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, wrote two books on champagne and created an online champagne study course.

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.

Jiles now puts his knowledge and contacts to work in helping businesses and individuals to create their own private champagne brand.


 

Does a goldfish know more about wine than you do?

Does a goldfish know more about wine than you?

And what has that got to do with organic wine?

Find out below if your attention span is longer than that of a goldfish.


goldfishThere is something almost hypnotic about the words organic and bio- dynamic. They seem to conjure up images of days gone by when everything was less industrialised, more authentic, and yes, healthier and more environmentally friendly. Indeed there was an interesting article recently in the on-line magazine The Drinks Business in which it was stated that just “under half of British consumers (45%) would be motivated to drink organic wine because the cultivation and production processes are eco-friendly, “


Perhaps it would be more accurate to modify that statement slightly thus …”because they believe the cultivation and production processes are eco-friendly, “  but is that belief well-founded and are organic wines really more ‘green’ than wines that are not so certified? There are certainly many wine makers who would reply with a resounding “No”.


Yes it’s true that organic producers reduce or eliminate their use of herbicides and pesticides, but that is also true of many, perhaps even the majority of wine makers, at least in Champagne which is the area I know best. Regulations about the use of chemical treatments are, quite rightly, getting ever more restrictive so whether a vigneron is organically-minded or not he or she has little choice but to clean up their act.


Spraying-Mantis-300The big question with organic viticulture is the use of copper sulfate to combat mildew. This is less of a problem in more southerly climates where the drier weather is less conducive to diseases such as mildew, but it becomes a major issue the further north you go. Unable to use chemical (phytosanitary) products to spray their vines to protect against these diseases, the only weapon left at the disposal of organic producers is copper sulfate or ‘bouillie bordelaise’ as it is also known. The problem with this is that organic farmers often have to apply copper sulfate many times and also that copper is a heavy metal that is detrimental to all living organisms and which remains in the soil for decades.
That’s why many vignerons, whilst wanting to be as green as possible, are resolutely opposed to organic viticulture.


So it seems that one should take the words organic and bio-dynamic with a pinch of salt and gather more information before jumping to conclusions.


To help you do just that here - below - is the first in a series of three videos in which Philippe Brun of Champagne Roger Brun presents some of the information you may not yet have heard. Philippe is a real character; he speaks excellent English and feels strongly about what he will present to you. The videos are relatively long in this age where the attention span of a goldfish is longer than that of a human – yes it’s true according to a recent survey by Microsoft http://time.com/3858309/attention-spans-goldfish/
– but if you really want to learn about wine I think you’ll find them interesting viewing.

Don’t forget to come back for video 2 and video 3


All the best from Champagne

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No scores, but real insight

Dussert-GerberFor those of you who haven’t heard of him, Patrick Dussert-Gerber is a well know wine writer in his native France and author of a highly respected wine guide http://www.guidedesvins.com/

One of the characteristics of Patrick’s guide is that he doesn’t give any scores to the wines and if you can wean yourself off the need to have a score given to each wine Patrick’s guide is well worth examining alongside, or even instead of, the many other guides that use the 20 point or 100 point system.

Patrick concedes that scoring wines is very fashionable but in his view it is far too simplistic a way to judge something as complex as wine which he refers to as “the blood of the land and the sky”. According to Patrick, scoring cannot possibly take in all the subtleties and nuances - the influence of the wine maker for example – not to mention any subjective bias. You might as well, he suggests, try to score the performances of actors and actresses.

When I discovered this it was music to my ears although, to be clear, I should say that Patrick Dussert-Gerber’s refusal to give scores to the wines he tastes pre-dates mine by many years. Nevertheless it was very gratifying to find a kindred spirit in so respected an authority.

Patrick’s method is to classify wines into three categories that take into account such elements as consistency of quality over several years and also the price. The categories can change over time and within each category there are some wines which are considered to be particularly noteworthy – these are marked with a *

Looking at his classifications for champagne which you’ll find on this link you’ll see that the top of the tree ( Premiers Grands Vins Classés) is not the exclusive domain of the big well-known brands, excellent though many of these undoubtedly are. There are a few grower champagnes and cooperative champagnes in the topmost category too.

