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
We’re about half way through the harvest in Champagne.
Down in the Aube things are drawing to a close and in La Côte des Blancs too some people have already finished and most others will be done in another couple of days. La Vallée de La Marne vineyards have several days picking in front of them yet, whilst on La Montagne de Reims, picking has only just started in some villages.
There will be plenty of time to bring you up to speed on the picking, pressing and fermenting in future blog posts, so today I wanted to bring you some of the less obvious sights and sounds of harvest time in Champagne.
Picking is well under way in most parts of the region now and despite a gloomy start to the year, both in the meteorological sense and in people’s expectations for this year’s harvest, I am hearing some pretty positive comments from vignerons as they gather in the grapes.
Perhaps they are influenced by the lovely warm and sunny weather that we are still enjoying in Champagne, even though I am told that over the past couple of days it’s been raining in Paris, just 100 miles away from Champagne.
Something that’s a permanent feature of the harvest these days is the huge number of migrant workers - over 100,000 people - that descend on Champagne looking for work during this frantic period, and they are almost sure to find it. So much so that’s it not easy to find a French voice in the vines. This always throws me. I walk up to the pickers and ask politely in my best French if they mind me watching and filming and often they don’t understand a word I’m saying. Still, they get the gist of what I want and are happy to let me go ahead. I wonder if I’d get the same response if it were chucking it down with rain?
In the short video at the foot of this post you’ll see what was going on in Chouilly on 1st October in a plot that belongs to Mumm-Perrier Jouët
If you’re thinking that there are very few leaves on the vines, you’d be right. In fact just before the picking gets under way as many leaves as possible are blasted off the vines by compressed air. The machine that does this is an effeuilleuse (or de-leafer). It makes a big difference to the speed of the picking because particularly with the green Chardonnay grapes, it’s often very hard to see the bunches hidden behind thick clumps of foliage. Time is money when you’re picking and even more so when you are paying the pickers and conversely, time saved is money saved.
Chouilly is not only a Grand Cru village but it is also one of the largest ‘cru’ in Champagne with some 500 hectares planted, almost exclusively with Chardonnay and about 200 vine growers. It sits right on the 49th parallel north and is home to Nicolas Feuillatte, the leading cooperative in Champagne.
Amongst the many excellent, smaller 'grower champagne' makers, Vazart Coquart, Michel Genet and Legras & Haas immediately spring to mind as being well worth your time to seek out and taste.
Chouilly was one of the villages affected by hail in July, so I’m sure that the ‘Geese’ as the local inhabitants are called, will be relieved at what looks like a very satisfactory harvest.
You’ll be able to see more videos and read more comments from the vignerons themselves as the grapes continue to come in over the next couple of weeks, so do come back soon
I recently met a champagne maker called Samuel Roguet of Champagne Lucien Roguet and I was immediately impressed. Certainly by the champagnes, but more so by the man who seems to have a real sense of who he is and what he wants to achieve
In the coming weeks I'll be doing a few more articles and videos about this champagne that I suspect will be one that will be increasingly talked about in the years to come, but for now here's a short video in which Samuel tells us a little about the village of Mailly Champagne, where he has his vines and also explains the system of Réserve Individuelle
It's Harvest time in Champagne and if you plan to be here in the next few weeks then one of the leading small champagne makers is offering you the chance to join in, have a lot of fun and take home some wonderful memories, not to mention tasting some superb champagnes.
The house of Penet-Chardonnet, here in the Grand Cru village of Verzy is offering a Champagne Experience when you get to go out in the vineyards, cut some grapes, watch and learn as the grapes are pressed and have a champagne lunch with the harvest team.