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 Bulletin May 2021


Patience is a virtue

If you ever wanted evidence of how slowly things change in Champagne, you need look no further than the debate around what are called vignes semi-larges (VSL) which, roughly translated, means semi-wide rows of vines.

To see what this looks like here are two photos:

Vignes semi larges

Traditional planting








On the left are rows of vines planted in the traditional fashion. On the right, and in fact immediately adjacent to the traditional rows, are the semi-large rows.

There are strict rules about how far apart the traditional rows must be and how far apart each vine must be from the next plant. All these rules are designed to limit the number of vines per hectare and by so doing, to ensure the optimum ripeness and quality of the grapes. Years, even decades, of trial and observation have gone into formulating these regulations and they are not something that can, or will, be altered from one day to the next.

Nevertheless, things in the wider world never stand still and some things are changing that Champagne cannot avoid or ignore, climate change being one example. The fact that, over the past 30 years, the average date for harvesting has moved forward by 18 days is a case in point.

These pictures were taken in an area of Champagne called Plumecoq where the Comité Champagne runs several experimental plots to study potential innovation regarding vine growing.

The trials of semi-large rows were started back in 2005 and it was agreed at that time that the findings of the trails would be assessed in 2030 and a decision taken about whether or not to adopt the new method of planting.

However, there was a clause inserted in the original plan (no doubt at the insistence of some young ‘hot-heads’ who were not content to wait 30 years for an answer and wanted to ‘rush’ things through) that the findings of the trials would be reviewed after a mere 15 years and a vote taken about whether or not to adopt the new planting regime.

Those 15 years were up last year, but with all the disruption to everyone and everything, circumstances were not appropriate for any vote to take place, so it was postponed to this year and will take place in July.

As you can imagine, the subject has given rise to intense debate.

On the one hand, the greater distance between the vines inevitably means fewer rows and fewer vine plants. This, plus the fact that there is more grass between the rows (grass competes with the vines for any available water) means that the overall yield of grapes could be as much as 20% less than with the current method.

Neutral factors are that the ripeness and quality of the grapes do not seem to be adversely affected by the wider rows and there are apparently ways in which the reduced yield could be managed in such as way as not to affect the ability of Champagne to supply global demand for its wines and at the same time meet the economic needs of champagne producers.

On the other hand, the new wide-row system should reduce the production of CO2 by about 20% and thus significantly reduce the caron footprint of the Champagne region.

The new system would also significantly reduce the costs of production.

But there are many other considerations that are not so immediately apparent:

What would be the effect on employment in the area if the new planting system reduced the need  for manual labour?

What about the existing equipment such as the tractors (called enjambeurs) which are not only hugely expensive but are designed to straddle several rows at once? Would these be good for nothing except scrap and who would pay for new machines needed for a new planting system?

 Enjambeur front

When I mentioned ‘hot-heads’ wanting to rush through the decision about the new planting system, I was of course being flippant, 15, 20 or even 30 years is not much compared to the history of the industry and nothing at all compared to the vast history of Mother Nature.

In Champagne, decisions taken in haste have a tendency of coming unstuck and whether the debate is about methods of planting vines, about the length of time needed to age the bottles, or about the type of bottles used, I hope that you can now see why things take so long to evolve in Champagne.

Good news on the sales front

Bars, restaurants and hotels are beginning to reopen all around the world and the champenois (as the inhabitants of Champagne are called) have ben waiting to see what effect this would have on demand for their wines.

Well, it’s still early days, but the initial signs are very positive. 18.6 million bottles were shipped this April which represents an almost unprecedent increase of 197.6% versus April in 2020.

Not to get too carried away, one has to remember that 18.6 million is still 800,000 bottles fewer than were shipped in April 2019 which was the last ‘normal’ year and also remember that the month of April only represents about 6% of the annual total (again in a ‘normal year’), but hey, any good news is welcome, and the trend is certainly very positive.

Bad news on the weather front

If you read last month’s bulletin you will know that in early April a bout of spring frost badly affected vineyards right across France. That threat has now passed, but no sooner as one problem disappeared than another arises. It’s true that the ups and downs of fortune due to the weather are just part and parcel of working with Nature, but that realisation doesn’t makes things easier to manage.

May has brought plenty of sunshine but also a few hot, humid days that have produced major thunderstorms and, worst of all, hail storms.

Hail can be very localised and in the worst affected places, can cut a devastating swathe through the vineyards, battering the plants and the grapes.

