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

 


 

The Price of Champagne

I’m guessing that you’re already a champagne lover and you probably enjoy opening a bottle whenever the opportunity arises, but of course, Champagne isn’t the cheapest of wines and I’m afraid that I can’t do much to change that, although I can suggest where you can find some fabulous champagnes at prices far lower than some of the famous brands, but more about that later.

In the meantime the least I can do is to explain why champagne will never the be cheapest wine around and what is driving those prices

Harvest benne225There are several things that come into play. You can consider them separately but in reality they are all linked

- Growing grapes in Champagne is an incredibly labour intensive undertaking. You can say that about many vineyard regions of course but the issue in even more pronounced in Champagne. For example, it requires about 200 hours of work, per hectare, to do the pruning and that’s just one of many vineyards jobs

- Partly because of this the price of grapes is high and rises inexorably every year. In 2019 the average prices were:

Chardonnay (Grand Cru) 7.15 euros /kilo

Pinot Noir (Grand Cru ) 7.10 euros/kilo

Premiers Crus 6.90 – 7.00 euros/kilo

Other Crus including Meunier 6.00 – 6.50 euros/kilo

And these are the average prices. Many houses pay a premium to secure top quality grapes from the most prized villages and the best plots, so the actual price paid may, in some instances, be considerably higher.

- Coupled with the price of grapes is the price of vineyard land. The total area in the Champagne appellation is limited and although there has been some debate in 100 per centthe past about enlarging the area, it hasn’t happened yet. With high demand and limited supply, it follows that land prices are high.

The very best plots in a Grand Cru village will fetch 2 million euros, or even more, per hectare and even for a less prestigious plot you would expect to pay 1 million euros

- Last but not least is the marketing of champagne and the profit margins involved, but that‘s too  big a topic to cover now. I'll explain that later in another article.

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Why are some champagnes so expensive?

Krug Rose label 19th Feb 2010At practically every champagne tasting someone asks me this question, or a variation:

"Why are some champagnes so expensive?"

 “Is Cristal really that good?” “ Am I getting value for my money if I  buy Cristal / Dom Pérignon / Krug / ... fill in the blank?"

In this article you’ll not only get a glimpse into the workings of a champagne house to understand how the prices are arrived at, you’ll get an appreciation of why expensive champagnes can still give you great value.

When people ask why prestige cuvée champagnes are ‘so’ expensive perhaps they really want to know what each constituent element costs so as to arrive at the price in the shop, or in the bar, but of course, it doesn’t work like that.

The real reasons why some of the prestige cuvée champagnes are very expensive is that

- they can be

- they have to be

Let’s look at each of these in turn.

In the normal world of buying and selling it is generally true that the higher the price of the product on sale, the lower the sales volume will be.

Louis Vuitton storeHowever things are sometimes reversed in the rarefied world of luxury goods. Some products are said to be ‘Weblen’ products. That is to say that the more the price goes up, the more desirable they become and the more sales go up as result.

A ‘Weblen’ product is the holy grail for brands that operate in the luxury sector and  consequently Rule No. 1 for luxury brands is never to justify the price with logic; for example:

Part A costs $X, part B costs $Y, add in the cost of labour, transport, profit margin etc. etc. and you can see that the price in the shop should be $Z

Although someone within each luxury brand could undoubtedly explain things in this way, it’s an absolute NO NO to even think about revealing this to customers.

After all, and taking champagne as the example, it’s not a bottle of wine that people are looking for when they buy a bottle, it’s a dream, an emotion, a memory, a feeling, a status. Each of these things has a value all of its own that is unique to each buyer and cannot be precisely measured – it’s beyond value and the bottle of champagne is just the vehicle by which all this is delivered. Above all, to buy anything less than an expensive product would just not match the image that the buyer has of the person he or she is, or wants to become.

So the first reason why the price of some prestige cuvée champagnes is high is because it can be and that’s what customers expect.

However, there’s another driver behind the price - most expensive champagnes cost what they do because they have to.

In order for you to understand what I mean by this I should explain a little about the economics of the champagne industry.

The area in which champagne may officially be produced is quite small, ( it covers about 35,000 hectares or  86,000 acres ), and it’s also rigidly controlled.

