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

 


 

Champagne shipments - A glass half empty, or a glass half full?

A glass half empty, or a glass half full?

Despite a fall in shipment volume, champagne is in good shape.


Glass half empry, or glass half full?Official figures for champagne shipments in 2018 will not be released until March but initial reports are that total shipments fell from 307 million bottles in 2017 (25.6 million 9 litre cases) to around 302 million in 2018 ( 25.2 million 9 litre cases).


A fall of 5 million bottles, or 1.5%, is not what you would wish for, but look beyond the headlines and there’s a different story playing out - champagne is in better shape than the headlines imply.


1) From volume to value

Much of the decline in 2018 is in champagne’s two largest markets by volume: France and the U.K.

Both have been on the slide for several years but in France matters were made worse by the ‘Gilet Jaunes’ disturbances during the crucial Christmas selling period that affected both the national mood and the physical distribution of goods.

In the U.K., sales have not been helped by uncertainty surrounding Brexit, although the U.K. remains the largest export market for champagne in terms of volume.

France is a low value market. Consumers have easy access to a whole host of inexpensive brands never seen outside France, and are accustomed to a wide choice of undifferentiated brands at low prices.

The U.K. is heavily influenced by supermarket brands that are sold in huge volumes, but usually at very attractive promotional prices.
But if the decline in these two markets is offset by increases in higher value markets, then perhaps the trend is favourable for the long-term health of champagne.

2) High value markets

While we wait for the 2018 shipment figures, we can infer a few things from the past couple of years.

In 2015 the US market overtook the UK as the highest value export market and in volume terms too, it continues to grow strongly. Shipments in 2017 were up 8.5% y.o.y. to reach 23 million bottles (1.9 million 9 litre cases) and 585 million euros in value: roughly €25 per bottle.

In contrast, the average per bottle value in France is just under €14 and in the U.K. it’s just under €15.
Other markets are growing not just in volume but, perhaps more importantly, in value too: Japan (average value per bottle €24 ), China (€21). South Africa (€23) Nigeria (€29) and Canada (€24)

In fact, the final figures could well show that 2018 was a record year for champagne in terms of value.

Not too shabby and certainly not a cause for undue pessimism

 

 

Phylloxera in Champagne

Phylloxera-sign-3-300I came across this sign recently when I passed through the village of Villers-Marmery and it prompted me to do a little research into what happened in Champagne a century and more ago when phylloxera devasted the vineyards.


It’s been such a long time since the phylloxera catastrophe ( no that’s not too strong a word) laid waste the vineyards not just in France but across the whole of Europe that many people these days have never even heard the word  let alone know what it means.
Phylloxera (Daktulosphaira vitifoliae  to give it its scientific name – it is also known as Phylloxéra vastatrix) is a small insect that attacks the roots of vines and eventually so weakens the plant that it dies.

Phylloxera-sign-1-300It is believed that the bug somehow made its way across the Atlantic Ocean from the USA, possibly in a consignment of timber or some other wooden product. The insect was first notice in France in 1868 in the Languedoc and from there it spread across pretty much the entire country and into other countries. Its effects were disastrous; it destroyed huge swathes of vineyard and there was very little that the vignerons could do to stop it.


Throughout the 1870s the Champagne vineyards were not affected and the champenois must have hoped that they would somehow escape the ravages of phylloxera, but in 1880 the first sighting of the bug was confirmed in the village of Chassins-Trélou in La Vallee de la Marne. From there it spread in 1882 to Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger in la Côte des Blancs and the following year it arrived in the vineyards of Epernay and eventually was spotted in La Montagne de Reims in 1904.


To give you some idea of the progress of the pest 14 hectares in Champagne were infected in 1897, by 1900 the count was 600 hectares; two years later it was 2,000 hectares, 5,000 in 1907 and by the time the First World War broke out 6,500 hectares of vineyards in Champagne had been destroyed. It’s worth pointing out also that in those days there were only 12,000 hectares of vines planted in the whole of Champagne, so over half the region’s vines were ruined.


It was in the 1890s that the vignerons organised themselves in associations to try to figure out way to combat the infestation and the sign in the picture at the top of the page presumably dates back to that period.


As early as 1879 even before phylloxera was established in Champagne a committee  was set up to coordinate the fight against the pest. The majority of 26,000 registered vine growers, large and small,  joined the committee but in a sad turn of events the committee was disbanded because the vine growers suspected the large négociants of exploiting the situation to buy up, at knock-down prices, the vineyards that had been affected by phylloxera. Perhaps the collapse of the committee was predictable and inevitable given the tenor of the times. There was huge suspicion of the négociants which culminated not many years later in the riots in Aÿ in 1911.


A series of cool years at the end of the 19th century slowed down the onward march of phylloxera and perhaps people thought they would get off lightly, but when the spread of the bug resumed the vignerons found that there was no way of stopping the insects. They tried flooding the vineyards to drown them; they tried burning the vineyards, but equally to no effect. The method most widely tried was to treat the vines with carbon disulphide by injecting it into the soil with giant copper syringes. Unfortunately this was a case of the treatment being almost as bad as, or worse than, the disease itself. Carbon disulphide is highly toxic and highly inflammable too and definitely not something you want to go spreading in the soil, moreover it didn’t work either.


Fort-Chabrol-300The search for an effective treatment went on vigorously not least in the research centre set up by Raoul Chandon de Briailles in Fort Chabrol near Epernay. Eventually it was realised that American vines,  Vitis riparia or Vitis rupestris ,were immune, or at least resistant, to the predations of phlloxera and that by grafting  French vines Vitis vinifera  onto the American root stocks one could retain the characteristics of the European vines on a plant that would not succumb to phylloxera.