On 4th June (this should really be in next month’s bulletin) another serious storm hit La Montagne de Reims. As you can see from these pictures, the sky was so black that the street lights came on and then the heavens opened and the rain and hail thrashed down.

Grey storm clouds

Gathering storm








 It’s too soon to have any precise reports of possible damage to the vines, but you can see from the picture below, how hail can rupture the skins of the grapes allowing rot to set in and damaging the crop. This picture is from a previous year and from a later stage of the year, so with luck, this year the grapes will still be too small to suffer any significant damage. We should know more about this in the coming days.

Hail Damage 800

That’s all for this month’s Champagne Bulletin. I hope you’ve enjoyed the read and will come back in a month to see what has been happening in Champagne in June.


All the best from Champagne

Balades dans les Vignes No. 3

In this video I was out and about in Villers - Marmery, a village in La Montagne de Reims famed for its Chardonnay grapes.

Balades dans les Vignes 3 cover image

Click the link below to watch the video

Balades dans les Vignes No. 3

If you enjoy this video please come back soon and join me for more strolls in the vineyards and if you want to learn more about Champagne do check out this link where you can discover more about My Champagne Expert a 10 - module online course that will teach you everything you want to know

Discover My Champagne Expert

All the best from Champagne

Jiles Halling

Balades dans les Vignes - Strolling in the Vineyards - No. 2

In this video I am out and about near Verzenay, one of the most prestigious villages in La Montagne de Reims, famous for its Pinot Noir grapes and for other things which you'll discover in the video.

Click this link to watch the video



Balades dans les Vignes 2 cover image




Balades dans les Vignes - Strolling in the Vineyards - No. 1

Hello and welcome to a new series of videos direct from here in Champagne.

Balade No.1 cover image

As I go walking in the vineyards I'll post videos of what I see so that, even if you can't come to Champagne yourself, the videos will bring a small bring a small part of Champagne into your home or office.

Here's video No. 1 and do come back soon to find out what's new. Click on this link to open the video



All the best from Champagne







MMIC logo in colour



Frost damage in Champagne

Frost on the vines2Unless you read the wine trade press frequently you probably won’t have heard about the widespread frost that hit almost all wine growing areas in France between the evening of April 5th and the early morning of April 8th.

Just a few weeks ago the talk was that Spring had come early to Champagne bringing with it a spell of mild, warm weather. The danger with this however is always that the thermometer would suddenly go plunging down again and regrettably that is exactly what happened.

First, the bad news
Within a matter of 48 hours the temperature dropped from 23 degrees C (73 degrees F) to -7 degrees C in some places (that's just 19 degrees F). The sub-zero temperatures killed off many of the young buds just as they were starting to emerge, and fewer buds means that fewer grapes develop and that in turn means a smaller the harvest in a few months' time.

There's not a great deal one can do about temperature swings of this magnitude, although there are a variety of measures that can be taken to mitigate the damage. These range from spraying water over the vines in a process called aspersion - it's effective because ice forms around the young buds and, surprising though it may seem, the temperature stays just above zero and so the buds are saved,

Aspersion at Pierry

- to lighting braziers in the vineyards

Braziers 2

 and even to using low-flying helicopters to stir up the air and prevent sub-zero pockets of cold air accumulating.


Credit: Heliops

Unfortunately, each one of these methods has its drawbacks: you need an abundant supply of water close by for aspersion to work effectively; you need an awful lot of braziers to keep temperatures above freezing over a large area of vineyard and not everyone has easy access to a helicopter or two!
Consequently, there was major damage to the vineyards across the Champagne region and across almost the whole of France.

And now, the not so bad news
In a situation like this, one has to look for the positives and despite the loses in the Champagne vineyards, we have a few reasons to be grateful.

Whilst still feeling sympathy for those who have been more severely affected, many here are relieved that Champagne has fared less badly than many other places as you can see from this estimate of the damage recently published in The Drinks Business.

Frost damage by region

The second reason, if not exactly to be grateful but to put things in perspective is that we have experienced frost like this many times in the past and will no doubt do so again. The years 2016 and 2003 come to mind as years when a considerable amount of the crop was lost to frost in Champagne. To some extent, frost damage is just part and parcel of the risks of being a wine maker.

Above all, Champagne, unlike most other wine-making regions, has its system of Réserve Individuel by which every wine maker puts aside a proportion of the wines from each year's harvest. This system has many benefits, one of which is to allow champagne makers to manage exactly the sort of problems that arise from frost damage.

