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 JULY 2021

CHAMPAGNE BULLETIN JULY 2021

You might think that with July and August being the two months when many people in France take a summer holiday, that things would be quite quiet here in Champagne, but in fact the opposite is the case. There is plenty to tell you about this month

There’s great news for anyone considering creating their own champagne brand, particularly in the USA

USA Flag

According to Impact Databank, one of the most respected journals for the wines and spirits trade, shipments of champagne to the USA jumped 48% in the first four months of 2021 versus 2020.

Of course, this increase has to be seen in context: champagne shipments slumped in 2020 for obvious reasons and so an increase this year was only to be expected. However, the USA fared better than most other markets throughout last year and continues to lead the way this year.

The overall decrease in champagne shipments last year was -18% but shipments to the USA fell by only 2.5% (again according to Impact Databank).

Seen against this background, this year’s increase in shipments of 48% is all the more impressive.

What’s more, data from Nielsen, a company which tracks sales in supermarkets and many other off-trade venues, shows that purchases of champagne were up 60% in the first four months of the year and sales of rosé champagne were even more bouyant at +66% versus 2019.

Not surprisingly, the big brands such as Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot account for the majority of the sales and this is unlikely to change any time soon, if ever, but as they say: “A rising tide floats all boats.”

Back in Champagne

 COTM Button imageOver the past few weeks, several of the big champagne houses have been announcing their half-year results and it’s been good news all round. Not surprisingly, results across the board have shown big increases versus last year – not difficult when sales last year were so dreadful – and some houses have posted increases even versus 2019

What struck me however was a short sentence in the results of the BCC Lanson group which owns brands such as Lanson, Boizel, De Venoge, Philipponnat and 4 others.

First half turnover was up 33.7% versus 2019 but readers of the report were reminded that in Champagne typically only one third of annual sales are made in the first half year and that this is sufficient to cover just half of the annual fixed costs.

That implies that a full two thirds of annual sales are needed to cover fixed costs; put another way, a typical champagne house doesn’t start making a profit until October of each year.

It’s an interesting thought that really underlines the crucial importance of the final quarter of the year for champagne sales.

In The Vineyards

You may remember that in last month’s bulletin I lamented the poor weather we are having this year.  I wish that I could say that things have been hotting up in the vineyards too but in fact nothing much has changed: temperatures are still below average and have been for several weeks now.

We’ve had little sunshine; instead we’ve had grey skies, heavy rain and regular thunder storms.

When the sun does come out for a day or two it is really warm, but after the heavy rain, this produces the perfect humid conditions for mildew, and another vine disease called oïdium, to proliferate.

All in all, unless we have almost uninterrupted sunshine for the next couple of months, 2021 doesn’t look like it will be a great vintage.

I mentioned in last month’s bulletin the old adage that “année en 1, année de rien” which means roughly, “years that end in 1 are good for nothing” and this is looking more and more likely to be true this year.

Those past generations of champagne makers knew a thing or two about the weather and growing grapes despite their lack of fancy technology.

Fortunately, there is no reason to worry that the quantity or quality of this year’s harvest will have too damaging effect on the champagne that is produced because Champagne has its wonderful system of Individual Reserves – wine put aside in previous years - that can be called upon in exactly the sort of circumstances that we face this year. However, that’s a topic to be explored in a future bulletin.

From Russia, but not with love

From Russia with LoveThis month’s blockbuster story has come from Russia and has caused something of a sensation in Champagne.

At the beginning of this month Russia announced a change in their law regarding the labelling of champagne. The new law says that wine from Champagne no longer has the right to put the term champagne in Cyrillic script on the back labels. Instead, bottles of champagne must use the word sparkling wine, in Cyrillic script on the back label.

What’s more and what’s even more galling to the champenois, is that the new law states that only makers of sparkling wine in Russia will be able to use the word champagne, again in Cyrillic script, on the back labels of their bottles.

The word Champagne in Latin script may still be used on the front label of a bottle of champagne, but in the view of the authorities here, that is of no significance. They are up in arms and passionately feel that this new law is simply not acceptable. In fact it seems to be the exact reverse of the situation previously when the word champagne in any language was seen as a protected term to be used only for sparkling wine made in the Champagne region of France – a long standing convention agreed to and practiced by the governments of most countries in the world.

