26 September, 2000

The grapes are sheltered

Our grapes have now been harvested, and all ladies and gentlemen that have been handling them are back in their normal lifes. The impressions from the vendange of our remote corner of the Côte de Blancs are:

  • The grapes have been very impressive. Hardly any rot or other disease, and that goes for both the white Chardonnay and the red Pinot Meunier. However, we have heard rumours that there will be a lack of reds this year, due to severe attacks of the disease mildew and botrytis in other areas of Champagne.

  • On top of that the grapes have been exceptionally big. Around 15 percent on top of the normal weight, which all the workers in the vineyard have felt. The fatigue the last day was just bigger than normal because all grapes, baskets and boxes were more heavy than normal.

  • The weather in September has been magnificent. An Indian Summer in the first half of the month matured the grapes very fast. Unfortunately it also made the botrytis spread very fast and so much (according to the CIVC-measurements) that we got a bit nervous whether our startdate was too late. However it turned out there was no need to worry, since the temperatures just a few day before D-day almost halved from one day to the next which stopped the development of the fungus. Our Pinot Meunier were in general fine, though not as exceptionnal as the Chardonnay.

  • The weather for the vendange was close to perfect. A bit cool in the early morning with temperatures that climbed into the single digits but dry. A few hours later however the sunshine was warm enough to heat up the rows pleasantly. Only the last couple of days the afternoons were getting a bit too warm with temperatures passing 20 degrees Celsius. After all picking the grapes is a pretty physical job.

  • During the seven days we have picked close to 50.000 kilo white Chardonnay and red Pinot Meunier spaced on three different plots in the villages Soulières and Loisy-en-Brie and send them to the press at the cooperative Eustache Deschamps in Vertus. This means that every worker has send close to five tons of grapes into their baskets during the seven days of the vendange.

  • At the cooperative the staff has worked almost around the clock in order to follow the supplies. Only four hours of sleep they have had during the 10 days of the vendange. Several of the members have delivered their quota of grapes more than double as fast as normal, since the big grapes of the year has made it so easy to fill up the baskets and boxes. The cooperative however has had problems to cope.

  • We weighed the biggest grapes that we found to around 600 g for a Chardonnay-grape and around 560 for a Pinot Meunier-grape. They all ended up most deliciously in a clafoutis. We will all remember 2005 as the year of the extremely big grapes and the lacking boxes. They seemed stuck in lines at the coop pretty regular for the above mentioned reasons.

    And this is what they looked like: Pinot Meunier

    and Chardonnay. Really nice and hardly any disease at all.

    The 10 pickers work with either bended backs or knees.

    They work in teams of two, one on each side of a row.

    The grapes are put in a basket, that is emptied in big 50 kg boxes, driven through the rows on caterpillars.

    The vendange of 2005 has featured 15 procent more lifts than normal because of the big grapes.

    The truck of Gérard contains about one fifth of a days work, that is two pallets or around 1200 kg of grapes.

    Queing up at the coop where more than 200 members deliver their production.

    The grapes are weighed and registered.

    8000 kg of grapes ready for the press: A marc.

    The grapes are transported on pallets and poured into the press manually.

    Chardonnay is distributed in one of the five presses.

    The cover of the press clicks. The proces lasts four hours.

    New must from the grapes. The big vessel is for la cuvée (what comes out of the first part of the pressing which is around 4100 litres), the small vessel is for la taille (what comes out of the second part of the pressing which is around 1000 litres). Only la cuvée is used for champagne.

    In the basement under the presses the must is tapped from the vessels connected with the presses to tall tanks covered with tiles.

    The must stays in the tiled tanks in 24 hours. During this period the biggest impurities will sink to the bottom.

    After this first cleaning the must is pumped into big steeltanks where it fermentates the first time. After seven days the must has been transformed to still wine. However there is quite some time and work to go before it becomes champagne.

    Skål, santé... and see you around in 2006.

    På dansk

  • 25 September, 2000

    News september 2005

  • 05.09.2005:
    Maybe the hard control of the yield of the wine matters less, than what is normally universally accepted practise. In Champagne the wine is pruned a lot in order to keep the yield low, which gives the grapes left much better quality. So it is said anyway. Now the American biologist Mark Matthews has shown how the yield from Cabernet Sauvignon with 36 buds left in stead of 18 actually ended up even tastier. According to Wine Spectator the American now plans trials with Pinot Noir. This could be interesting in Champagne, where Pinot Noir is one of the grapes, that is grown. The others are Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay.

