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.


 

Mobile Distillery in Champagne

Mobile-Distillery300There are very few itinerant distillers left in Champagne these days - very few in the whole of France for that matter - but today I was lucky enough to meet one in the village of Damery.

This one is owned and operated by a M. Fontaine who turned out to be jovial and chatty and more than willing to tell me a little about his still which he travels with throughout Champagne and Alsace.

Any surplus wine that a champagne maker has that is not fit for turning into champagne can be taken to the distiller whoM-Fontaine-The-Distiller300 then, for a fee, turns it into alcohol which is returned to the wine maker who can then use it to make Ratafia ( grape juice fortified with alcohol to produce a sweet aperitif drink of about the same strength as sherry).

Of course the entire process is strictly regulated by the Customs - M. Fontaine has to account for the precise volume of wine he recieves and the volume of alcohol produced, but he also has to note the registration number of the vehicle in which the wine/ alcohol is transported by the wine maker. What's more the Customs men can come at any moment to check the records.

The still itself has seen a good few years work, but it seems to be operating perfectly. Not perhaps the most efficient and technologically advanced set-up but it's good that some of the traditional practices can survive in 21st century.

Distillate300Distillers-sign300 

A New Dawn For The Aube

A New Dawn For The Aube

The word ‘aube’ in French means ‘dawn’ in English and it’s also the name of the southernmost region of the Champagne region. So far, so straightforward, but this area of Champagne is also referred to as La Côte des Bar.

Reims-to-La-Core-des-Bar300You may not have heard either name and it’s true that the region is much less famous than the more northerly parts of Champagne around Reims and Epernay, yet slowly but surely people who appreciate great champagne are sitting up and taking notice of what’s happening in the south and its reputation is growing fast - a new dawn is certainly breaking.

A long, long time ago…

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but even if you have never heard of The Aube, it has always been there. Geologically speaking it is the oldest part of Champagne whose formation dates back to the Jurassic era over 145 million years ago whereas the more chalky northern parts of Champagne are mere youngsters dating from the Late Cretaceous era that came some 40 - 80 million years afterwards.

Geographically too the Aube is separate from the rest of Champagne and lies a good hour and half’s drive south of Reims. In fact the Aube is much closer to Chablis than to the rest of Champagne: it’s just 30 kilometres or so from the heart of the Aube vineyards southwest to Chablis whereas it’s at least three times as far to Reims in the north.

These two facts explain why the soil too is quite different. In the Aube the soil is a mixture of clay and limestone called Kimmeridgean clay whereas further north one finds a much more chalky soil.

Unwelcome and unnoticed

Given these differences it is perhaps not surprising that in the early years of the 20th century when the boundaries of the Champagne region were being defined, the Aube was at first excluded. The grape growers in and around the town of Ay felt so strongly about this that in 1911 they rioted in the streets, one of their aims being to prevent the champagne houses buying grapes from the Aube. Their efforts failed however and it’s just as well that they did because today, with some 8,000 hectares of vineyards, the Aube represents almost 25% of the entire Champagne region.

Nevertheless for many years the Aube has passed almost entirely under the radar of the outside world, although not of the large champagne houses who long ago recognised the area as the source of large quantities of good quality grapes. The prices too were attractive to the major houses because, with very few well-known brands in the area to champion their cause and raise the flag for the Aube, grape prices remained modest.

A land of rivers

Ville-sur-Arce-stream225La Côte des Bar, (as the Aube is also called) has two constituent parts: west and east , situated on the slopes overlooking the two main rivers of the region, the Seine and the Aube, and their many tributaries. The western part is La Barséquanais centered on the town of Bar-sur-Seine and the eastern part is La Bar-sur-Aubois centered on the town of Bar-sur-Aube. (see map below)

Some commentators also include in the Aube the 200 hectares of vines around the village of Montgueux several tens of kilometres to the north-west near the town of Troyes, but because the soil there dates from a different geological era and because Montgueux is planted almost entirely with Chardonnay it seems to me to be more logical to consider Montgueux as separate.

