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,

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. During this second stay in Champagne Jiles worked with the Syndicat Général des Vignerons de Champagne as an accedited consultant for small, independent champagne makers before setting up his own consultancy.

Jiles now spends his time between England and Champagne.and puts his knowledge and contacts to work helping wine lovers everywhere learn more about champagne and helping businesses and individuals to create their own private champagne brand.

He is the author of two books on champagne, several concise guides to champagne  and is the creator of an online champagne study course called My Champagne Expert

 


 

Champagne Bulletin November 2020

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CHAMPAGNE BULLETIN NOVEMBER 2020

I’m writing this month’s bulletin a few days earlier than usual because, at the beginning of December I’ll be travelling to my house in Champagne to spend the next few months there. It will be a chance to meet up with some old friends, film a lot of new videos and, of course, taste some superb champagnes, but that won’t leave too much time for writing, so here are a few thoughts and observations about what’s been going on in and around Champagne in November.

Reasons to be cheerful

(No, not a reference to that great 1970s song by Ian Dury and the Blockheads)

Reasons to be cheerfulChampagne is so closely associated with good times and celebrations that you may be wondering whether anyone will be drinking champagne at the end of this extraordinary year which, for many, has held so much uncertainty and downright suffering.

It’s a fair question, but there are a number of indicators that suggest that champagne has lost little or none of its appeal and that this year, more than ever, people need something to be positive about and what better way to raise the spirts than to open a bottle of champagne. Let’s look first at the shipment figures.

The latest shipment figures to the end of September show that

  • Total shipments were only 9.9 % lower than in September 2019
  • More importantly, the Moving Annual Total for January to September (MAT) shows a total of almost 256 million bottles shipped during this period (-14.8% versus last year).

To put this in context, remember that 300 million bottles shipped for the year is what was being mooted before the onset of ‘you know what’.

  • If the monthly shortfall versus last year holds at -10% or less during the next three crucial months, the annual total for 2020 may end up at 260 million or even 270 million bottles which would be a far cry from some of the more pessimistic forecasts of 6 months ago when a collapse to 200 million was being put forward as a possibility.
  • It’s also worth noting that it’s the small independent champagne makers (Vignerons) whose sales are holding up better than the cooperatives or the big brands ( Maison). This is mainly because the vignerons sell most of their production in France and their prices are generally lower than those of bigger brands. A sign perhaps that people are more cautious in their spending at the moment?

But why should we expect champagne sales and shipments in the last three months of 2020 to be positive?

There is not much other than anecdotal evidence to point to, however there are signs that an increase in off-premise consumption of champagne is helping to offset the closure of large parts of the on-trade, although it cannot entirely compensate for those loses.

This would suggest that, as Maxime Toubart, president of the Syndicat Général des Vignerons said

“Les consommateurs ne boudent pas le champagne

Consumers are not turning away from and denying themselves the pleasure of champagne!

If that is true, expect a surge in sales of champagne when we finally emerge from the current doldrums. May that be sooner rather than later.

Champagne as an investment

Live Ex 1You may not think about champagne as an investment vehicle, but the fact of the matter is that those who have invested in champagne are doing very nicely for themselves.

At the moment there are just a handful of famous brands that are considered to be investment material; the leading brands are Dom Pérignon and Louis Roederer Cristal - pretty much every release of these brands is quoted on wine investment platforms.

In what you might call the second rank you’ll find, Krug, Salon, Taittinger (Comtes de Champagne), Pol Roger (Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill) and Bollinger (Grand Année) and, in recent years, Philipponnat (Clos des Goisses).

 When I say ‘second rank, I don’t mean  to imply that these brands are inferior in quality to the first two, but rather that the number of bottles produced is lower and / or that only certain cuvees released by these houses are considered for investment .

A few cuvées from other brands are sometimes traded, these include Laurent-Perrier, Charles Heidsieck, Henri Giraud and Billecart Salmon.

The prices are very much dependent on the scores given to each wine by leading wine writers, but the most highly-rated vintages trade for prices not far below £2,000/case and show handsome growth too.

If you’d like to find out more, check out Live-Ex one of the leading platforms for wine investment

 https://www.liv-ex.com/

Confidence in the future

IWA 5Those of you reading this bulletin who have contacted me to explore the idea of creating your own champagne brand may be interested in this story about someone who has definitely not lost either his appetite for adventure, his skill as a wine maker or his conviction that the future holds many opportunities. He is Richard Geoffroy who for some 28 years was the chef de cave at Dom Pérignon.

