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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.


 

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...

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)

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

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