30 June, 2000

Flowers in the wine

Wineflowers in Verzy at midsummer.

Two weeks of heatwawe has accelerated the wine tremendously, and in the middle of last week we saw the first flowers of the Chardonnay-grape this year.

Now the the rule of thumb says that we will harvest in 100 days. Which means well into october. We'll see.

In this house we still remember 20003 where the grapeharvest was almost finished, when we came back after three weeks of holiday in Denmark. The extremely warm weather of August that year speeded up the maturation of the grapes so fast, that we only made it back on the last day of the harvestdays.

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29 June, 2000

News june 2005

  • 09.06.2005: Seven out of 10 french winegrowers voted no to the European constitution on May 29th this year. In southern cities such as Montpellier, Nimes and Marseilles eight of 10 winegrowers dumped the treaty, says numbers from the opinion poll, that Ipsos has collected for Le Figaro. Especially the small vignerons are nervous that more European integration will result in more rules for their business. A majority of the leading winepersonalities in Bordeaux chose to advocate the yes, writes Decanter.com. But the trend in the winebusiness seem to have followed that of the rest of France: Yes from the richer, upper-class elite and no from the rest.

  • 16.06.2005: Reims has a reputation of wealth because of its champagnehouses. But actually the noble bubbles only contribute with a humble percentage of 3.6 of the total basis of taxation of the city, says mayor Jean-Louis Schneiter to the regional paper, l'Union. Amongst the 10 biggest businesses in Reims are Veuve-Clicquot Ponsardin and the glass factory VMC, each with approximately 500 employees.

  • 20.06.2005: It is increasingly popular to buy wine over the internet. The global sales have now turned 360 million euros. One tenth is French wine, amongst it champagne. Of course the price of a bottle of champagne increases considerably when you mail it. But with a purchase of six or 12 bottles you will still get a much cheaper price, than if you buy the bottle in for instance Scandinavia. A winegrower told me recently that she regularly mails champagne to her native Sweden, and she is able to do it for a competetive price. Not that Systembolaget likes it, but that's life...

  • 20.06.2005: A new type of champagne cork was recently presented at Vinexpo in Bordeaux. The French company, Au Liégeuer, has come up with the idea of replacing the traditional cork with a new type, which they have baptized SpoomFizz. The trick is - according to the inventors - that it is easier to control, whether you want to open the bottles with a quiet sigh or a "pop" that makes the bubbles foam in the style of Tour-de-France. Funny, since it - after quite some years of research - never seemed to be a problem to control with traditional corks either. And I am even in the target group of SpoomFizz. Maybe, when the already sparse forces in my arm decrease even more...

  • 24.06.2005: The competition authorities of the EU has permitted the French group Pernod Ricard to take over the British ditto Allied Domecq, who owns amongst others the champagne brand Mumm. Pernod Ricard however must give up some of its distribution agreements, thus securing continued competition, says the office of competition commissioneer Neelie Kroos. An attempt from the American group Constellation Brands to take over Allied Domecq right in front of Pernod Ricard thus did not succeed.

  • 26.06.2005: Be one of the in-crowd and do like Victoria and David Beckham. Englands gossip-couple number one recently spend 20.000 pounds on a bottle of champagne in the vip-hangout Les Caves du Roy in St Tropez. The bottle - a Methuselah which contains the same as eight normal bottles - arrived appropriately on a silver tray with sparklers while the music was reduced. Priceless publicity for the french bubbles that is. Sunday Mirror has the rest of the story.

  • 27.06.2005: One of the grandes marquesmay change hands. Taittinger has contact with banks such as BNP-Paribas and Rothschild to analyze several offers, reports various media. According to the French newspaper Le Figaro the Belgian billionaire, Albert Frere, who owns one fourth of the Taittinger-group, wants to leave the group. The Taittinger-family is one of the last champagne-families that still heads a business empire. On top of the famous champagne it includes one of the best hotels in Paris too. The Hotel du Crillon on the Place de la Concorde. 38 members of the family will share the estimated value of the group - two billion euros - if a sale is eventually carried out. According to the British daily The Independent the expected sale follows a long internal familyfight between members directly involved in the business, and others, who want to get some money for themselves rather than only passively follow the values of the holdingcompany boom.