Richard was born and raised in a champagne making family but in his teenage years decided to train as a doctor, but no sooner had he completed his medical training than the lure of wine and champagne persuaded him to start training all over again, this time as a student of viticulture and oenology.

I got to know Richard well during the time I worked in Epernay at Moët & Chandon’s head office (Moët is the company that owns the Dom Pérignon brand) and we worked together in Japan on several occasions.

During these times Richard’s fascination with Japan and Japanese cuisine became very apparent. It therefore didn’t surprise me as much as it may have surprised others, when I learned that, after his retirement at the end of 2018, he decided to create his own brand of sake called IWA5.

Launching a new, high-quality and fairly expensive wine brand (IWA retails at $150) at a time when much of the world is thinking of cutting back and dropping prices is not for the faint hearted, but it is said that the smartest business people see opportunities when others see only problems.

Of course, the current circumstances are throwing up some unusual challenges - as Richard puts it “I’m living the most important project of my life from a distance”, but that hasn’t stopped the project from going ahead and  IWA5 is gaining distribution in many prestige outlets across Asia and gaining critical acclaim. Launches in Europe are planned for the coming months.

It’s looking like another triumph for Richard.

To discover a little more, here’s a useful article from club oenologique

https://cluboenologique.com/story/from-champagne-to-japan-richard-geoffroy-releases-his-first-sake-bottling/

Now is always a good time to learn more

Whether you want to create your own champagne brand or simply to indulge your love of ‘the king of wines and the wine of kings’, learning is always a good choice, but it doesn’t have to be a hard slog - it should be fun too.

My Champagne Expert screen shot 1That’s why I created My Champagne Expert – an online champagne course based on everything I experienced during 17 years living and working in Champagne.

If you’re a champagne lover at any level, you’ll want to check out My Champagne Expert and you can do that by clicking on thw link below.

Here you’ll find details about each of the 10 modules and meet some of the champagne makers who feature in the 50 + videos in the course.

With Christmas fast approaching, give yourself an early Christmas present and learn more about champagne than most sommeliers learn in a lifetime.

Here’s the link to discover more and I look forward to seeing you on the inside.

https://my-man-in-champagne.lpages.co/my-champagne-expert-100

Jiles Halling

November 2020

Champagne Bulletin October 2020

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CHAMPAGNE BULLETIN OCTOBER 2020

 

All eyes on the end of the year

More about that later, but first… famous brands are undoubtedly superb, but the smaller guys are sometimes the ones to watch.

Even though I have been lucky enough to taste some of the finest champagnes produced by the most famous brands ( I even worked for one of them for many years) my real interest has always been in the smaller, independent houses many of which  deserve more recognition, not just for the wonderful champagne they make, but also for the way they work. In my experience it’s often these smaller companies that start the trends that are later taken up by the bigger names.

That’s why I was interested to read a recent article announcing the creation of a body, headed up by Champagne Henriot and called Alliance Terroir, whose aim is to better understand and promote the many terroirs of Champagne.

One of the activities of Alliance Terroir is to dig trenches in vineyard plots to study the composition of the soil, the different geological strata, how the vines’ root systems develop in each one and to analyse the microbial life in the soil and measure the amount of water retention.

All these are worthy aims that are very useful and there is no question that Champagne Henriot is a fine house. What struck me however is that work just like this has been carried out quietly for years by many smaller houses, without any fanfare or fuss, just because it makes good sense to gather as much knowledge about your vines and your vineyard as possible.

Take Champagne Coessens in Ville-sur-Arce for example.

Coessens

https://www.champagne-coessens.com/en/

Jerôme Coessens produces 8 different wines (6 champagnes and 2 coteaux champenois)  from just one terroir called Largillier and from just one varietal: Pinot Noir. He can achieve this diversity in part because many years ago he undertook exactly the type of excavations now being suggested by Alliance Terroir.

If you have a mind to, you can read the results of the digs on the downloads available (in French) on Jerôme’s web site, but they can make  challenging reading unless you are a budding pedologist. What is far more exciting mind you, are his wines – well worth trying if you have never had the pleasure.

Further north, in Ambonnay, you’ll find that Benoît Marguet is similarly fascinated with the soil in his plots and has been for years and years as you can see from these pictures I took on an extremely cold January day a few years back.

