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.


 

Opportunities in the USA

US FlagThe US wine market has been growing for a number of years and, according to an article in Shanken News Daily, the growth is set to continue for many years to come.

Even though the estimated rate of growth is only 1.1% versus 2015 that still means an extra 3.5 million cases ( or 42 million bottles) in 2016!

Even better news for champagne is that sparkling wines are growing at a much faster rate: +6 % in fact, and total sales are expected to reach a total in 2016 of 225 million bottles.

Much of this volume increase is accounted for by domestic sparkling wine and, amongst imported wines, by prosecco – in other words, at relatively low price levels - but, at +7.7% in 2015, champagne sales volume is also increasing quickly

The best news of all is that in terms of value the USA overtook the UK in 2015 to become the number 1 export market by value.

You can read the full article here

http://www.shankennewsdaily.com/index.php/2016/07/08/15350/exclusive-u-s-wine-market-pace-grow-20-million-cases-2020/

 

Grower Champagnes in Crisis

Prorietaire - Recoltant

Tyson Stelzer, the Australian champagne commentator, recently posted a very detailed article about the state of the Australian champagne maket.

http://tysonstelzer.com/articles/growers-in-crisis-despite-record-smashing-champagne-year-down-under/

The article is full of data and charts and makes interesting reading if you're into statistics. However I was intrigued as to why, with so many topics raised in the article, Tyson chose to use the title Growers in Crisis?

Well, I think the topic is very relevant. In fact it deserves a closer look and when you do delve a bit deeper I think you’ll see that the situation is both better and worse than Tyson suggests...

Meunier Fights Back

The middle week of April has come to be called ‘Champagne Week’ here in Champagne: over 6 days some 18 different associations of independent champagne makers host tasting events at which anyone involved in the wine business can taste still wines from the previous year’s harvest (2015 in the case of this year’s events) and also a few of the champagnes made by each producer.


The events offer a fascinating insight not only into the wide and very diverse world of the small champagne makers  - with at least 10 wine makers in every association you could potentially meet 200 champagne makers, or more, if you have the stamina to visit every event - but also into the champagne making process itself and in particular to the complex skill of  blending which involves finding the perfect combination of still wines that will produce the result the champagne maker wants when the wine has been transformed into champagne and  is finally ready to sell at a date many years into the future.

Meunier-Institut-300
Each event and every association is interesting but this year I wanted to seek out some of the newly created associations of champagne makers and decide to visit the Meunier Institut at their event in Basiieux-sous Chatillon, a good 20 minutes’ drive outside Epernay down la Vallée de La Marne and consequently one of the less busy venues. As the name suggests the members of the Insitut are avid proponents of the virtues of Pinot Meunier (or just Meunier as we are encouraged to say now).


In the past there has been much said about Meunier  and  lot of it has not been very complementary:  ‘it’s rustic and lacks elegance’; ‘it has no finish and just disappears from the palate after a fairly short time’; ‘it’s OK for young blends but it doesn’t age well and it will never make great champagne’; it’s too sweet’. All these accusations and more have been levelled at Meunier, and perhaps – especially in the past -  there’s been some truth in all of them, although it should be remembered that Krug sets great store by Meunier and it always features significantly  in their blended champagnes – if it’s good enough for Krug it can’t all be bad.


However the members of the Meunier Insitut are no longer content with saying that Meunier is better than you might imagine, they’re presenting a different view of Meunier as a grape of great potential that can make superb champagne. Here are a few examples that may well make you want to take another look at Meunier.


Barnier-300Champagne Roger Barnier (Village: Villevenard)  100% Meunier Extra Brut
Just looking at the label is a delight for a real champagne lover – lots of information to absorb not least of which is the fact that the champagne is already a very respectable age although that is nothing compared to the age of the vines, the youngest of which were planted in 1955. Another thing that struck me about this champagne was how very light and floral the aromas were – quite the opposite of what you might have expected if you blindly default to the stereotypical view of Meunier as a varietal that produces champagnes that are pleasant but are fairly ponderous and simple.