  • 29.06.2005: An English wine has won the first prize as the best sparkling wine in the world in the 2005 International Wine and Spirit Competion. An English contest, that comprises wine and spirits from all over the world. The RidgeView Merret Bloomsbury 2002 made it to number one amongst sparkling wines from 55 countries. It originates from Sussex in Southern England, and is blended from the traditional champagnegrapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pínot Meunier. RidgeView has won dozens of prizes all over the world, even a couple in the home country of champagne, France. The English bubbly has not competed against real champagne, that competes in its own class.

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  • 17 June, 2000

    "Less is more" in the wine

    The wine is not allowed to grow in the wild.

    "Less is more" is a maxime many will connect with all kinds of design. But actually it could also be the motto of any vigneron. In Champagne anyway, since this is one of few French wineregions where we from April and well into July regularly will walk up and down the rows to groom the plants well. That is to minimize them.

    We cut off surplus buds and stems, before they get the chance to form the bark. When we in this way trim the plants throughout their phase of growth, we help them to be economical with their energy. This is important in order to avoid that they burn out during their intense growth even before the final burst of speed, where the grapes mature.

    The target is not to produce many but good grapes, and since we can only sell a certain amount of kilos of grapes per hectare anyway, we do not want to have too many. But excactly where we trim our plants is an independent judgement for each of them. It means yet another heavy and manual job to perform during the next many weeks.

    The wine is fast to make a mess of young stems.

    In reality it is the pruning of the winter, that we follow through on in this way. In January we pruned the plants rather throughly. But still there are lots of new stems at the feet and on the old and hard part of the plant. It is not possible to localize all the buds in the winter.

    Fast runner
    It is just about one month ago, that the first buds of the year began to unfold, and since then the wine has grown with a speed.

    The two first pink and crumpled leaves now are already 50 centimetres or more away from their startingpoint. The tallest of them have crossed the top thread of the fence, and we have seen a few winegrowers, that have started to cut the top. That is cut off the stems right over the top thread.

    The amoung of leaves has also increased. The greybrown plots of winter and early spring, stamped with wood chips and wine stubs, have been replaced by juicy and green leaves. The amount is well on the way to transform the neat rows to the unruly and dense system of leaves, stems and branches of the summer. Soon we will have to cut the sides too. One of very few jobs in the wine, that is delt with from a tractor. The purpose is to avoid that the rows become completely impassable.

    The fast growth of the wine slows down in July.

    During this most intensive growth, that normally continues well into July, each stem can produce two leaves per day.

    A twist for the stem
    So far we have left the wine alone, since we were out attaching back in April. Excactly when you start to trim the plants, is a bit of a personal judgement.

    In Champagne you can begin to remove surplus buds in the middle of May - this is what the profesionnals call the ébourgeonnage - others wait a little longer till the buds have developped into stems - in this case the proces is called the épamprage. We go for the latter model.

    Mainly because of the big risk of frost in spring. Champagne is one of the northern wineareas of France, and the risk of frost as late as May is a real danger, that may cost you a part of the production of the year if it occurs with the worst possible timing. So we leave the extra buds till the risk of frost is gone.

    The work is simply to remove all surplus stems. The plant has two targets: To grow more wood and to reproduce itself. If there is too many green stems in the beginning of the season, the plant will spend too much energy on the stems. There will thus be too little left to mature the grapes properly. Therefor we simply remove the unnecessary stems that otherwise would turn into wood.

    Since we still are in the early season, the stems have not yet developped into hard wood. They are green, elastic and completely soft and easy to remove. You just have to twist them a bit, and then they are quite easy to pull of.

    The surplus stem get a little twist.

    Each stem has to be twisted just a tiny bit before it breaks off nicely at the root. When the green layer later in the summer develops into bark, it becomes a lot more diffucult to remove the stems, so it is important to finish early enough.

    Now the question is how to decide which of the stems to remove. The answer depends on how the wine has been pruned.

    Follow the Vallée de la Marne-model
    Since our Pinot Meunier-plants are pruned in the fashion of the Vallée de la Marne-model, it means, that we trim the new stems in the same manner.

    The Vallée de la Marne consists of an old branch with a now hardened young stem from last year in the top. On top of this there is a young branch - also hardened with bark - with a number of new stems, and last but not least the little one with the two eyes, that have now developped two stems.

