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



Grower Champagne Master Class With Didier Gimonnet

DidierGimonnet225Meeting champagne makers is always a fascinating experience, but although they all have a huge amount of experience and knowledge to share, some are much better at explaining things than others; that’s why it’s such a pleasure spending time with Didier Gimonnet of Champagne Pierre Gimonnet in Cuis. Not only does he make fabulous champagne, but he talks about it and about champagne in general with ease, authority and humour.

I was with him last Saturday when, with 3 guests, we tasted almost the entire range.

Didier explained that when he and his brother Olivier took over the management of the family business from their father, he left them few instructions. Most of the knowledge their father had accumulated over his lifetime working in the vineyards and making champagne was contained in a precious little notebook which he handed to the boys and pretty much said : “Here’s all you need to know, now just get on with it.”Littleblackbook225

In it are all M. Gimonnet senior’s notes on each of the harvests he knew in his lifetime. Of course Didier still has the notebook; its secrets remain for the family’s eyes only but here’s a glimpse of just one page.

Golden nuggets

What else did I learn? Lots and too much to put it all down in just a few lines, but here are some of the little nuggets of information I gleaned.

Didier doesn’t entirely subscribe to the theory that small yields are necessarily better. Some people would have it that a small harvest, with fewer grapes, is desirable because it produces greater ripeness in the grapes and therefore more intensity in the aromas and flavours of the champagne.

Didier’s opinion, if I can summarise it accurately, is that Champagne is too far north to give the level of ripeness that will produce really intense flavours, even in a very good year. Besides, champagne is not about intense ripeness; champagne must have a certain level of acidity to give the wine freshness and vivacity and you are more likely to find these qualities in a more abundant harvest.

To put it into concrete terms, in Didier’s view the ideal range for the yield is between 50 – 75 hectolitres per hectare, or if my calculations are correct, between 8,000 and 10,000 kg of grapes per hectare.



























Grand Crus

What else did I learn?

Well for one thing, I learned that there were originally only 4 Grands Crus villages: Ay and Verzenay for Pinot Noir and Avize and Cramant for Chardonnay. Le Mesnil-sur-Oger , for example,only became a Grand Cru in 1982

I learned that on La Côte des Blancs, Avize, Cramant and Chouilly lend finesse to a blend whereas wines from Oger and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger bring more power with minerality and even a slightly smokey touch.

Cuischurch225Cuis on the other hand, has the highest acidity of all the villages in La Côte des Blancs and because the style of Pierre Gimonnet champagnes is very much that of the northern part of La Côte des Blancs, there is always a proportion of wines from Cuis in their blends.



"I am not a wine maker"

Didier’s view is that the chefs de caves at the large champagne houses have to be real wine makers.

Their brief, at least for the majority of their champagnes, is to produce the same quality and same house style year in, year out. They take the grapes and the juice from a wide selection of different villages and grape varieties and they have to mould those ingredients to make the style of wine they already have clearly fixed in their minds and for which the house is famous.

The smaller producers such as Pierre Gimonnet, don’t have the breadth of supply to pursue the same strategy.CuveeGastronome225

Smaller producers usually have grapes from a fairly limited number of villages, often quite close to one another. There is not sufficient diversity to mould the wine to a model set by the wine maker. Consequently the smaller producers must adapt themselves to what the vineyards give them, not the other way round.

That’s why Didier doesn’t call himself a wine maker; his role is more to let the terroir express its full potential even if that means slight differences in the champagne from one year to the next.

The price of champagne - something’s got to give

It’s undeniable that consumption of champagne in some markets has declined in recent years due mainly to the sluggish economy. On the other hand more countries are acquiring the taste for champagne and on a global scale demand for champagne is on an upward trend, and that is certainly true is we look a few years into the future.

I can’t help thinking therefore that the days are numbered when you can still find champagne in supermarkets and the like at bargain basement prices.

Just look at these figures that Didier Gimonnet shared and you’ll see what I mean.

In the past 10 years

  • The price of a hectare of vines in Champagne has increased 70-80%
  • The prices of a kilogram of grapes has increased by 20%
  • The average selling price of a bottle of champagne has increased by just 1%

That is not a sustainable situation and it seems that there must inevitably be a price increase.I’d stock up now if I were you.

So what’s the conclusion?

SpecialClubandOenophile225I suppose it’s that no matter how much you think you know about champagne, you still don’t really know at all.

No matter what trend or fashion there seems to be, whether it is the tendency to produce low dosage wines, or to extol the virtues of small harvests, there is always another point of view and always more to discover.

Oh well. We may never become masters of champagne, but we all have the consolation of knowing that there will always be a lot more tasting and sampling to be done.

Stay Bubbly


Sex In The Vineyards

Sexual-Confusion225I thought that title might grab your attention, but now that I have it perhaps I am going to disappoint you, because this article and video may not be about quite what you think it is about. It’s more to do with the environment in fact, although sex does come into it.