To say this has caused outrage in Champagne would be an understatement. Appeals have been made to officials at the highest levels of French and European Union governments to intervene in this affair and in the meantime the Comité Champagne has told all champagne houses to cease shipments to Russia until further orders.

The outcome is as yet unclear, but I suppose one can say that if there is a lack of heat in the vineyards, there’s a lot of heat being generating around the negotiating tables.

That's all for this month, but I'll be back with another Champagne Bulletin at the end of August. If you have any question or comments about the toipcs covered in this bulletin or about anything else to do with champagne, please send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and I'll get back to you as soon as I can.

Meanwhile...

Young grapes July

 

Nature continues its course in the vineyards and the grapes are growing slowly, but steadily.

It will be a few weeks yet before the Pinot Noir and the Meunier start to turn colour and at this stage of the year all the grapes, be they black or white, look much the same.

Fingers crossed for some more sunshine to make sure the grapes are good and ripe come September.

 

Balades dans les Vignes - No. 4 - The lighthouse at Verzenay

Number 4 in a series of strolls through the Champagne vineyards to bring you an insight into Champagne even if you can't get here yourself at the moment.

 

 

Champagne Bulletin June 2021

CHAMPAGNE BULLETIN JUNE 2021

 

Always optimistic – never satisfied

 

Ever dreamed of owning a vineyard in Champagne? You’ll need deep pockets!

Well, the good news is that the price of vines is coming down. The bad news is that it is still eye-wateringly high.

Want to buy a vineyardEvery year a report is published on the price of vines in Champagne and the latest report came out this month. It shows that, based on the transactions completed in 2020, the average price per hectare (that’s about 2.2 acres) was down 1.9 % versus 2019.

That follows a fall of 3.9% in 2019 versus 2018, so you might think that now is a good time to snap up a bargain. Well, that might be true, but you’ll still need very deep pockets because even after two years of falling prices the average price paid in 2020 was still €1,102,000 per hectare, which works out at about 600,000 USD per acre.

These figures are the average across all the sub-regions in Champagne of which there are many more than you might imagine. In some of the less well-known and not quite so prestigious parts of the Champagne appellation you can still buy vines for around €850,000 per hectare.

On the other hand, to buy just one hectare in the most sought-after locations (from which you could produce perhaps 10,000 bottles per year), will set you back 1.6 million euros or more.

With those sorts of numbers, you’ll have to wait a good few years to get a return on your investment. Creating your own private brand could be a much more efficient way of achieving  your objective and if you’d like to explore this further, send me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Good times are back again…?

flying corkAfter a torrid 18 months which saw sales of champagne in 2020 fall dramatically, the champenois have been anxiously waiting for some good news to indicate that business is bouncing back, so you can imagine the relief and satisfaction that the shipment figures for the months of April and May have brought to the region.

Shipments in May this year reached 22 million bottles which is a whopping 155% increase versus May 2020. What’s more, the growth is spread quite widely: the biggest increase was in export markets (up 185%), but shipments to France also grew strongly (up 124%) albeit at a slightly slower rate than exports

The May figures follow on from an increase of 197% in April 2021 versus April 2020, so we’ve had two months of really solid performance.

To put things into perspective, it is worth remembering that in 2019 – the last ‘normal’ year - annual shipments of champagne were just under 300 million bottles, but in 2020 that figure crashed to approximately 250 million bottles. Not as bad as some had feared early in 2020, but still a huge fall of nearly 20% nevertheless.

Now, after the April and May results some in Champagne are saying that the market will bounce back to pre-Covid levels by the end of this year.

There’s a way to go yet, but if this comes to pass it would indeed be a spectacular result and proof that people’s love of champagne has lost none of its sparkle.

The on trade opens up

As shipments from Champagne are on the up, people around the world are beginning to get out and about to enjoy themselves, particularly in the USA.

The latest Beverage Trak data from CGA’s COVID-19 On Premise Impact Report, indicates that 98% of states have bars open indoors, although capacity limits are in place in some states.