    On top of these basic elements and their new stems you do not leave more than one or two new stems on the plant. One of them will take over the part as the small one at the next pruning. All other stems are to be removed. But even after around 20 will still remain, and each of them will normally carry grapes.

    The stems have been removed from the foot of the wine, the old branch at the right and the young branch at the left keep their stems.

    The foot is always cleaned completely for stems. No sane person allows the wine to grow grapes close to the ground. One thing is that it in general is more difficult to predict the amount and quality of the grapes at this spot. Another that grapes close to the ground generally get more moisture which exposes them more to disease and insects. Then of course grapes, that grow low, are also a lot more difficult to pick, when we in the autumn reach the vendange.

    Also the old part of the plant, the old branch, is cleaned completely for stems, should there be any. You want the latex to go straight for the top to feed the young part of the plant, where the important part of the grapes grow. If there are other stems to feed on the road, some of the energy will be spend and sometimes in vain.

    The young branch with its new stems is left alone and the two stems of the little bit too.

    Understand your wine fast
    So this is the theory, but as in many other disciplines there is often quite a piece to go from theory to reality. This goes for wine too, so like during the pruning, you have to sit down and understand the plant before you can trim it correctly.

    Understand, how its special expression of the Vallée de la Marne is all fit together. A plant can have some weaknesses, that means that it has been pruned as it could rather than as it should according to the big textbook of the winegrower. Also a plant is never regarded completely on its own. If the plant next to it is very young or diseased, it may happen, that one plant produces for two. A phenomenon to be considered when you prune but also when you remove stems.

    A perpendicular stem has an unfortunate direction and will be removed.

    Furthermore some stems are placed rather badly. If they have a perpendicular direction from the fence, the risk that they will brake due to a tractor or storm is close to 100 percent. This is why you might as well remove them, before they have used too much energy in vain.

    In fact there is plenty to think about, and we do count an hours work per row of 200 metres. Which leaves you as much as one minute to do three plants. That means that if you follow the official piece rate, you do not have much time left to think too carefully about which stems to keep or which to remove.

    In principle this cleaning continues until the growth begin to decrease towards mid July. In the weeks following this first throroughly review it is primarily the perpendicular stems and stems at the feet that will be removed. This job you can perform almost automatically and continuously walking throúgh the plots.

    When the stems have grown long enough, they are lifted and fastened. This participates to the genereal order in the vineyard, but it also rectifies the damage, a storm can make.

    To lift the vine
    The time is not fixed in the calendar. The rule of thumb is something like "go" when 95 percent of the new stems will be picked up by the thread.

    The double thread lifted to the first step on the post.

    The principle is as follows: Between the iron post are three rows of thread in various heights. The middle thread is double. Outside the season of growth it is put on the ground. But when the new stems after the first intensive growth has reached a certain length - normally mid June - you collect the double thread and place it in the first position on the post.

    If the wine is pruned and later trimmed well, this double thread will collect most of the new stems and keep them nicely around the fence. However, this assumes that you choose the right time to lift, and that takes a fine judgement.

    If you lift too early, that is when the stems are too short, too many will fall out again. Which leaves you a round of punishment through all the rows to manually and plant by plant to put back each and every stem in the correct way between the double thread.

    If you on the other hand lift too late, the risk is that storms or hail may break the stems. After every fall of rain you have the same risk, because after rain tractors will drive through the wine to spray chemicals against disease and insects, which always increase after rain.

    If you lift in the right moment, your stems will follow nicely.

    The posts have yet another position. A couple of weeks after the first lifting, the double thread gets another lift and the plastic agrafes that we removed back in January will be put back in place to hold the two threads together.

    By then the wine is completely fastened for the summer.

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    16 June, 2000

    Winetourism a la champenoise

    View of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardins terroir in Verzy.

    We regularly discuss about developping some kind of winetourisme. The other day we found that we have been beaten by the great lady of Champagne.

    However, it is not shame to loose to Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. Especially when you are not really going yet. Anyway, the idea is fine.

    Day of the garden in Verzy
    A couple of weekends ago it was "day of the garden" in France. It is a weekend, where the public are invited to visit gardens, that are normally closed. And here in Verzy, the successors of the widow had decided to open le manoir.