Everything that happens within the champagne region is regulated:  from the number of vines you can plant per hectare, to the weight of grapes that you are allowed to harvest from one hectare, right through to amount of juice you may press from each kilo of grapes harvested. If you want more grapes, you can’t just go out and plant more vines. That’s not allowed.

All this is done in a bid to maintain the reputation and high quality standards that are associated with champagne and you have to admit that, by and large, this has been achieved. However, it also means the amount of champagne that can be produced each year is limited; it’s just over 300 million bottles per year, in fact.

What’s more, the amount of bottles that each champagne house can produce is limited by the amount of grapes it has available, either from its own vineyards, or from supplies it can purchase from growers who do not make champagne themselves and prefer to sell their grapes.

So when sales reach the limit of what can be produce the only way for a champagne house to increase annual turnover is to increase the price of the bottles it does sell, but this is easier said than done.

Most houses sell a ‘ flagship’ non-vintage brand – these sell in the UK for  between £30-£40 (probably between $40 - $70 in the USA), but this segment of the market is crowded and competition is tough so it’s hard to raise prices.

2 bottles of CristalThis is a major reason why houses also sell a prestige cuvée – the likes of Cristal and Dom Pérignon to cite just two well-known examples – that sell for multiple  times the price of a ‘flagship’ champagne even though the cost of production does not increase in anything like the same proportion.

It’s the generous profit on these prestige cuvées that drives the profitability of a champagne house.

Of course there is money to be made in selling non-vintage champagne if you sell enough of it, but champagne houses usually re-invest a large part of the profit on non-vintage in advertising, marketing, distribution and all their other business activities. On the other hand,  a much greater proportion of the profit on the more expensive prestige cuvées champagne goes straight to the bottom line.

So, from the commercial point of view, prestige cuvées are the engines that keep the business going and that’s why all champagne houses are looking to develop their own iconic prestige cuvée for which consumers are prepared to pay very handsomely.

So the price is what it is because it can be and it has to be.

Phew! After all this talk of prices and profit, it’s important to take a step back and pause a while.

It’s certainly interesting to take a peek ‘behind the veil’ so to speak, and to consider the commercial aspects of champagne, but to focus only on that would be churlish and unnecessary. After all, champagne is all about pleasure, not just numbers, so my advice, whatever champagne you are buying, is not to think too much about the price, but just to enjoy the experience, the dreams, the emotions, the memories and all those other good things you are getting for the price of the bottle.

If you want to lean more, to delve deeper into the wonderful world of champagne and keep up-to-date with what's going on CLICK HERE for information, news, videos and more.

 

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3 Things About Champagne That Not Many People Know

If you’re like me and love to learn about Champagne and wine you’ll enjoy these unusual and little-known facts. Keep them to yourself, share them with friends, or check them out when you next visit Champagne.

If you’re like me and love to learn about Champagne and wine you’ll enjoy these unusual and little-known facts. Keep them to yourself, share them with friends, or check them out when you next visit Champagne.

 

1) Although one of the main regions of Champagne is called La Montagne de Reims, the highest point on this so-called ‘mountain’ is only 286 metres high.

View from Verzy over the plain of ChampagneThis spot is Mont Sinai which lies above the village of Verzy and enjoys a commanding view across the plain below. This was the reason the spot served as a look out post during WWI and if you take a short detour to visit it you can see the remains of a WWI pill box on the spot.

This picture was taken in the vineyards just below Mont Sinai but you can just make out the hills in the distance on the oppositte of the plain where the German positions would have been in WWI

 

 

2) There are 37 walled vineyards or ‘Clos’ in Champagne from which a champagne or, in one case a still wine, is produced.

Clos Barnaut

The advantage of having a walled vineyard is that the vines inside are sheltered from what can be pretty harsh, cold weather outside.

However, with the general warming of the climate over the past few years, this advantage may be much reduced and in some cases it may become a disadvantage.

For example, the Pinot Noir grapes grown in the Clos Barnaut in the centre of the village of Bouzy get too ripe and lose too much acidity to be used to make Champagne,  but they can make an excellent Bouzy Rouge.

This picture is of Le Clos Barnaut and you can see that it is right in amongst the houses in the middle of Bouzy.