  • 06.09.2005: The house Gobillard, which belongs in the village Dizy just outside Épernay, has lost 3.000 bottles of champagne. They were stolen last week from an exhibition room, and now both bottles and thiefs are long gone, writes the local paper l'Union.

  • 08.09.2005: Unknown vandals have destroyed 475 wineplants of the variety Xarello, which belongs to the big Spanish producer of sparkling wine, Freixenet. The attack happened on September 2nd close to the city Subirats in the catalan Penedes region. The plants have been cut and placed in a pattern shaping the derogatory word "cacics", which designates bosses on a regional level in catalan. Both wineproducers and trade unions have clearly denounced the sabotage, and there seems to be no clue who may be behind. But it follows long term disagreements between winegrowers and winemakers about minimum prices of grapes, writes the British newspaper the Independent.

  • 08.09.2005: It may be a humble name on the etiquette, but the British chain of supermarkets, Tescos, own champagne could stand competition from the big names. This was clear when the judges in the annual London-based International Wine Challenge awards chose Tescos Premier Cru as the best non vintage champagne. It is the first time in the 22 year long history of the contest, that supermarketbubbles passes more established names as Taittinger, Mumm and Lanson. The Tesco bubbles, that beat 282 other champagnes, originates from a cooperative in the village Avize in the heart of the Côte des Blancs-area south of Épernay. Read more about the winner champagne here and here. In the category for sparkling wines a wine from Cornwall - Camel Valley Brut - took the gold. It is the magazine Wine International, that arranges the contest, claiming it is the biggest blindtaste in the world.

  • 09.09.2005:
    From this month Mumm will be distributed by Orlando Wyndham in Australis, probably as a result of Pernod Ricards recent buy of Allied Domecq, which left both companies with the same owner. Mumm is the third biggest producer of champagne when it comes to quantity. The company is based in Reims, where it was founded in 1827 by the brothers Mumm, who came from a rich, German family of winemerchants. The flagship is the brut Cordon Rouge, that is named after the red ribbon of the order, the French Legion of Honour. This champagne was introduced for the first time in 1875.

  • 16.09.2005:
    EU and the USA have after 20 years of negotiations made a deal about the right for the usage of 17 European winenames such as champagne, claret, portvin, sherry and chianti. Big American groups such as Korbel and Constellation sell American wines within America under these names, and this continues with the new deal. However they cannot introduce new products under these names. The EU on the other hand must accept this plus the introduction of American wines with alcohol percentages both less than nine and bigger than 15. Something that is currently not allowed in Europe. Both parties can enjoy that a threathening trade war and court case in the world trade organisation now is cancelled. EU continues fighting for the right that names such as Parmaham and Roquefort-cheese should be reserved for products with this excact geographic origin.

  • 19.09.2005: Champagneproducenr Bruno Paillard has been interviewed about the deal by the French newsagency AFP. He calls the deal between the USA and EU for "absurd": "From a moral point of view it is an absurdity", he says. According to Decanter the French wineexporters on the other hand have said ok. The deal secures export to the States for 1,6 billons euro (12 bio. Danish crowns).

  • 20.09.2005: Tv-star Jennifer Aniston just saw talkshowstar Oprah Winfrey. First interview since the divorse from moviestar Brad Pitt went to Oprah in a completely new studio. Aniston brought a bottle, so she with Oprah could bring toast for the new studio, her new life and much more. What champagne they actually sipped has not been mentioned. I also never found the answer to whether former cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, current pope Benedikt XVI, celebrated his election with sekt or real champagne. I suppose the girls went for a rosé.

  • 21.09.2005:
    Nothing is too small, if you pay just a little bit of interest for your environment. Or rather to big. The biggest grapes has been cut not far from here, that is in the village Mailly Champagne. The giant was a Pinot Noir grape of no less than 820 grammes, writes l'Union. Our biggest grapes weighed 560 grammes.

