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



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.





White-vansYou can tell immediately that the harvest is in full swing in Champagne. One tell-tale sign is the rash of white vans that appears all over the vineyards (OK there are a few grey ones too, but there are so many white vans that one suspects that Champagne is keeping the whole white van manufacturing business going)

Another sign is the busy roads. I use the term ‘busy’ loosely because anyone who lives in a major city or town would laugh out loud at what passes for ‘a lot of traffic’ here in Champagne, but nevertheless there are a lot more people around than usual. That’s hardly surprising seeing that it is estimated that close on 120,000 extra jobs are created for the period of the harvest: that’s not just the pickers themselves, but the caterers who feed the pickers, the people who transport the picked grapes and the plethora of other support staff that are needed.

Another sign is the crisscross pattern of black tyre tracks on the road where cars have driven through the sticky mass of juice that drips onto the tarmac from cases of picked grapes that start leaking on the way to the press house.

It’s an exciting time of year and it’s all too easy to let the heady atmosphere go to... well, to your head. This tendency is no more apparent than in the prognostications that everyone and their dog start making about the quality of the harvest, but once again this shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, it’s a rare wine maker who comes out and says “My wine is rubbish this year. Don’t buy it” (although to their credit Nyetimber, for one, did decide not to bother picking their harvest in 2012 because they felt the quality of the grapes was not up to their standards).

Wine makers and wine retailers are far more likely to emphasise the positive side of the harvest. A case in point is the claim recently made in the publication Drinks Business


It’s certainly true that France has had a lot of bad weather this year and that the UK has probably had the better of it, but whilst that is promising for UK wine makers, it is not a guarantee that the wine in one country will be better than the wine produced in the other. Mind you, you certainly can’t blame the English wine makers from wanting to get their claim in as early as possible – that’s just normal marketing practice.

However, most serious wine makers, whilst being optimistic about the quality of the grapes as they come off the vines, will tell you that until the first fermentation is done and the wine has had a few weeks or months to develop, it is simply premature to make any sweeping statements about whether or not the juice will make great wine. So, in just the same way as a grape picker has to select only the good bunches and leave any that have traces of rot, it pays to be selective in what you read in the wine media. Even ‘experts’ can get it wrong ,conclusions reached in haste can be mistaken and no one knows for sure what the passing of time will bring.

For example....

Decanter magazine has just announced that it has included Dom Pérignon 1975 into its Hall of Fame

But back in 1975 when they were harvesting the grapes there was little indication about how great the wine would turn out to be. In fact according to Decanter:

On paper, 1975 was not an ideal vintage. Spring was cold and budbreak late, though flowering took place in fine conditions. The summer was warmer than usual, with a few August storms.

Harvest began on 29 September and had to be completed fairly rapidly, as the weather soon worsened. A small crop produced wines high in acidity, which gave many 1975 Champagnes the structure for long ageing.

vinegarFinally, I can’t resist telling you two quick stories about a champagne maker I know who has a mischievous sense of humour and who delights in pulling the wool over the eyes of people who should know better. On one occasion he bought some white vinegar at the local supermarket and put it in the fridge the night before a tasting with some prominent journalists. The next day he served the vinegar, ice cold, as the first wine to be tasted. There were several comments about the ‘wine’ being too cold, a bit rough, or too young, or green, but only one taster suggested that it wasn’t really wine at all.

On another occasion the same champagne maker was visited by a very well-known wine writer. A range of champagnes were served but, unbeknown to the wine writer, wine 1 and wine 5 were the same. Wine No.1 received very complimentary remarks but wine 5 was said to be mediocre at best. Go figure.

As for the 2016 harvest, let’s come back in February or March next year and take another look at how the wines are developing.

“I like your wines but they’re too expensive“. Useful feedback or an excuse for poor salesmanship?

Low-price-imageI am losing count of how many times wines (I am talking mainly about grower champagne in which I specialise) have been presented to prospective importers only to hear words to the effect of ‘I like your wines, but they’re too expensive.’

I think this is a pure cop-out and in my view it is an excuse that is trotted out to disguise the fact that there are way too many people in the wine industry who are either too lazy or who lack the skills to sell properly.