Lots more to discover

What I find even more exciting is that Patrick’s selections are much more representative of the wealth of talent in Champagne that is yet to receive the recognition it deserves. In fact his Deuxièmes and Trosièmes Grands Vins Classés categories are full of names you probably will not have heard of, let alone tasted, but you should do whenever you get the chance. (after all, isn't that what we all want to find: a little gem that other people don't know about yet?)

These days most champagne lovers know that there is much more to champagne than the grandes marques - there are some superb wines amongst the grower champagnes too. However, even amongst these a sort of elite category is emerging such that there are only some 20 or 30 grower champagnes that have really caught the attention of the wine trade. Their rise in popularity is certainly due in large part to their outstanding quality, but it’s also due to the fact that they have been knocking on the door, so to speak, in export markets for many years already and now their turn has come around, but I can assure you that there are many other grower champagnes who also make superb wines but who have never had to export to survive and consequently they are playing catch up in the marketing and promotional game.

You may not have heard of them yet, but I suspect you will do in the not-too-distant future. To discover a few of them take a look at the link shown above and remember the names; for consumers they offer an insight into the diversity of champagne that you may never have suspected and for importers, they offer a chance to add some wines with real character and potential to your portfolio.

How to create your own successful champagne brand in 6 easy steps

How to create your own successful champagne brand in 6 easy steps
For many people owning a successful champagne brand would be a dream come true. It’s such an appealing idea that lots of people will no doubt be fascinated to discover exactly how they too can achieve this dream.


Here are the 6 easy steps taken by Alain Néret of Champagne Néret Vély


Alain-Neret3001) Make sure you don’t give up your first job.
Alain was a farmer originally and still runs a 100 hectare arable farm. Apart from providing some much needed financial stability in the early days Alain says that the farming has given him a different and very valuable understanding of the soil that he puts to good use in the vineyards.


2) Get used to having little sleep
Alain only got started in the world of champagne world because his father-in-law fell ill and no one else would help him tend his vineyards. Although he quickly took to the new work it did mean getting up at 05.00 every day to get everything done including running the farm, tending the vineyards, making the champagne and selling it.


3) Repeat step 2 for 30 years


4) Invest all your life’s savings and then some.
When Alain and his wife Monique stated back in 1983 they had just 0.07 hectares of vineyard; you can’t make many bottles of champagne from that, but it was a start. Today they own a respectable 5.5 hectares in La Vallée de La Marne near Festigny, but vineyards in Champagne, at well over a million euros per hectare for the best plots, don’t come cheap so it was a question of purchasing good quality vines when the opportunities presented themselves… and paying the price.


5) Get creative
What do you do when a few of your plots are on slopes so steep that it’s too dangerous to use a tractor and barely possible to walk up them in wet weather (which happens quite a lot in Champagne). The answer is to get creative.
Alain invented and built a lightweight tractor that runs on caterpillar tracks and can safely get up the steepest slopes. Of course he built the machine in his ‘spare time’.


6) Stay the course
Invest even more buying stainless steel vats and oak barrels and generally ensuring that your winery is modern, hygienic and capable of producing faultless wine.


So there you have it – the 6 easy steps to building your own champagne brand and it 'only' takes 30 years.


Extra Brut Mature crop0The good news is that if you manage to get through all this you too will reap the rewards and, just like Alain, you’ll find that the quality of your wines will begin to be recognised. Champagne Néret Vély has received 9 medals and awards from wine competitions and wine guides in just the past two years. They’ve re-designed all the labels, are soon launching a brand new web site and are looking for importers in export markets who want to share in this success and bring this exceptional grower champagne to their market.


To learn more about the wines and about import opportunities contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Terroir Tracker - Chavot-Courcourt

Church-at-Chavot-300If you’ve ever been to Champagne the chances are you noticed the church in Chavot perched on the top of a rise about 3 kilometres south west of Epernay and overlooking the valley of the little River Cubry. The church can be seen from far away and is something of a local landmark.


The history of Chavot (old name Chavost) goes back a long way, at least to Roman times and archaeological digs have shown that 1,000 years ago there was a wooden fort and look-out post on the top of Mont Félix just behind and slightly above the location where the church now stands.