This then was the news for which everyone had been waiting  for 40 years and a programme of replanting was soon undertaken, although it was interrupted by the First World War. Little by little between 1900 and 1938 the native vines were dug up and replaced by grafts using the American stocks until, on the eve of the Second World War, there were just 95 hectares of native vines remaining.


Vignes-en-foule-300One good thing did come out of this terrible episode. Until the arrival of phylloxera vines grew very much at random (en foule –  ‘in a crowd’ - as the method is called). The new vines were planted in rows as we see them nowadays. This allowed animals and later tractors to work the vineyards which did a great deal to make the life of a vineyard worker a lot easier.
They say that every cloud has a silver lining, but for the vignerons in Champagne it must has been hard to see it back in the early years of the 19th century. 

 

Source material: article by Bruno Duteutre in Bulles et Millésimes http://www.champagne-news.com/1890-le-phylloxera-arrive-en-champagne/

Barrels are on a roll in Champagne

BARRELS ARE ON A ROLL IN CHAMPAGNE

Barrels-300They say that if you wait long enough things come round in a circle and that seems to be true when it comes to trends in wine as well. Take champagne for example: a hundred years ago every champagne maker used oak barrels to age their wines, probably because they didn’t have many viable alternatives. Fast forwards a few decades and in the 1960s and 1970s almost everyone was throwing out their barrels and converting to stainless steel vats: purer, cleaner, easier to manage and, in short, the obvious way forward for any modern-minded champagne maker at that time.

Now, 50 years later, although stainless steel is still very much in evidence, it’s oak that is back in fashion in a big way. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the times we live in and the increasing pre-occupation with all things natural and wholesome which are often seen as belonging to days gone by. If the truth be told stainless steel remains an indispensable part of wine making but it’s not what people are talking about; stainless steel, or Inox as it’s called in France, just doesn’t seem to have ‘ the soul’ that more and more people are looking for.

What's the point of a punt?

Punts-300.jpgApart from being the name of those flat-bottomed boats that you propel down the river with a pole, the term ‘punt’ also refers to the indentation that is found in the bottom of many wine bottles.

But what is the punt for, if anything, and does the presence, or absence, of a punt give any clue as to the quality of the wine in the bottle?

Champagne Jean-Noël Haton: the best-known champagne that you’ve probably never heard of.

Champagne Jean-Noël Haton: the best-known champagne that you’ve probably never heard of.

Car-300If you’ve never heard of Champagne Jean-Noël Haton and think you’ve never tasted any champagne made by this company based in Damery in La Vallée de La Marne, you may well be mistaken. In fact Jean-Noël Haton may just be the best-known champagne that you’ve never heard of. Confused? Let me explain…

The company dates back to 1928 and has grown to an extent that was probably way beyond the dreams of Octave Haton, the founder and perhaps even of René who expanded the company considerably in the 1970s. Today the family estate covers some 20 hectares of vineyard situated mainly in and around Damery with some plots in other parts of Champagne as well.

Jean-Noel-HATON-300There are at least two reasons for this remarkable growth and the most significant must surely be the drive and energy of the current head of the house: Jean-Noël himself. His idea of a quiet weekend is to spend the entire time driving a forklift truck to move pallet-loads of bottles to make more room in the storage area and in fact one could say that M. Haton’s work is also his pleasure. This would probably cause some friction in the family were it not for the fact that Jean Noel’s wife and son are also heavily involved in running the business, so despite the growth over the years Champagne Jean Noël Haton is still very much a family affair.

The other reason for the growth of the company could not have happened without the first. Rather than limiting the production capacity by relying solely on grapes from his own vineyards Jean-Noël decided to buy grapes from other growers around the region and with this extra production capacity he was able to supply many of the large companies who market champagne under their own name. That’s why if you’ve ever bought an ‘own label’ champagne – and let’s face it most of us have at one time or another – it’s highly likely that you tasted one of Jean-Noel’s champagnes – you’ve just never realised it was he who made it.

Pipes-300Now before you start thinking to yourself that champagne sold in big chain stores under their own label is not the best quality, think again. You have only to look at the medals and other awards that are regularly bestowed on own-label brands to see that nothing could be further from the truth. In fact these buyers can be some of the most demanding of all, but even they could not fail to be impressed with the winery in Damery; just one glance shows you that this is a serious operation. State-of-the-art buildings housing row upon row of new stainless steel, temperature controlled vats and not a speck of dirt, or dust to be seen anywhere. Even the hoses which are essential in every winery but which more often than not are left in disarray, are neatly rolled up or arranged in line at Champagne Jean-Noël Haton, yet another piece of evidence that Monsieur Haton runs a tight ship.

Whilst own label champagne remains an important part of overall sales the main focus these days is on the range of champagnes sold under the Jean-Noël Haton brand name

The range is broad, too broad to mention each cuvée individually, but from the Cuvée Classic a relatively young, but easily likeable blend of 60% Meunier and 40% Pinot Noir, to the 4 cuvées in the Extra range, the youngest of which has been aged 6 years, Jean-Noël Haton champagnes are beginning to get the sort of recognition and the awards that they deserve including two gold medals from the International Wines and Spirits Challenge in 2016

J-M-HATON-Extra-B-de-B-300J-M-HATON-Brut-Rose-300Add to this the fact that you’re sure of a very warm welcome from the team in Damery if you visit the maison and it’s safe to say that you’re sure of a great experience if you ever have the opportunity to try the champagnes from this dynamic, but (as yet) little-known house.