On the day I took this picture, Philippe Secondé the current owner of Champagne Barnaut, was taking delivery of several new vats for the new winery he was having built, so the view of Le Clos is a little obscured,

 

3) There are only 3 remaining plots of pre-phylloxera grapes still in production in Champagne

The wonders of AppellationPhylloxera is the name for an aphid that found its way to Europe from America in the 19th century and which, little by little, spread through much of Europe destroying vineyards in its path, including those in Champagne.

By good fortune, a few plots of vineyard remained unaffected – perhaps because they lie on sandy soil through which the aphids find it difficult to move.

They are

Les Beaux Sens -  owned by Champagne Chartogne Taillet in Merfy (Meunier)

Clos St. Jacques and Le Clos des Chaudes Terres – owned by Champagne Bollinger in Aÿ (Pinot Noir)

And another plot owned by Champagne Tarlant in Oeuilly ( Chardonnay)

This picture is of Le Clos St. Jacques which is also one of the remaining plots of ungrafted vines, so the picture could equally have been used in section 2

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If you have anything to add to the list of clos, or perhaps you know of other ungrafted plots, please let me know.

If you enjoyed this and want to learn more about Champagne just click here to receive more information, news, videos and quizes to test your skill and increase your knowledge.

Until the next time and meanwhile... Stay Bubbly

 

Jiles

 

 

 

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics in Champagne

marktwainIt was apparently Mark Twain who said that there are lies, damn lies and statistics, the inference being that you can present statistics in any number of ways to support whatever case you want to make.

However, whichever way you look at them you would be hard pressed to find much comfort in the latest shipment figures for champagne, certainly not at first sight, but perhaps there’s a silver lining to even these.

First the not so good news…

How to match food and champagne

 

Food Matching coverFor most people champagne is a wine that you serve as an aperitif, before a meal, not during a meal but that’s an odd thing when you stop to think about it because, after all, champagne is just a white wine that has bubbles in it and because of the many different types and styles available there’s a champagne to go with just about every type of dish or cuisine  you care to mention, except perhaps for a steak or a joint of beef.

When I was living and working in Champagne I discovered that serving champagne throughout a meal is not only, the thing to do, but that it makes for a fabulous occasion.

Did you know, for example, that white wine ( and that includes champagne) goes better than red wine with most cheeses, particularly soft cheeses?

Or that a hundred years go or more, champagne used to be served at the end of a meal, not before?

That’s because, back then, champagne was sweeter than it is now, but sweeter champagne is still available these days and it goes wonderfully with a whole host of desserts.

What about rosé champagne with duck, pigeon or even lamb?

Champagne and roast turkeyThe acidity in champagne is a perfect balance to the fattiness of the meat and if you’ve never tried champagne with lighter meats such as chicken and turkey then you’ve missed out on a real treat. You’d be amazed at what a good combination it is.

You’d probably not think twice about serving a white wine with fish, so why not consider champagne as an exciting alternative.

If all this is new to you, you may be intrigued, but you may not know where to begin - that’s why I’ve created The World of Food and Champagne  - a concise and easy to follow guide that gives you the golden rules for matching champagne with food including many tips and ideas that you’ve probably never thought of.

Trianon It’s all based on what I saw and tasted when I worked for the biggest champagne brand of them all where they have not one fully staffed gourmet kitchen, but two, in order to prepare sumptuous lunches and dinners for private guests.

So if you’d like to discover the secrets of these top class chefs and gain the confidence and knowledge to create your own amazing meals that your guests will be talking about long after the last glass is empty and the last plate cleared away then you’ll find it all in The World of Food and Champagne

and don’t worry you don’t need an army of kitchen staff and you don’t need to be a trained chef. Everything you need to get started is in The World of Food and Champagne

As well as explaining the broad principles of matching food and champagne the guide includes very practical tips in the form of a grid that will show you what sauces, vegetables, meat, herbs and cheeses go with which type of champagne.

The guide is yours for just $7.99 and you can get your downloadable copy now by clicking on the link below,

https://my-man-in-champagne.lpages.co/the-insiders-guide-to-food-pairing-with-champagne

Your taste buds and your guests will thank you for it.

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