I suspect that many people will disagree with me and I admit that I see only one side of the story so I’d appreciate hearing from importers and distributors and retailers who can tell me why they think I’m wrong ( or perhaps, just maybe, think again about what their role is in the value chain).

Adding Value

That word ‘value’ is a good place to start to explain my point of view.

It is far too easy to assume that value simply mean a low price. The two are not the same.

In my view the sales person's job is to sell at the highest possible price consistent with the quality of the product. Sure you need some help from the producer to provide you with the basic selling arguments and information you’re going to need to sell to your customers, but the producer can’t provide you with the marketing tools if the ex-cellar price has been screwed into the ground.

Besides the role of the importer/distributor / retailer is to add value by convincing the buyer of the quality of the product so that the buyer is happy to pay the price asked so that everyone from producer to consumer has a fair deal. This is sometimes not easy and regrettably, so it seems to me, when faced with any difficulty the easy knee-jerk solution is to tell the producer that he/she must reduce the ex-cellar prices.

Beating the market

Another commonly heard comment from wine buyers in the trade is “The market price for your type of wine is only $X and that means we have to buy at $Y”

I respectfully disagree. This is too mechanist and unimaginative way to approach the issue.

I worked for many years for several major wines & spirits brands. It was always made clear by the bosses that results that were merely in line with the market performance were unacceptable. The people in the sales force – me included – were paid a good salary to exceed the market trends. If we couldn’t do that then management couldn’t see much point in employing us – better to just leave the market to determine the sales results. I think we can all agree that no CEO who wants to retain his job long would accept such a situation. So the sales force had to come up with ways to beat the market in terms of sales volume and sales value and that is exactly what a champagne ( wine ) producer expects from his or his import and distribution partners.

Consumer expectations

Yet another pretext for demanding low ex cellar prices is that “Consumers are more savvy these days. They know what the ‘right’ price is and that’s all they are willing to pay”.

Of course consumers want to feel that they have a good deal but that does not automatically mean a low, low price. You only have to look at the prices paid for some of the top brands to see this is true. Often a price that is slightly above the norm is intriguing for the consumer who wants to understand why. This is a great opportunity for any sales person to use their sales skills and provide the information, justify the higher price and leave the buyer/ consumer happy to pay a little more.

This is particularly true for champagne which is seen as something of a luxury purchase. Buying champagne whether it be for oneself, to share with friends or to give as a gift is an indulgence that is designed to give pleasure to the giver and the recipient. It’s illogical to believe that any buyer would chose only the cheapest price available – where is the pleasure and sense of self-worth in that? It is also illogical, and frankly damaging, constantly to think that marking prices down is the only way to sell champagne.

Two final points

1) Note that I am not advocating that anyone reduce their margins in order to keep the re-sale price as low as possible; quite the opposite in fact. What I’d like to see is better selling and marketing so that margins could be maintained at every level of the chain.

2) I’m leaving aside the question of whether or not the wine is good quality – we have to assume that it is because a) the importer has said he/she likes it and b) no wine sales person who offered wine that he/she truly believed to be poor quality would last long in business.

So that’s why I feel that the plea for the ex-cellar prices to come down and down again so as to re-sell as cheaply as possible is way too facile an approach that demands no skill and produces little or no benefit and little or no satisfaction.

Let me know if you agree or disagree and please say why.

Opportunities in the USA

US FlagThe US wine market has been growing for a number of years and, according to an article in Shanken News Daily, the growth is set to continue for many years to come.

Even though the estimated rate of growth is only 1.1% versus 2015 that still means an extra 3.5 million cases ( or 42 million bottles) in 2016!

Even better news for champagne is that sparkling wines are growing at a much faster rate: +6 % in fact, and total sales are expected to reach a total in 2016 of 225 million bottles.

Much of this volume increase is accounted for by domestic sparkling wine and, amongst imported wines, by prosecco – in other words, at relatively low price levels - but, at +7.7% in 2015, champagne sales volume is also increasing quickly

The best news of all is that in terms of value the USA overtook the UK in 2015 to become the number 1 export market by value.

You can read the full article here