That’s Benoît in the fur hat standing in one of the many trenches he and his team examined that day. The other onlookers are fellow champagne maker anxious to learn so that they too can put similar ideas into practice in their own vineyards.

Benoit in the trench800

In the trench800

 

Watching the dig

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To my mind these concrete examples show once again that many so-called new ideas come from the small enterprises who can be more agile, innovative and dynamic than their larger cousins.

Watching the numbers

60% or more of champagne sales occur in the last three months of each year, so from that point of view, the start of the COVID episode, last March, happened at the least damaging period of the year. Even so, the drop in sales due to the restrictions on business put in place, was very significant, falling over 50% in May compared to the same month in 2019.

Now however, the first hopeful signs of recovery are beginning to show.

LVMH which owns the largest stable of brands in Champagne, reported improved sales in the third quarter of this year and Pol Roger has seen the decrease in its sales versus 2019 reduce month by month from -35% in May, to -30% in June, and to -25% in July. By the end of September, the decrease had reduced to -15% and it is set to come down further in October.

Not great numbers, but far less severe than the worst-case scenario that some were talking of 6 months ago

Taking champagne as a whole, the total shipment figures for August were actually UP 15% (+ 1.1 million bottles) compared to August 2019.

So, some reason for guarded optimism and some signs of the resilience that everyone has been hoping for, but watch this space for the next three crucial months.

Celebrity brands

Here’s a topic that will be of interest to all those who have contacted me about creating a private brand of champagne.

The flurry of celebrity wines being launched on to the market shows little sign of slowing down and, indeed, that’s no surprise since the sales are so buoyant.

Kylie Minogue (Australian singing star) sold 70,000 bottles of her Provencal Rosé in the first week after launch.

Ian Botham, a famous former English cricketer has sold £4 million in value this year alone and his range is currently available in 14 countries, whilst Graham Norton (English TV personality) has sold 10 million bottles of his wine range since 2015.

Other celebrities (Idris Elba and Brangelina) have announced and/or launched their own champagne brands this year and we have covered these in previous bulletins.

Idris Elba Porte Noir

The key thing to take from these stories is twofold:

To succeed on a large scale, you don’t have to be an internationally or nationally known celebrity; what is vital however is that you have, or have access to, a large following or database of followers.

The second key to success is having a good distribution partner. Creating the wine or champagne is an important part of the process but getting it into the hands of customers is equally important.

Mind you, if your goal is more modest, it’s still perfectly possible to be successful on a smaller scale. Contact me by email  at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  to learn more.

Trouble at mill

For many of you this title may not make sense – it’s an old-fashioned expression, from Yorkshire I believe – that suggests that all is not well, and more trouble is probably on the way.

I mention this in connection with the story that you may recall from an earlier bulletin about the spat between the SGV (Syndicat Général des Vignerons de la Champagne) and the VIC (Vignerons Indépendents de Champagne).

The VIC occupied offices in the SGV building in Epernay and was associated with the SGV in so far as the VIC was represented by the SGV in meetings of the overall governing body in Champagne.

Just before the harvest this year, the VIC lost faith that the SGV was properly defending the interests of the members of the VIC at those meetings. The VIC president then told the members to withhold their subscription payments to the SGV and the disagreement lead to the VIC being told to vacate their office in the SGV building.

In the latest twist, the VIC have just re-elected, their president who was such an outspoken critic of the SGV, and they have done so with a near unanimous vote. It doesn’t look as if they are in any mood to soften their stance.

It will be interesting to watch and see how things pan out and this story provides yet more proof that there’s never nothing going on in Champagne.

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That’s it for this month. I hope you’ve enjoyed this run down of news from Champagne that you may not have come across elsewhere.

If you have any comments or questions, drop me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Champagne Bulletin September 2020

CHAMPAGNE BULLETIN SEPTEMBER 2020

Ups and downs in Champagne

Let’s start this month’s bulletin with somethings completely different.

An alternative use for your underwear

Enterre ton slipWhatever thoughts come to your mind when you think of underwear, I’m willing to bet that burying your underpants in the ground is not one of them, but that’s exactly what farmers in Champagne and other agricultural areas are being encouraged to do.