Originel-300Champagne André Heucq (Village : Cuisles) Cuvée Originel 2001
Cuisles is prime country for Meunier: situated in a valley running perpendicular to the Marne River Cuisles is one of the rare villages where there is a layer of green clay (illite) in the subsoil that adds its own unique character to the wines.
 Actually this The Cuvée Originel wasn’t one of the wines that was being offered for general tasting so I was lucky to have the opportunity to try it and as a champagne from the 2001 harvest ( which was not one of the greatest)  it certainly gave the lie to the idea that Meunier champagnes don’t have any ageing potential. True it isn’t a pure Meunier because the blend is 30% of Pinot Noir, but there is still plenty of life and freshness is this excellent wine that must surely be thanks, in part at least, to the high proportion of Meunier.

Meteyer-from-decanter-300Champagne Météyer (Village: Trélou-sur-Marne) Brut Exclusif 2007, zero dosage
Interestingly this champagne was being offered from a decanter which opens up a whole new topic for discussion, but this cuvée would certainly be an eye-opener for anyone who thinks that Meunier wines are all too sweet. Yes, the natural fruitiness of Meunier does create a full, soft sensation on the palate that may give the impression of sweetness, but to the best of my knowledge the sugar content natural present in Meunier is no higher than in any other varietal.
This zero dosage champagne strikes a lovely balance between fresh acidity and soft texture in the mouth thanks to the character of the Meunier, the age of the wine and the fact that decanting has reduced the natural effervescence of the champagne.


The moral of the story?
As in all things to do with champagne and perhaps with wine in general: ‘Don’t accept what the accepted wisdom is until you have tried and tasted for yourself’.


The champagnes of the other members of the Meunier Institut are too numerous to mention them all here but there are all worth discovering. The other members are:
Eric Taillet (Village:Baslieux-sous-Châtillon)
Moutardier (Village : Le Breuil)
Xavier Leconte (Village : Troissy-Bouquigny)
Serveaux Fils (Village : Passy-sur-Marne)
Roger-Constant Lemaire (Village : Villers-sous-Châtillon)

Domaine La Borderie - A Dream Comes True

Champagne Domaine La Borderie

A Champagne dream comes true

Domaine la Borderie NB FINAL - copie 1Odile and Jean Louis Normand have been making champagne for many years, but only as members of the local cooperative, then back in 2013 everything changed when Marie and Simon, their children, said they wanted to join the family business.

The family decided to create not just their own brand of champagne, but to build an entirely new winery based around their 11 hectares of vines near Bar-sur-Seine in the Côte des Bar region of Champagne and in October 2015 the dream came true when the winery was officially inaugurated.

Green on green

New-winery-300The winery is set in a natural hollow amongst the trees and it’s not just surrounded by greenery, it’s green inside too. The entire project has been purpose-built not just to create wines of the highest quality, to have the least possible impact on the environment.

Energy use is very low: rain water is recovered and recycled and temperature control is enhanced by the fact that the building is set into the hillside. The grapes are pressed at ground level and the juice flows by gravity feed to the fermenting and storage vats on the floor below, then the ageing cellar is one more level down - that means no energy is wasted moving the grapes, or the wine, from floor to floor.

In a stunning location, the winery is designed not only to present champagne to its full value, but also very much with an eye to wine tourism. The family operates 2 gites where visitors can stay overnight and really get to appreciate the setting, the champagne and above all, the dedication and enthusiasm of the Normand family.

Marie-and-Simon-300As Simon explains, “We want to create champagnes that reflect the different character of the plots they come from and that requires very careful and meticulous study. We have 11 hectares of vines and we want to get to know everything we can about each one and we’re only just starting - there’s a lot more to learn, but that’s the best way to grow fully mature grapes which will allow us to make the best champagnes we possibly can.”

“The vines obviously play a vital role and one of our priorities is to keep our vines until they are old (30 years is the current average age) and thereby to reduce the yield.”

“We don’t use herbicide or insecticide, we maintain the hedgerows around the vineyards, we let grass grow between the rows, we’ve planted flower on fallow plots and we’ve restored the small stone shelters in the middle of some plots – everything in fact to look after the environment and promote biodiversity.”

Jean Louis adds “Our estate was awarded HVE (High Environmental Value) status in 2013 and in September 2014 ours was the first estate anywhere in Champagne to be certified as using ‘Sustainable Viticulture’.”

“It’s simple really. We want to make our contribution to the reputation and image of champagne and you can’t make a product that people aspire to unless your work is based on strong ethical and environmental values.”

