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
A few months ago I was out and about in Reims and I noticed a semi-derelict building on the piazza in front of the cathedral. You could just make out the remains of a sign that revealed that the building used to be the Garage de la Cathedral.
What a strange place to have a garage I thought; it would be much better as a bar with some tables chairs and parasols outside. It’s a shame no one has bought it to renovate.
Well, last Saturday I was in the same spot and saw that some smart entrepreneur has done just that. What a smart move. They say that it’s all about location, location, location and this place is perfect.
I would think that it will do a fantastic trade and will quickly become one of THE places to go in Reims, so if you’re going to be in Reims this summer be sure to check it out.
It’s going to be called Au Bureau, The Office, so people will be able to ring home way after they were due back and say “I’m so sorry but I’ve been delayed and I’m still at The Office darling”
There’s still a bit of work to do mind you, but they should be finished in a few months and that’s a lot more than the guys working on the original cathedral could say.
Champagne has become such a universally known drink that it’s understandable, in a way, that many people think that all champagne is pretty much the same. Moët & Chandon, or Taittinger, or Piper Heidsieck are much of a muchness they would say.
However, if you’re a regular champagne drinker, or if you take the time to really pay attention to what you’re drinking, you’ll realise nothing could be further from the truth and that applies just as much to the small grower champagnes as to the big brands. In fact champagne is one of the most complex and diverse wines in the world and in this short article and the video below you’ll discover a little about why that is so.
You see, champagne is almost always a blend of many different wines, made from different grape varieties, grown in different villages and picked in different years. When you start to think about the number of possible permutations the mind starts to boggle, so in this article let’s just focus on the different villages or crus as they are sometimes referred to.
Even though Champagne is divided into several large sub-areas that are generally considered as having the same sort of characteristics: La Montagne de Reims, La Côte des Blancs, La Vallée de La Marne and La Côte des Bars, within each area you still get significant differences.
Why is that? Well, there are some 320 villages where grapes are cultivated and you can imagine that no two villages have exactly the same characteristics: the soil varies; the micro-climate is unique to each location. In one village the slopes face south towards the sun, and give ripe grapes with a high sugar content, whilst another village may face north which means the grapes will take longer to ripen and the juice will be a little more tart, or fresh as they say.
La Côte des Blancs provides a good example. This is a ridge of hillside that stretches south from Epernay for about 30 or so kilometres. Most of the vineyards face south-east, but there are folds and dips in the land so it’s impossible for all the slopes to face exactly in the same direction. Some vineyards are at the top of the slope and some at the bottom where the air may be a degree or two cooler. In some villages the chalk subsoil is really close to the surface to give a pronounced mineral quality to the wines, whereas in others the chalk lies deeper under a thicker covering of top-soil. All these things have an influence on the wines made in each village.
This diversity of grapes and the base wines made from them (base wines are still wines made in the first part of the champagne-making process and before there are any bubbles) means that the winemaker really has to know what he or she is doing when the time comes to blend the wines together to produce the final, distinctive style and taste they are looking for.
If you are one of my Facebook contacts you’ll remember that just before Christmas I said that I had been down to La Côte des Blancs to visit Charles Gimonnet at Champagne Gimonnet-Gonet and to taste some of their base wines. I promised that I would soon post the video of the visit and I’m happy to say that you can now view it below this post.
Charles takes us through a tasting of base wines from 4 of the most famous villages in La Côte des Blancs: Oiry, Oger, Cramant and Le Mesnil sur Oger, and describes the characteristics of each one. It’s a real insight into the art of blending.
There’ll be more chances soon to take a look at the different crus in some of the other parts of Champagne, so do come back soon. Meanwhile…
One of the most colourful characters I have met in Champagne is Philippe Brun of champagne Roger Brun In Ay. Going to a tasting at his place is always an experience to remember, not just because of the excellent champagnes – which he serves in very generous measures – but also for the great stories he tells; proof once again that it’s stories that sell, not just a list of all the technical qualities of a wine
I have a couple videos of Philippe in full flight; the first is about the worst and the best bottles of wine he has ever enjoyed ( and neither were champagne!)
The second, which I’ll be posting a a few days, is about a wee joke he pulled on an audience of journalists and other members of the wine trade when he gave a tasting of his champagnes.
I love Philippe’s mischievous sense of fun. The wine industry is full of very knowledgeable and likeable people, but there is a tendency for some ‘experts’ to get carried away with their vocabulary and analysis of the wine, so it’s no bad thing occasionally to make sure they keep their feet on the ground.
Here's the first video. If you have any stories about your best or worst bottle of champagne or other wine, then do leave a comment here on on my Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/MyManInChampagne
One of the most interesting parts of my work is the consulting I do for the SGV (Syndicat Général des Vignerons de la Champagne) which is the body that represents many of the small grower champagnes.
I get to meet all sorts of little-known champagne makers all needing help to improve their marketing and increase their sales. Although there is certainly an increasing interest in Grower Champagnes amongst wine lovers who are looking for something other than the big brands, the issue for the producers is that there are hundreds of them, all trying to find a place in the market for their products.
That why I'm always encouraging them to think of what it is that makes their champagnes special enough to stand out from all the others. Many of the smaller producers struggle to find this point of differentiation but every now and then I meet someone who immediately stands out from the crowd and recently I met one who fitted straight into that category.
The beauty of visiting the small champagne makers is that you're never sure exactly what's in store and that certainly proved to be the case last Sunday morning.
I'd been out on Saturday guiding a group of customers on one of my Insider's Tour Of Champagne days and when we got back we'd had such a good time that we didn't want the fun to end so we decided to call round to visit my neighbour and champagne-maker, Christophe Corbeaux, at his home on Sunday morning.