This is one of the weirdest things I’ve heard of in a long time, but it’s attracting more and more attention in several parts of Champagne. And it’s is all part of a programme called En Terre Ton Slip to assess the quality of the soil

What you have to do is bury a pair of cotton underpants in the soil, leave it there for three months then dig it up again to see how much is has decomposed. Don’t worry. You don’t have to use your own underwear; standard issue underpants are given to anyone who wants to take part.

The idea is simple; healthy soil is teeming with insects, bacteria and other organisms that will degrade the cotton material quite quickly, so the greater the extent of decomposition, the healthier your soil.

There is even a competition: once you’ve dug up the underwear, you submit your exhibit and a panel of judges will assess all the entries and award prizes.

The investment market

Live ExWhen it comes to investing, stock and shares as well as property are seen as the obvious places to put your money, but as many people reading this bulletin will be aware, several alternative investment vehicles have emerged over the past few years: classic cars, works of art and wine to name just a few.

As regards wine, the Crus Classés wines of Bordeaux are the ones that spring immediately to mind but there’s a market for champagne too.

It has to be said that only the best vintages from a handful of the most famous champagne brands such as Bollinger, Roederer, Dom Pérignon, Salon and Krug are traded on Live-ex – the leading fine wine platform - but the returns are impressive. Between 2011 and 2020 the best performing brand/vintage has seen its price increase by 160% and several other brands/vintages have seen gains of 60% and more.

It’s a small, specialist market best suited to experienced investors and it’s unlikely, in my opinion, to expand much beyond the famous brands mentioned above plus a very few others, but if someone asked me which brands might break into this exclusive circle in the years to come, I’d keep my eye on Selosse, Egly-Ouriet and Henri Giraud – all champagnes of the highest quality that are made in limited volumes: two important criteria for investors.

Do you have any other candidates to suggest?

The grape market

La Pesée by Computer 3While the price of these investment champagnes has been going up and up, another trend in champagne has come to an end this year and has registered a slight decline for the first time in since 1994: the price of grapes.

The average price of a kilo of grapes fell this year by between €0.20 - €0.25 to settle just below €7/kg (1kg = 2.2 pounds) which still means that grapes in Champagne are the most expensive in the world.

Mind you, with 7 varieties of grape grown in Champagne, over 20 sub-regions, 320 villages and goodness knows how many individual vineyards plots, each of which will command a slightly different price, the average price hides hundreds of small variations.

Nevertheless, it’s a sign of these difficult times that the relentless increase in price has come to a halt and is unlikely to resume its upward curve in the next year or two.

What’s the best champagne this year?

Rare 2006Well, according to the results of this year’s Champagne Masters competition organised by The Drinks Business, the answer is Rare, Vintage 2006 from the house of Piper-Heidsieck.

Piper Heidsieck along with its near namesake Charles Heidsieck were both acquired by the EPI group in 2011. The quality of Charles Heidsieck has always been recognised, but with sales barely reaching 100,000 bottles per year, its reputation far exceeded its reach. Piper Heidsieck meanwhile, was positioned as a value-for-money mid-to-low priced and had lost much of its lustre.

In the past decade great progress has been made for both brands. Sales of Charles Heidsieck are reported to have increased by a factor of 10 whilst the quality of Piper Heidsieck is generally accepted to have much improved while a new brand, Rare, has been spun off to represent the very best of what Piper has to offer.

If the result of this year’s Champagne Masters is anything to go by, the strategy has been a spectacular success.

One thing I do find a little frustrating about all the competitions that one reads about is that the same, relatively small number of brands always seem to carry off the accolades. There are some exceptions of course, but by and large one sees the same names each year receiving the medals.

This may, of course, be simply confirmation of these brands’ superior quality, but since one rarely gets to see the full list of the wines that were entered into the competition but did not receive any special appreciation, it’s impossible to know whether the less well-known brands are entering or not.

If not, I can think of a few stunning champagnes that would not disgrace any tasting competition and perhaps you can too. Any suggestions?

Anyone have a crystal ball?

Crystal ballNext month sees the start of the all-important last quarter of the year which is so crucial to champagne sales. It’s hard to foresee how things will go because of the conflicting indicators.

On the one hand, the 12 month rolling figures for shipments up to the end of July give a total of just 258 million bottles - not as bad as some feared, but of course that may continue to decline for a few months before it turns upward again.

On the other hand, some markets are doing well. Champagne sales in the UK are holding up very well according to the Champagne Agents Association with 12 monthly figures to August 2020 for both volume and value ahead of the same time in 2019, the latter up by as much as 25%.