    The front garden dressed up in the orange colours of the widow.

    The château of Verzy has more in common with a big villa though. IF you however take into account that the big - some would say useless - park extends to a unknown amount of hectares in a Grand Cru area, where one hectare would cost you at least one million euros, the distinguished name makes much more sense.

    The garden swells with beautiful roses, wellcut hedges, a little pond, a chinese greenhouse and tall, old trees. However, we were a lot more interested in the plots on the other side of the open gate.

    This is where we found one of the big terroirs of the widow. The grapes from Verzy are Grand Cru - supposedly superiour quality - and they are used in the vintages champagnes, that bear the the name La Grande Dame.

    This stone next to the wine mentions the product.

    Close encounter with great terroir
    We could thus determine that the fences that carries the Pinot-Noir plants, were a bit more advanced than our own practice. The double thread that is lifted a couple of times during june can hear be placed in three different positions instead of two.

    It all comes down to an amount of manual workhours. And of course you can afford more people working longer hours if your final product is worth more money.

    We also balked at a series of names, put on nice and oval plates in the orange colour of the house. Then we realized that this is actually winetourism in its uttermost manner of elegance and elite.

    A Finnish citizen experienced the supervendange of 2004.

    Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin accomodates its most prestigious clients in the château in Verzy during the grapeharvest, and they will cut a few symbolic grapes, after which their name for all eternity will be put on a plate and placed in the wine.

    We suddenly realized why the widow do not seem to rent or borrow her manoir, not even to staff...

    You can find a lot of interesting information about the different cuvées of Madame Clicquot Ponsardin and the special conditions for each terroir in each year, if you have the patience to click your way through the complicated hiearachies of the company website.

    Ready for a new elite winepicker of 2005.

    Now, of course we do not have any illusions that we will ever combine a long weeknd in the château with vendange using guilded scissors. However the basic idea is good.

    You can add, that Champagne is situated just one and a half hours drive from Paris, is known by all the world and with a prestige that only few can equal. On top of that it is one of very few wineareas left in France, where the wine is still manually harvested. The summerjobs of the 80'es harvesting the wine of southern France is close to a thing of the past. Machines are cheaper and you can work more efficient as explained to us recently a vigneronne of the Côtes de Castillon close to Saint Emilion.

    Oldfashinoed harvest is out
    Also in Champagne times are changing though, and still more vignerons hire a team of people from Easteren Europe or gipsies, that will take care of their own catering during the grapeharvest. But some places remain where the vendange takes place in the oldfashioned way. Like with us and the rest of our family in Soulières just off Vertus in the Côte de Blancs.

    This means that a team of pickers live with us during the week of the harvest and will get a part of their wages as food and lodging. The work is hard, the atmosphere special and the entire thing ends with party, drinks and dancing.

    This is how it was in Denmark once, this is how it was in France once, and this is how we still do in Champagne. Maybe a tradition to capitalize in some way.

    Wine in Ile-de-France
    We are not the only ones with this kind of ideas. The association of winegrowers in Ile-de-France - even closer to Paris than we are - at the moment considers ways to make money on some of the 45 millions of yearly tourists in Paris:

    "We are far behind, when it comes to winetourism", says Christian de la Guéronnière, chairmain of the association Vignerons Franciliens Réunis, to decanter.com.

    Now he has taken the lead, and will distribute maps over the 145 vineyards of the area to the touristagencies in Paris. You can also find them here.

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    08 June, 2000

    Grapes fight the wrinkles

    The blue and green gold of Champagne are now for external use as well. A company based in Reims uses the grapes in a series of skincare, amongst them anti-ageing cream.

    It is the biologist Pascal Commenil, who has come up with the idea of using surplus grapes in luxury creams. He explains to the French newsagency AFP, that he uses 10.000 kiloes of grapes for each kilo of cream. Which is why the average price for one of the products runs up to around 100 euros.

    So far Pascal Commenil only uses the grains in his products, but he says, that the skin too has interesting characteristics, that are not yet fully examined.

    But those who want to stick to the idea that beaty comes from within may as well continue consuming the grapes in the oldfashioned way. Drinking the champagne that is.

    The beauty products were introduced in December last year under the name Remensis.

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