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

 


 

What Price Les Champagnes des Vignerons?

Champagnes-de-Vignerons225I recently ran a small survey on my Facebook page and on LinkedIn asking people what the phrase Les Champagnes de Vignerons meant to them.

There seems to be a vague general agreement that it means champagne from a small producer, but in fact it doesn’t mean Récoltant Manipulant or ‘Grower Champagne’ as many people thought., although it doesn’t exclude that either.

No one seems to know precisely what it means and that’s a problem because the expression is being used by Le Syndicat Général de Vignerons as the headline phrase to promote the less well-known champagnes and to persuade people to try them.

So I thought it was time to give everyone the real story.

The reason I wanted to do the survey was that I work exclusively with small and medium sized champagne producers who want to improve their business. I know that many of them make wonderful champagnes which, in my opinion, are equally as good as most of the better-known brands and which, for me at least, are far more interesting by virtue of their variety and individuality.

However I also know that they struggle to sell their champagne at anything approaching the price of the big brands and I wanted to understand why this should be.

Was the slogan Les Champagnes de Vignerons helping or hindering and what exactly were the images and associations that the slogan evoked for champagne drinkers?

Well it was surprising and the most obvious thing was that people don’t share the same perception.

Made with Herzblut

Some people thought Les Champagne des Vignerons were made by small cooperatives; some people said they were’ independent’ producers. A few people used the word ‘authentic’ and some said ‘high quality’

Martin in Germany used some more emotional adjectives and said it meant champagne made with love and with Herzblut which I guess you could translate by saying that the maker had ‘put his all’ into making the champagne.

All this is true, but is still pretty vague and that’s not surprising for the very simple reason that there is no definition of a Champagne de Vigneron. Here’s why

The concept is supposed to convey the idea that the champagne is made by the person who owns the vineyards – grower champagne if you like, but that’s not a hard and fast rule.

Any champagne maker can be a Champagne de Vigneron and display the sign. The main criterion is that the producer has to be a member of the Syndicat Général, but the members of the Syndicat can be RM, cooperatives or even NM.

Erick-checking-the-grapes225There are no criteria about quality, size of production or anything else for that matter. It appears you just have to persuade the Syndicat that the champagne is made in smallish quantities, and that the maker was directly and to a significant degree, involved in making the champagne.

If the rules about being in this 'club' are so broad no one should be surprised that there is no clear agreement amongst champagne drinkers about what Les Champagne de Vignerons means.

It’s all much too vague to my mind and I think a good deal more thought needs to go into the whole concept.

What about the price?

Learning-about-Enherbement225Many people said that they associated Les Champagne de Vignerons with good value for money. This is true from the consumers’ point of view, but not necessarily from the producer’s point of view. They would love to sell their product at the same prices as the big brands.

I wonder why it is that in many other industries, descriptions such as hand-made, limited quantity, artisan and so on, are usually and automatically associated with higher prices, yet when it comes to Champagne, consumers and people in the wine trade often expect these amazing artisan champagnes to be cheaper than the big brands.

When one finds these superb champagnes on sale at discounted prices, is that a service to the consumer or a disservice to the producer?

Would you be prepared to pay a bit extra for a Champagne des Vignerons, or do you always expect them to be cheaper than well-known brands?

Cheap prices for top quality artisan champagnes are all the more illogical when you realise that the big brands have significant economies of scale so it’s those champagnes that should be cheaper than the smaller brands, not the other way around, but that’s the power of marketing I suppose and we humans are all too easily influenced by it.

To be honest I’m probably just as susceptible to marketing as anyone else. It’s just that I like to think that I have more discernment, won’t be taken in by the marketing and will make my own choices about which champagnes to drink.

Maybe I just delude myself, but I still prefer the small champagne brands whether they’re called Champagnes de Vignerons, ‘grower champagnes’ or just simply ‘amazing’.

If you’d like to make any comments, please feel free, either on

Facebook

 https://www.facebook.com/MyManInChampagne?ref=hl

or on LinkedIn if you’re a member

 http://www.linkedin.com/in/mymaninchampagne

I’d love to read your opinion

Bubbly Best Wishes

Jiles

Opening Champagne With A Sabre

Sabrage225Have you ever seen people open a champagne bottle with a sabre? It looks pretty impressive doesn’t it? Yet when it comes to doing it yourself, it’s something that most people are really apprehensive about

The thing about ‘Sabrage’ to use the French word, is that once you learn to do it you realise that it’s actually a lot easier to do than you had imagined.

The trick is to have good teacher and I had the good fortune recently to meet one of the best: M. Philippe Brugnon who has achieved a lofty position in the Ordre du Sabre d’Or – the international association for those who have mastered the art of sabrage.

Sabrage-certificates225Champagne Philippe Brugnon in tucked away in a quiet street in the village of Rilly-La-Montagne and you’d never find it unless you knew where to go. There’s no sign on the gate, or the door and everything is very low key. Inside however you are in for a treat.

Just take a look at these photos to see how much fun it can be to learn sabrage and there’s even a video below which the ‘star’ has graciously agreed I can use on my blog.

If you’d like to try your hand at sabrage I can include it in my private guided tour programme for you at a modest extra charge, provided you give enough advance notice. So send me an e-mail now if you’re interested and I’ll get straight back to you This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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The Weirdest Machine In Champagne

WeirdMachine225I came across a weird machine the other day.

I just spotted this very elegant parasol which looked like it was gliding over the tops of the vines, so I stopped to ask what was going on.

The vineyard belongs to Champagne Mumm, the tractior is state-of-the art and is GPS guided, but the bit at the back look as if it has come out of a museum.

Planting-new-vines225Take a look at the video and see if you can guess what they are doing before the answer appears on the screen.

 

 Still, I guess this chap is grateful that he doesn't have to do it by hand.

Here's the video.

 

 

Grower Champagnes, part 1 - What are they?

There’s something stirring in champagne. Perhaps it’s not a full blown revolution just yet, but it’s something no champagne lover can ignore: the ever increasing interest in what are called Grower Champagnes.

If you haven’t come across them yet and have never tried them, then I, for one, think youChristophe-Mignon-Brut225 should. Here’s what it’s all about and what you need to know....

The change is happening everywhere if you take the time to look around you –

Micro breweries producing local beers that are more than a match, flavour-wise at least, for the giants of the industry;

Farmers’ markets where you can discover some fabulous produce and meet the fascinating ‘real’ people who produce or grow it, instead of struggling round the same old supermarkets shelves every week for mass-produced produce.

Well, the same thing’s happening in champagne and that’s where grower champagne comes in....

It’s the return of the small man, or woman, because more and more people are looking for something that gives them not just good value, but a sense of being.... what’s the best word? Perhaps ‘honest’ or ‘authentic’.

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.

YIELD PER HECTARE

Kg

Hectolitres

Litres

Bottles

160

1

102

136

4,000

26

2,550

3,400

8,000

51

5,100

6,800

10,000

64

6,375

8,500

12,000

77

7,650

10,200

 

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

Jiles