In addition, the popularity of rosé wines of all descriptions shows little sign of slowing down and rosé champagne will undoubtedly claim a share of that pie.

All will no doubt become clear in the near future, so watch this space.

JH

Champagne Bulletin August 2020

Quick, quick, slow… and other events

Quick, quick…

Harvesting at Jacques Rousseaux1Over the past month, as the harvest approached, this strange year in Champagne got even stranger.

In early August the hot weather meant that the grapes were ripening at a speed that took everyone by surprise, so much so in fact that the announcement of the start dates for the harvest had to be brought forward to 15th August – only just in time for some areas of Champagne who were given permission to start picking just a couple of days later, on 17th August.

One vigneron in Buxeuil, in La Côte des Bar, even got a special derogation to start on 13th August!

Even more bizarre was the fact that, for the first time ever, the starting dates for the harvest were announced before agreement had been reached about the authorised yield per hectare.

I spoke to one wine maker in mid-August who just shrugged and said, “We simply don’t know what’s going on!”

Eventually, at the eleventh hour, a compromise was agreed at 8,000 kg/hectare which is enough to produce 230 million bottles (compare this to last year’s authorised yield of 10,200 kg/hectare, enough to produce 300 million bottles). Even within this 8,000 kg a small proportion must be held in reserve until 2022 to see how quickly and how much market demand bounces back.

Slow

Veraison at Mousse 640Once the start dates were known, many people summoned their harvesting teams to start picking as soon as they could, whilst other (wiser?) voices were urging patience to avoid getting carried away.  The concern of the latter was that despite the data on the acidity and sugar content all indicating that the grapes were, or very soon would be, perfectly ripe, technical data are not the only, or even the most important guide to when to pick.

More important than these data is phenolic maturity, in other words, how the grapes actually taste and their aromatic profile – these are things that can only be judged by sampling the grapes which can only be done by the growers going out into the vineyards and tasting the grapes for themselves, village by village and plot by plot. There are no machines as sensitive and skilled as a wine maker and her/her expertise.

This first-hand sampling revealed a great deal of heterogeneity across regions, villages and grape varieties and this prompted many growers to ask if it might perhaps be a good idea to wait a while longer.

Sure enough, a few days of fairly widespread rain literally ‘put a damper’ on the breakneck speed of ripening and necessitated calling a halt, or at least a pause, in picking in many area.

From a wine maker’s point of view this is the last thing you want because you still have to pay your team of pickers even if you tell them to take a day or two off and then there is the concern that they may have to leave before the job is completed.

As I write this bulletin, picking is still in full swing in many villages and may well continue for a few days yet. No serious wine maker will make a definite pronouncement about the quality of the harvest at this early stage, but many are saying ‘So far, so good’.

Also of interest is the fact that the few days delay in picking meant that the average time from flowering (end of May) to harvest was 88 days – a far cry from the 100 days that traditional wisdom always suggested, but not as short a time as the 85 days that, at one point just a few weeks ago, seemed likely this year.

The rise of rosé

I doubt that there are many of you reading this bulletin who have not heard of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. What you may not know however, is that they invested in a Provencal wine estate several years ago and now produce a much-sought-after and highly-priced Côtes de Provence rosé wine called Château Miraval https://www.miraval.com/en/home/

A few months ago, they announced their intention to produce a rosé champagne, Fleur de Miraval, in collaboration with Rodolphe Peters, the much-admired winemaker at Champagne Pierre Peters in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.

Fleur de Miraval laquered bottledThis week, pictures of the new champagne were released. The bottle is sober, classic and elegant in appearance. It’s scheduled for release on 15th October at a retail price of 340 euros per bottle.

This seems like a smart move by Brangelina who are ideally placed to benefit from the worldwide growth in sales of rosé wines.

According to an August 28th article on the website  ‘The Connection’, sales of rosé wine in the USA have grown by as much as 40% per year over the past 8 years and much the same trend in being seen in other markets too: in France rosé now outsells white wine and accounts for a full 30% of the market.

Some of the rise in sales is perhaps down to the number of celebrity brands that have been launched, but they account for only a small portion of the market and there’s a much more significant, underlying trend in play.

The consumer base is also expanding; it’s not just female consumers who are enjoying rosé wine, men are buying rosé in increasing numbers, as are younger consumers.

All in all it’s becoming increasingly mainstream to view the world (of wine at least) through rosé- coloured glasses.