Matthew Crompton, CGA’s client solutions director, was quoted as saying:

“The country is by and large completely ‘open’ again now – our research shows that there isn’t any state left where you cannot make an indoor On Premise visit of some kind”.

Not surprisingly the major centres for champagne consumption such as Florida, Illinois, California and New York are leading the way, albeit at slightly varying rates.

The tax man cometh

There’s no getting away from the fact that alcohol of all descriptions is a highly taxed commodity and one of the points I stress to everyone who contacts me about creating a private champagne brand is the importance of knowing the rules and regulations regarding the import, distribution and sale of wine in the country of destination, including the tax situation.

If you are not familiar with these topics you are not only flying blind as far as any business plan is concerned, you also risk getting into difficulties with the local and national authorities.

The subject of taxation can be very complex as is illustrated by this map and report published by The Tax Foundation in the USA https://taxfoundation.org/state-wine-taxes-2021/

Wine taxes in the USAThe rates of taxation are different in almost every one of the 50 states, but although the USA may be one of the most complex regimes as regards the taxation of alcohol, every country has its own rules, and I would urge anyone considering creating a private champagne brand to get specialist advice on this vital subject.

What’s happening in the vineyards?

It is often said about farmers and anyone that works with Nature, that they are never entirely satisfied and sure enough, amidst all the optimism about the increase in champagne sales, a small cloud has appeared on the horizon.

June is usually the month when the vines come into flower. It’s not a spectacular event; in fact, you’d hardly notice it at all unless you looked closely because the white flowers are so tiny, as you can see from this picture, but it is a crucial moment in the annual cycle of the vine.

 

The fertilized flowers give birth to the tiny grapes which slowly grow over the next few months until the harvest, but if the weather during flowering is too cold or wet the flowers are not properly or fully fertilised and consequently fewer grapes are formed which reduces the harvest.May 24th 2011 vines in flower 2

Whilst the weather this year has not been disastrously cold, temperatures have been well below the seasonal norm and we’ve had quite a lot of rain, sometimes associated with violent thunder and hail storms. All in all, not at all the ideal conditions for flowering.

There’s an old saying in Champagne: “année en 1, année de rien” which means roughly, “years that end in 1 are good for nothing.”

There have occasionally been exceptions (1961 for example) but they are the exceptions rather than the rules, so figures are crossed here that this year this particular old saying will not prove to be true.

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That’s all from me from Champagne for this month, but I’ll be back in July with another bulletin.

In the meantime, if you've ever dreamed of creating your own private champagne brand, please send me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we can fix a time to talk about how to turn your dream into reality.

Jiles Halling

Champagne Bulletin May 2021

CHAMPAGNE BULLETIN MAY 2021

Patience is a virtue

If you ever wanted evidence of how slowly things change in Champagne, you need look no further than the debate around what are called vignes semi-larges (VSL) which, roughly translated, means semi-wide rows of vines.

To see what this looks like here are two photos:

Vignes semi larges

Traditional planting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the left are rows of vines planted in the traditional fashion. On the right, and in fact immediately adjacent to the traditional rows, are the semi-large rows.

There are strict rules about how far apart the traditional rows must be and how far apart each vine must be from the next plant. All these rules are designed to limit the number of vines per hectare and by so doing, to ensure the optimum ripeness and quality of the grapes. Years, even decades, of trial and observation have gone into formulating these regulations and they are not something that can, or will, be altered from one day to the next.

Nevertheless, things in the wider world never stand still and some things are changing that Champagne cannot avoid or ignore, climate change being one example. The fact that, over the past 30 years, the average date for harvesting has moved forward by 18 days is a case in point.

These pictures were taken in an area of Champagne called Plumecoq where the Comité Champagne runs several experimental plots to study potential innovation regarding vine growing.

The trials of semi-large rows were started back in 2005 and it was agreed at that time that the findings of the trails would be assessed in 2030 and a decision taken about whether or not to adopt the new method of planting.

However, there was a clause inserted in the original plan (no doubt at the insistence of some young ‘hot-heads’ who were not content to wait 30 years for an answer and wanted to ‘rush’ things through) that the findings of the trials would be reviewed after a mere 15 years and a vote taken about whether or not to adopt the new planting regime.