20 years ago Champagne had a poor reputation as regards looking after the environment, but things have changed a great deal since then. People are much more attuned to environmental issues and they are coming up with all sorts of innovations and ideas to manage the vineyards and still be kind to Nature. One such ingenious new idea is called Sexual Confusion.

So who or what is confused?

Grower Champagnes - Biological Producers

AIVABC225I think I’ve said this before but it’s worth saying again. The thing I find most rewarding and enjoyable about what I do is not drinking grower champagnes, pleasant though that can be. Rather it’s getting to meet the people who produce grower champagnes. There are some real characters and there’s is always something new to learn.

I had a meeting yesterday with Vincent Laval of champagne Georges Laval – a fascinating man who is the president of the biological champagne makers association. There is an acronym for the association but I won’t bother you with that for now (it wouldn’t be France without one; they do love their acronyms)

Vincent cultivates a very small estate of just 2.5 hectares of vines to make his champagnes, but contrary to what you might think he is quite satisfied with that. His philosophy is that small is usually better, and that approach is clearly illustrated in what he thinks about last year’s harvest.

Most people you talk to say that it was a superb vintage despite it being a small harvest. Vincent would turn that around to say that it was great quality because it was a small harvest.

There’ll be more on Vincent, on bio champagne and on bio-dynamic champagne (Yes there is a difference) in a new video coming soon and I’m really looking forward to filming it.

Biological (organic) cultivation started in Champagne back in the 1970s. I imagine you should say re-started because an hundred years ago I suppose that everything was biological. Anyway in the 1970s there were just 7 champagne houses who used biological methods and of those only 5 are still in operation:

Georges-Laval-web-page225Georges Laval at Cumières

Serge Faust at Vandières (these days the company is called Ardinat Faust)

Jean Bliard at Hautvillers

Yves Ruffin at Avenay Val d’Or


Jacques Beaufort in Ambonnay

More have started more recently but there are still only 30 or so members of biological growers association in Champagne.

Anyway there will be lots more in the forthcoming video when I plan to interview several of these very passionate grower champagne makers and let them tell you all about what they do and why.

Grower Champagnes On The Avenue de Champagne

Avenue-de-Champagne-sign225It's the most famous street in Champagne: The Avenue de Champagne in Epernay. For hundreds of years it's been the preserve of big houses such as Moët & Chandon, Pol Roger, Perrier-Jouët, De Venoge and a few others, but recently a few new names have started to appear. Names that you may not have heard of yet, but the chances are that you will hear of them soon.

Yes, the grower champagnes are starting to move into the most illustrious piece of real estate in town.

A-Bergere-on-Avenue-de-Champagne225First was André Bergère who bought an elegant, but neglected house and did a magnificent job of restoring it to its former glory. The company has it's winery and most of its 40 or so hectares of vines just south of the Côte des Blancs in the village of Fèrebrianges. It won't surprise you to hear they make some excellent blanc de blancs champagnes.




Champagne Michel Gonet hails from Avize and as well as champagnes they have interest in other vineyard regions Michel-Gonet-on-Avenue-de-Champagne225around France making them quite a diverse company.

Collard Picard is from Villers sous Chatillon in the Vallée de la Marne. Not a place that's on everyone's route so their new boutique on the Avenue de Champagne should get them a lot more attention.

It's been a whle since I tasetd their chanpagnes but I do remember their fabulous rosé: a blend of 50% Pinot Meunier and 50% Pinot Noir  with a wonderfully soft taxture and rich fruity taste. Once tasted, it was almost everyones's favourite.


It's good to see some of these smaller producers with the vision and ambition to move on to the Avenue. Their champagnes bear comparision with almost all the better known brands; all that was lacking was big enough thinking, but obviously that's beginning to change, at least for some.

An Artist In The Vineyards

Moulin-across-pruned-vines225One of the things that I find most enjoyable about living in Champagne is the people you meet. Of course speaking to the champagne makers and tasting their grower champagnes is wonderful but in fact you can meet fascinating people at any moment.

Last week, when the snow had finally melted, I knew that there would be lots of people out in the vineyards finishing off the last of the pruning (LaTaille). They had to stop pruning during the really cold weather because the frost can easily penetrate into the heart of the cut vines and kill them. Now the weather is  a little less cold they are hurrying to get the pruning done before Spring arrives.

I came across one particularly jovial chap called M. Renoir.

No, he isn't a painter, but as well as being a vigneron, he's also something of an inventor too, as you'll see in the video below.

View-of-pruned-vines225La Taille is one of the crucial steps in viticulture. It may look simple, but you have to know what you are doing and you have to be prepared to spend hours and hours in the vineyards because it's something that can only be done by hand.

With 8,000 or so vine plants per hectare you can easily understand that pruning is a time consuming job, but it's just one of many tasks for the vigneron during the year. In fact when you realise how much labour goes into the production of champagne, you'll be asking yourself why it is so cheap!

Anyway, you'll learn more in the video and have the pleasure of meeting M. Renoir.

Stay Bubbly