By the way, the idea of creating your own private champagne brand is not limited to celebrities. It does require some investment and planning, but if you are interested in exploring the possibilities, I can help you turn your dream into reality. Email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to find out more.

A new tourist destination in Epernay

Chateau Perrier in EpernayAmongst all the elegant buildings on the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay I always found one of them – Le Château Perrier - rather dark and foreboding. Not that it wasn’t impressive in size or imposing in appearance, it is both of these, but for many years is was unused and falling into disrepair.

The château has had a somewhat chequered history. Built in the 1850s by the Perrier-Jouët family, it rivalled in scale and ambition any of the magnificent ‘maisons’ already installed on the most famous of all streets in Champagne.

You can view a few images of the chateau on this site (in the diaporama section)

https://www.fondation-patrimoine.org/les-projets/chateau-perrier-a-epernay

The château originally served as the family home but, like everything else in Champagne, had a hard time of it in World War II serving successively as the headquarters of the British Army (1940), the German Army (1942-1944) and then for the US Army (1945).

After the war, it became the museum of the pre-history and archaeology of Champagne, but the bill for the upkeep of the premises proved to be as huge as the building itself and, as it seemed to me at least, the building became uninviting, sombre and little used.

Fast forward to this year and the château has had a new lease of life and thanks to generous donations from a large number of private and public donors, it has benefitted from a comprehensive renovation and has been restored to all its former glory. From this Autumn it will be opening its doors once again as the Museum of the History and Archaeology of Champagne. It’s also included in the part of Champagne designated as a Unesco World Heritage site. Well worth a visit if and when you need a break from champagne tasting to nurture the more cultural side of your soul.

The Fizz Quiz

Summer BreakThat’s all for this month except to tell you that, after a summer break, The Fizz Quiz will be back soon coming to you in your home, via Zoom.

The Fizz Quiz is the only quiz dedicated to champagne and it attracts wine lovers and wine professionals from around the world to test their knowledge of champagne with some wickedly difficult questions (and a few easier ones too).

It’s free, it’s fun and you are bound to learn something you didn’t know before.

Email me if you’d like to receive details of the next Fizz Quiz This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 All the best

A few early thoughts about the 2020 harvest in Champagne

Case of grapes and background640The start dates for picking were announced last Saturday 15th August and a quick glance at what, at first sight, seems to be simply a list of dates, can tell us quite a bit more about what happens behind the scenes.

To view the entire list, copy and paste this link into your browser

file:///C:/Users/Devil/AppData/Local/Temp/dates_de_vendanges.pdf

Each village and each grape variety is given its own specific start date. Consequently, there is quite a wide range of dates ranging from as early as 17th August for some villages in the Aube region, to as late as 30th August for the village of Grauves in La Côte des Blancs.

In general, it’s the vignerons in the Aube who will start picking first and those further north, near Reims and Epernay, who are being told to wait a week or so longer, and it is Pinot Noir and Meunier that will be picked a couple of days before Chardonnay.

Strictly speaking, picking shouldn’t start before the official start dates, but if a vigneron has a compelling reason to start earlier he or she can apply for a ‘dérogation’  - special permission to start earlier -  and one vigneron, in the village of Buxeuil in the Bar Séquannais region, did just that and started harvesting on Thursday 13th August. I suspect that this may be an all-time record.

The official start dates are only a guideline and it is up to each grower to decide on the start date that is suitable in his/her vineyards. This decision is based on a number of factors: the most obvious consideration is the maturity of the grapes in terms of the level of sugar (potential alcohol) and of acidity. Both these indicators are looking exceptionally good this year and already some people are suggesting that the wines from 2020 will be of exceptionally high quality.

In addition, the growers also have to take into account the weather forecast, the rate at which the grapes are ripening and the threat of disease. Fortunately, the latter is very low this year.

The watchword this year seems to be ‘ Don’t rush’ – just because you are allowed to start picking doesn’t mean that you should start immediately. The more prudent growers seem prepared to wait a few days until they judge the condition of the grapes to be perfect in terms of phenolic maturity, in other words, what the grapes taste and smell like.

The data on sugar and acid content will give an indication about this, but the most conscientious growers will be out in the vineyards every day picking a few grapes and tasting for themselves. No matter what advances are made in the realms of science there is, as yet, nothing to replace the skill and experience of the grape growers and wine makers.

More news coming soon.