Even within the Champagne appellation the damage varied from region to region. The most prestigious area of La Montagne de Reims and La Côte des Blancs got away fairly lightly. The worst affected area was the Aube region in the southern part of Champagne where the impact of the frost was extremely severe, because, being further south, the development of the buds was further advanced that in more northerly areas.


You can learn more about the different regions of Champagne, about the Réserve Individuelle system and much, much more in My Champagne Expert, my online Champagne course that is invaluable if you are seriously interested in creating a champagne brand or if you simply want to learn more about this fascinating region and its wonderful wine.
Here’s a link to find out more.

Don’t mess with Champagne
If you are considering creating a private champagne brand, I am sure that one of the things I will have mentioned in our discussions is the need to be very careful about the name you choose for your brand.

I have urged you to be cautious about this, in large part because the authorities here in Champagne keep a very close eye and a tight rein on the use of the word ‘Champagne’. In addition, they are extremely litigious if they notice any instances of what they consider to be abusive or misleading use of the word ‘Champagne’.

A case in point that is currently before the European Court of Justice and awaiting a verdict concerns a chain of tapas bars in Catalonia, Spain that calls itself Champanillo.

To summarise what I understand to be the basis of the matter, the Comité Champagne objects to this name because, in their opinion, it deliberately and unfairly uses an association with Champagne to derive commercial benefit thanks to the worldwide fame, recognition and image of Champagne.


The situation is aggravated because the signage used by the tapas bars often features two glasses in a typical ‘Champagne toast’ image.

The case has been going on for a few years already. The Comité Champagne’s first attempt to prevent the use of Champanillo was rejected by a court in Barcelona. That decision was appealed, and the case has now found its way all the up to the European Court of Justice. A final (or maybe not final) verdict is expected any day now.

Another well-known case is that of a village in Switzerland called Champagne. It has existing for centuries and, what’s more, wine has been made in the village for generations. It is still, not sparkling and the only grapes used are Chasselas which cannot be used in Champagne, so you might think that they had a good claim to call their wine Champagne, but you would be wrong.

The Comité Champagne took the case to the courts of the European Union which ruled against the Swiss village which now has to find a different name to market its wines.

The moral of this story is not to mess with the name Champagne. I have known cases of web sites being forced to close down and businesses being made to change their name because they used the word Champagne in the title, even in some cases, when the businesses concerned were exclusively marketing Champagne and, some might say, were helping to promote the wine from this famous region.

You have probably heard the phrase ‘Champagne only comes from Champagne’ many times before and this short story may serve to show you the lengths the Comité Champagne will go to in order to protect the appellation.

Please be careful!

Is this the start of the rebound?
As lockdown restrictions in many countries are beginning to be eased, many in Champagne have been anxiously awaiting the latest shipment figures in the hope of spotting signs of an upturn in sales.

Well, it’s too early to draw any absolute conclusions but the shipment figures, just released for March 2021 show a leap of 38.7% versus March 2020.

It should be remembered that March represents only a small part of the annual total, but this increase is nevertheless a very welcome step in the right direction and the forecast for the first quarter of 2021 is for an increase of 3.7% versus the same period in 2020.

As you certainly know, during the past year there’s been a big increase in sales direct to consumers and in at-home consumption of wine, although this hasn’t been enough to offset the losses due to bars, restaurants and other venues being closed.

Prosecco was the main beneficiary of growth in at-home consumption, probably because of the lower price point compared to Champagne, but as more and more people are celebrating a less restricted life with sparkling wine of many types, including Champagne, the chairman of Henkell Frexienet, one of the industry’s major players in sparkling wines and Champagne, believes that what he calls a premiumisation trend within the sparkling wine category is now emerging, with consumers seeking higher quality and showing more of an interest in learning about the different quality tiers within the sector – more good news for Champagne.

“There’s gold in them thar hills”
This was apparently the cry of prospectors rushing off to California in the 1840s Gold Rush, but you might say the same about wines and spirits.

In last month’s bulletin I wrote about some of the celebrity brands of wine and spirits that have been created by celebrities in various fields, amongst them Conor McGregor’s Proper No. 12 whiskey.

It’s recently been announced that a majority share in Proper No. 12 Whiskey has been acquired for a reported £600 million. Not a bad return considering the brand was only launched two and a half years ago.

A toast to a good deal

Of course, deals like this are very much the exception, not the rule and very few people have the reputation and following of Conor McGregor, but it’s food for thought, nevertheless.

That’s all for this month, but I’ll be back at the end of May to keep you updated.

Meanwhile, all the best from Champagne.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.