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 François Secondé - Unique for at least two reasons

Francois-Seconde-300I am often struck by the fact that there’s always something new to learn in Champagne and a case in point is a recent visit to Champagne François Secondé in Sillery.


If the name Sillery seems vaguely familiar it may be because you’ve come across it in a list  of the 17 Grand Crus villages in Champagne, but that’s probably all you know about it because it’s a little off the beaten track and much less well-known than villages such as Aÿ, Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger, Cramant and Verzenay for example.


However that hasn’t always been the case: in the second half of the XVIII century Sillery was famous for its still wines, mainly red, which were much sought after by the aristocracy “ils ont une qualité si supérieure qu’on les reserve pour la bouche du roi” – so said Edme Béguillet, a  lawyer and oenologist at the parliament in Dijon. (Sillery wines are of such superior quality that there are reserved for the king’s enjoyment.”). These days of course the still wines from Champagne – Coteaux Champenois as they are called – are still made although not in large quantities but their fame has long since been eclipsed by the region’s sparkling wines.


Grand-Grand-Mousseux-300However, judging from the collection of old labels at Champagne François Secondé the good vignerons of Sillery were very active and it seems that their champagnes  were exported all over the world although for some reason which I have yet to get to the bottom of, they were often just described as ‘mousseux’ (sparkling wine), instead of champagne.


Another of the old labels testifies to the fact that for many years champagne exported to America had a different taste – the goût américain - to champagne sold elsewhere because, rightly or wrongly, it was thought that consumers in the USA wanted something sweeter.


Gout-Americain-300Today Sillery seems far less bustling. There are a handful of champagnes made  by the local cooperative  and sold under the own label by the members of the cooperative, but Champagne Francois Sécondé is only remaining Récoltant Manipulant in the village. Run by a gentleman of the same name who sold the first bottles under his own name in 1975, the estate now comprises 5.5 hectares planted 2/3 with Pinot Noir and 1/3 Chardonnay situated mainly in the village of Sillery and its neighbour Puisieulx which is also a Grand Cru (and very difficult to pronounce).


 There are 7 cuvées in the range which are quite widely exported and well thought of by a number of guides and experts. Strangely though, in a part of Champagne best known for its Pinot Noir, it’s Francois Seconde’s Vintage Blanc  de Blancs which is garnering the most medals, winning gold in three successive years  (2013 -2015) at the Chardonnay du Monde competition.
The village itself is about 15 kilometres south of Reims in the valley of the River Vesle where the soil is not ideally suited to growing vines and in fact the vineyards are to be found on slightly higher ground at some distance from the village nearer to Mailly-Champagne and Verzenay than to Sillery itself.


Puisieulx300Much more can be said about the history and particularities of Sillery and all that will be the subject of a separate article in due course but before leaving François Secondé I have to mention something else unique about this  small producer; it’s the only producer making a 100% Puisieulx Grand Cru champagne. In 15 years or more I had never come across this champagne until the other day which just goes to show  that there is indeed always something new to discover in Champagne.

A final thought... what a difference between the labels now and all those years ago - how tastes change!

How Green Was My Vineyard? - Soil Management in Champagne Part II

Philippe-in-Mutigny-300This is the second in a three-video series in which Philippe Brun of Champagne Roger Brun shares his experience and opinions about soil management in Champagne. If you missed part I you can find it on this link.

In part II Philippe takes us to the village of Mutigny which has some very steep slopes that pose particular problems for vineyard maintenance. Philippe also talks about the use of copper sulphate in the vineyard and explains why organic and biodynamic viticulture may not be so environmentally friendly as many people assume.

This video is 22 minutes long so it may not appeal to the casual viewer, but for anyone with a more avid interest in learning about wine and viticulture Philippe's views are informative and refreshing.

Part III is coming soon

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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.