You have to suffer for your art

Incredibly-stony-ground-in-Celles-sur-Ource-Cte-des-Bars300Rivers are an ever present feature of the landscape in the Aube which is criss-crossed with vales and valleys at many angles. The slopes are not steep however and this allows excellent exposure to the sunshine which is slightly more abundant than in the north of Champagne and surely contributes to the quality of the wines. Yet the climate is not always mild, indeed La Côte des Bar seems to have more than its fair share of extreme weather conditions, both hot and cold. This, together with the soil which in some places is extremely stony and difficult to till, means that it can be a struggle growing vines and making champagne here, but as some of the local vignerons will tell you with a wry smile “you sometimes have to suffer to make something of beauty”.

In an area so close to, and with the same soil as, Chablis where the focus is very much on Chardonnay you’d expect the same to be true in La Côte des Bar, but in fact over 80% of the vines are Pinot Noir. This is perhaps due to the demands of the large brands who sourced their supplies from this area and were attracted by the combination of full, fruity flavour plus the slightly lighter, fresher and softer taste that they found in the Pinot Noirs here as compared to those from the more northerly vineyards.

A new dawn

Starting in the 1930s a few pioneering entrepreneurs started to build their business in the Aube. Fleury and larger concerns such as Drappier and Devaux began to make their mark, yet still the Aube remained very much a sleepy backwater, but since the 1970s and particularly in the last 10 years or so there’s been a noticeable upsurge in activity such that the number of small top quality champagne makers is growing from a gentle trickle into a significant river.

Vouette et Sorbée, Dosnon et Lepage, Serge Mathieu and Cédric Bouchard already have quite a following, but behind them are coming a host of other great names to discover

Take Jérôme Coessens for example. The family owns just one plot yet this hasn’t stopped Jérôme from producing 6 different champagnes. This has been possible thanks to an exhaustive analysis of the soil at different levels on the slope. This is the notion of terroir carried to the extreme: one village , Ville-sur-Arce, one plot, called Largillier, one micro-climate, one grape variety, Pinot Noir.

Sylvre-puptre crop300Rémy Massin in the same village is another master of Pinot Noir and it’s also a member of the very exclusive and prestigious Club Trésors de Champagne.

Lionel Carreau is in the nearby village of Celles-sur-Ources. The Carreau family also still cultivates small quantities of the traditional, and now rare, Pinot Blanc. Their champagne was recently selected by the discerning buyers of Marks & Spencer so if you live in England you can give yourself a treat with a bottle of their Cuvée Préambulles.

Olivier Horiot cropOlivier Horiot in the picturesque village of Les Riceys Bas goes one further and cultivates 7 different grapes varietals: the classic varietals Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier, plus Arbanne, Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslier and Pinot Gris, the last 4 of which, to many people’s surprise, are still authorised in Champagne.

It’s a pity that there’s no space to include the many other up and coming young brands in this half- forgotten corner of Champagne, but from this brief list it’s clear that the Aube is a hive of activity, creativity and of quality too. It’s a large and increasingly important area of Champagne that is just waiting for you to discover.

Map-of-La-Cote-des-Bar300

Why Use Only Half The Harvest?

Case-of-Grapes-and-background300Is it true that half the harvest in Champagne was wasted?

At this time of year there are a lot of articles and news releases about the harvest and particularly the size of the harvest. There are a lot of figures quoted and sometimes they can be quite confusing so a brief explanation of how the system works may be helpful.

In a recent interview the representative of the Champagne Bureau in the UK said, when speaking of this year’s harvest, that” the marketable yield was set in July to 10, 500 kilos per hectare of which 400 kg may be drawn from champagne’s reserves”

What did she mean exactly?

The Secrets of Champagne Hidden in the List of Harvest Dates

Harvest-dates2014The CIVC has recently published the start dates for the imminent harvest in Champagne. The document is long, detailed and apparently holds nothing of much value or interest to anyone who is not a vine grower or wine maker, but if you know what to look for this seemingly boring list can reveal lots of clues to help you understand the diversity to be found n this fascinating region

 

A Brief History of Champagne 1920-1960: Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire

 Part 2 

Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire

Roaring-TwentiesChampagne, like the rest of the world, breathed a sigh of relief at the end of the First World War in anticipation of good times to come and on the whole things did get better. The famous Roaring Twenties were a time of energy renewal

Reims which had been so badly damaged by the bombardments during the war was largely rebuilt during this period and the early 1930s giving a distinct art nouveau style to the centre of the city. Above all people were producing and drinking champagne again but the picture was far from uniformly promising and the future of champagne continued to be something of a roller coaster ride.