This allowed animals and later tractors to work the vineyards which did a great deal to make the life of a vineyard worker a lot easier.
They say that every cloud has a silver lining, but for the vignerons in Champagne it must has been hard to see it back in the early years of the 19th century. 

 

Source material: article by Bruno Duteutre in Bulles et Millésimes http://www.champagne-news.com/1890-le-phylloxera-arrive-en-champagne/