The Champagne

Marie explains “This may not be obvious to non-French speakers, but the word ‘Borderie’ in French dialect implies a small house or a small farm – it’s definitely something very modest in size and that suits us because our total production is only about 6,000 bottles per year. We like to think that our champagnes are practically hand-made.”

Trois-contrees-300‘Trois Contrées’, a brut champagne, comes from 3 plots in 3 different villages and each plot has a different orientation to the sun. It’s also a blend of 3 grapes, 2 of which, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, are classic varietals whilst the third is Pinot Blanc from a plot planted back in 1954 – the oldest plot the family owns.

La-Douce-Folie-300‘Douce Folie’ is an extra brut rosé champagne made by macerating Pinot Noir grapes harvested from just one plot of vines. “There’s an intriguing family story behind this name, but you’ll have to visit us to discover exactly what that is…” says Marie.

What does the future hold?

More cuvées are planned for the future: there’s a Blanc de Blancs vintage 2014 and a Blanc de Noirs vintage 2015 already ageing in the cellars which will be released in a few years. Currently most sales are in France and Italy, but the Normands would love to start exporting to Great Britain too.

Marie sums up “We’re ready for new challenges and opportunities and we believe that our champagnes will appeal to wine lovers everywhere who appreciate top quality and something out of the ordinary.”

www.champagne-domaine-la-borderie.fr

Too much of a good thing?

Benoit-Cocteaux-trio-300 There’s so much more to champagne than you might imagine, but how do you learn about it all? Sometimes you just don’t know where to start.
There certainly is a lot to learn but in fact this is one of the things I find most interesting  about champagne  - the seemingly endless number of champagne makers and the diversity of the wines they make.


Delong-Privilege-300This may sound surprising to many people because the only time most of us break out the champagne is on high days and holidays to share a toast or to bring some extra sparkle to a party and on those occasions we  don’t usually stop to give more than a brief passing  thought, if that,  to what we’re drinking. The result is that most people think that all champagnes are pretty much the same, but in reality that’s far from being the case.


For one thing there are 4 distinct areas of Champagne: La Montagne de Reims, La Vallée de La Marne, La Côte des Blancs all of which are close to the main towns of Reims and Epernay ; then there’s La Cote des Bars which is 100 kilometres south of Reims and actually nearer to Chablis than to the rest of Champagne. Each area produces wines that have their own character and if you take things a bit further there are some 20 sub-regions and so you can quickly see that things can start to get complex.


 A secret way through the maze
As with any complex topic a useful thing to do is to break it down into smaller bits and a good way to do this in terms of champagne is to focus on one area at a time and learn about the wines from there before moving on to learn about another region. Fortunately there are a few ways to do this.
One is an association of champagne makers called Secraie – it’s a play on words between Secret and Craie which is French for the  ‘chalk’ in the soil which has a significant influence of the wine.


Sezannais-map-300There are 12  members of Secraie and they come from 12 villages in the area known as Le Sézannais.

 It’s a ridge that running  north east to south west that’s centered on the town on Sézanne and it’s a sort of extension of the more famous  La Côte des Blancs to the north where the finest Chardonnay grapes in Champagne are said to grow.  Le Sézannais too specialises in Chardonnay but here there’s just a little more sunshine than further north and Le Sézannais has a reputation for producing champagnes that are softer, rounder and easier to enjoy than those from La Côte des Blancs.
Secraie held a tasting day recently and I was amazed to find such a variety of champagnes even within the group: the colour of the wines ranged from pale lemon to rich gold; there were young champagnes and old vintage champagnes, champagnes made in oak barrels and in acacia wood barrels as well as champagnes made using stainless steels vats and each variation on these themes produces a champagne very different from the next.

Allemant-at-the-northern-end-of Le-Sezannais-300The more you taste the more you understand and the more you appreciate the subtle differences. You can find out more about Secraie including the list of members on this web site.


When you’ve earned a bit about Le Sezannais you can move on to other regions and in particular to another similar association called Verzenay Grand Cru de Champagne; it’s even more focused than Secraie because all the members comes from just one village: Verzenay which we can look at in another article.
So perhaps champagne isn’t quite as bewildering as you might have though and perhaps  Mark Twain got it right when he said:

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much champagne is just right.”