Those 15 years were up last year, but with all the disruption to everyone and everything, circumstances were not appropriate for any vote to take place, so it was postponed to this year and will take place in July.

As you can imagine, the subject has given rise to intense debate.

On the one hand, the greater distance between the vines inevitably means fewer rows and fewer vine plants. This, plus the fact that there is more grass between the rows (grass competes with the vines for any available water) means that the overall yield of grapes could be as much as 20% less than with the current method.

Neutral factors are that the ripeness and quality of the grapes do not seem to be adversely affected by the wider rows and there are apparently ways in which the reduced yield could be managed in such as way as not to affect the ability of Champagne to supply global demand for its wines and at the same time meet the economic needs of champagne producers.

On the other hand, the new wide-row system should reduce the production of CO2 by about 20% and thus significantly reduce the caron footprint of the Champagne region.

The new system would also significantly reduce the costs of production.

But there are many other considerations that are not so immediately apparent:

What would be the effect on employment in the area if the new planting system reduced the need  for manual labour?

What about the existing equipment such as the tractors (called enjambeurs) which are not only hugely expensive but are designed to straddle several rows at once? Would these be good for nothing except scrap and who would pay for new machines needed for a new planting system?

 Enjambeur front

When I mentioned ‘hot-heads’ wanting to rush through the decision about the new planting system, I was of course being flippant, 15, 20 or even 30 years is not much compared to the history of the industry and nothing at all compared to the vast history of Mother Nature.

In Champagne, decisions taken in haste have a tendency of coming unstuck and whether the debate is about methods of planting vines, about the length of time needed to age the bottles, or about the type of bottles used, I hope that you can now see why things take so long to evolve in Champagne.

Good news on the sales front

Bars, restaurants and hotels are beginning to reopen all around the world and the champenois (as the inhabitants of Champagne are called) have ben waiting to see what effect this would have on demand for their wines.

Well, it’s still early days, but the initial signs are very positive. 18.6 million bottles were shipped this April which represents an almost unprecedent increase of 197.6% versus April in 2020.

Not to get too carried away, one has to remember that 18.6 million is still 800,000 bottles fewer than were shipped in April 2019 which was the last ‘normal’ year and also remember that the month of April only represents about 6% of the annual total (again in a ‘normal year’), but hey, any good news is welcome, and the trend is certainly very positive.

Bad news on the weather front

If you read last month’s bulletin you will know that in early April a bout of spring frost badly affected vineyards right across France. That threat has now passed, but no sooner as one problem disappeared than another arises. It’s true that the ups and downs of fortune due to the weather are just part and parcel of working with Nature, but that realisation doesn’t makes things easier to manage.

May has brought plenty of sunshine but also a few hot, humid days that have produced major thunderstorms and, worst of all, hail storms.

Hail can be very localised and in the worst affected places, can cut a devastating swathe through the vineyards, battering the plants and the grapes.

On 4th June (this should really be in next month’s bulletin) another serious storm hit La Montagne de Reims. As you can see from these pictures, the sky was so black that the street lights came on and then the heavens opened and the rain and hail thrashed down.

Grey storm clouds

Gathering storm

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 It’s too soon to have any precise reports of possible damage to the vines, but you can see from the picture below, how hail can rupture the skins of the grapes allowing rot to set in and damaging the crop. This picture is from a previous year and from a later stage of the year, so with luck, this year the grapes will still be too small to suffer any significant damage. We should know more about this in the coming days.

Hail Damage 800

That’s all for this month’s Champagne Bulletin. I hope you’ve enjoyed the read and will come back in a month to see what has been happening in Champagne in June.

Meanwhile…

All the best from Champagne

Balades dans les Vignes No. 3

In this video I was out and about in Villers - Marmery, a village in La Montagne de Reims famed for its Chardonnay grapes.

Balades dans les Vignes 3 cover image

Click the link below to watch the video

Balades dans les Vignes No. 3

If you enjoy this video please come back soon and join me for more strolls in the vineyards and if you want to learn more about Champagne do check out this link where you can discover more about My Champagne Expert a 10 - module online course that will teach you everything you want to know

Discover My Champagne Expert

All the best from Champagne

Jiles Halling