In 1852 the next door village of Courcourt asked to be joined with Chavot and since then the two communities go under the joint name of Chavot-Courcourt.
Today Chavot-Courcourt is one of the 10 villages, plus Epernay, that make up the sub-region called Les Coteaux Sud d’Epernay that bridges the gap between La Côte des Blancs to the south and La Vallée de La Marne to the west.


Coteaux-sud-map-extract-300The vineyards in Chavot-Courcourt are situated in an arc and are west / north-west facing in Courcourt and north / north east facing in Chavot giving rise to a complex variety of soils. Of the 125 hectares just 6 hectares are planted with Pinot Noir and the rest are split roughly equally between Chardonnay and Meunier.

The top soil contains more clay than in La Côte des Blancs and less than in La Vallée de La Marne, consequently champagnes from Chavot and the surrounding Coteaux Sud d’Epernay area have a profile that is a cross between the two larger areas with more roundness to the Chardonnay than you would find in La Côte des Blancs and more minerality in the Meunier than in the neighbouring Marne River valley.


Chavot is home to some 80 vine growers but few brands of any fame with the exception of Laherte Frères, a small récoltant manipulant producing excellent quality wines. Chavot also boasts a bustling cooperative.

Terroir Tracker - Cuisles

Entrance-to-Cuisles300You can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of Cuisles, let alone visited it. It’s a little village hidden away in a valley leading off the main valley of the River Marne and despite its château and its long history Cuisles has never been anything more than tiny (mind you there was a period between 1793 and 1851 when the population ‘exploded’ by   63% … from 152 to 248 people) and today there are still only some 150 inhabitants. Despite its size however, Cuisles is well worth a second look.


Cuisles-factsThe 33 hectares of vines, almost all of which are planted with Meunier, are all situated on a single, broad and rather steep, south-facing slope that runs behind the village and looks down on the houses below and on a stream called Le Ruisseau de La Maquerelle which runs into the Marne at Chatillons-sur-Marne a few kilometres away.


Hillsides-at-Cuisles300Many years ago there were two brick and tile factories in the village which gives a clue as to the nature of the soil.  Underneath a covering of top soil is a layer of sand and clay and at about 75cm down there’s a layer that is predominantly argilo-calcaire: a mixture of clay and limestone that drains well but which, unlike the purer chalk soils of many other areas of Champagne, retains very little water underground.


This can be a problem especially when combined with the mysteries of micro-climate. The Vallée de La Marne is not generally thought of as an area lacking in rain. Typically you can see clouds blowing in from the west bringing rain and sometimes spectacular storms rolling down the valley and drenching the vineyards. Strangely enough though Cuisles, tucked away in its little vale perpendicular to the Marne, gets 25% less annual rainfall than the villages actually on the river. To make matters more complicated the rainfall in Cuisles has fallen another 25% since the construction of the Paris- Reims motorway some 20 kilometres away to the north.


All in all the quality of the soil in Cuisles is poor but vines do well on poor soil and Meunier seems to thrive in this little enclave and there’s a finesse and purity to the wines that compensates for the generally low yields.


Illite300To-Cuisles350However, what’s unusual about Cuisles and the two or three neighbouring villages is that between the layer of sandy soil near the surface and the chalky-clay lower down there’s a layer of green clay called Illite. This is the same type of clay that is used extensively as a natural ingredient in cosmetics and in beauty treatments.


The Illite clay retains water better than the chalky-clay and is rich in nutrients. If you were to cut a cross section through the vineyard you’d find that most of the roots of the vines are concentrated in this layer of green clay.


Thanks to this unusual combination of soil and micro-climate, Meunier wines from Cuisles can truly be said to be ‘champagnes de terroir’. They have a mineral quality that is rare in other Meunier wines and, contrary to what is sometimes said about Meunier, they have good ageing potential.


Champagnes from Cuisles that are eminently worthy of note are Champagne Moussé Fils, a member of the prestigious Club Trésors de Champagne and the maker of the first 100% Meunier to receive the Club’s seal of approval and Champagne Huecq, situated just a stone’s throw away in rue Eugène Moussé.

In case you are wondering, Yes, the two families are related. After all, there are only 150 inhabitants in Cuisles Smiley-Face1