  • 21.09.2005:
    Allow me to remain in the smalltalk department. Our neighbour, madame Denaux, has also been mentioned in the paper, and she reveals herself to be much more of a live wire than I could imagine from seeing her in the street. This year was her 50th jubilee picking grapes. Now 50 times vendange is something to me, and as Odette puts it, it is much easier now, where she is 83 and round-shouldered and much more a level with the grapes. I almost feel like knocking on her door to offer a bottle for the jubilee. Only problem is that it is difficult to compete with champagne, and she probably has plenty of the latter since the winepicking takes place within the family.

    På dansk

    Copyrigt: The copyright for text and pictures at bobler.blogspot.com belongs to Solveig Tange. My articles, pictures aor parts of them may be reproduced elsewhere only when I appear as the author. Please link to my site if you want to, as long as you do not open in your own frame set.

  • 16 September, 2000

    Political wish that Taittinger remains French

    According to the financial newspaper Les Echos the French government currently work in order to secure a French buyer for Champagne Taittinger.

    This information appears in the aftermath of a summer, where American Pepsicos possible buy of Danone led to such much debate and political fuss, that legislation may be the solution in order to prevent such "hostile takeovers". Quite interesting French media consequently uses these two terms together.

    Belgian behind the scenes
    The Belgian financier Albert Frere waits behind the scenes with a lot of millions of euros cash in order to take over the prestigious company. But on a political level some apparently work with other plans.

    Thus members of the Taittinger-family have met government officials and also the current owner of Taittinger, American Starwood Capital, has met the French bank Credit Agricole du Nord Est to find a solution around the bank. All this according to the French financial newspapers edition yesterday, where however no sources for the information were mentioned.

    Read more at Les Echos.

    På dansk

    13 September, 2000

    Morning fog advances disease

    Fog advances disease. Verzenay in Montagne de Reims.

    The harvest of the grapes have begun. The generel reports on the quality of the berries are good: Big grapes, that have what it takes: High weight, big berries and a good mix of sugar and acidity. But also worried voices interferes in the cheres, and it is not just a matter of farmers complaining.

    The weather that since July has provided us with such graciousness and supplied the wine with a perfect mix of water and warmth has turned autumnal. It is still mild under a grey September sky, and the most picturesque morning fog wraps the wine, the forrest and the villages in its airy quilts the major part of the morning. And the air is heavy with moisture.

    Unfortunately that is very favourable conditions for several of the diseases you certainly do not want to see your grapes catching just three days before the harvest.

    Growth of Botrytis
    Especially the Botrytis (pourriture grise) has very good development conditions at the moment. Mainly the red Pinot Noir and Meunier-grapes in the Marne area has caught the disease, but with such optimum conditions for the fungus as currently everybody must be aware.

    CIVC (Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne) writes in its latest evaluation of the current state - it came yesterday - that one out of five grapes is hit. From following the former messages - the first one came August 22nd and the latest September 12th - we have seen, how the frequency at the moment develops very fast.

    This probably means that we on Saturday will start with the red Pinot Muenier to avoid more botrytis than what is already there. If the conditions were different we would have been more likely to start with the white Chardonnay-grapes, whose level of sugar at the moment provides a potential of alcohol of more than 10 %. The Meunier-grapes are halv a percentage below, but with the increased risk of disease they will still most probably go first.

    For those who have caught the major part they may have had to start harvesting before the settled date. How bad things will be, depends purely on the weather. That is how much fog, warmth and moist air the next days will bring.

    Warm weather for wine
    A farmer is a farmer when you talk about the weather. And a winegrower is not much different. You may have done a great job in your parcels all through the year. Pruned well, tied up well, lifted the wires at the perfect time and spread chemicals and cut the leaves in the top and on the sides. The last ace will still always belong to the weather.

    Since the wine started to grow in the early spring, the conditions has been very good. The weather may have seen incredibly changing not to say moody when experienced by an urban dweller. Sometimes heat wave with tremendous thunder showers. March offered first a lot of snow and later early heat. April was two degrees Celsius below the normal average. May was cold. It was not many days the light summerdresses left their hangers. And then in the second half of June the heatwave arrived with 40 degrees Celsius in the sun. Since then the weather has shifted between warmth and rain.

    But do not let yourself be cheated by the unstable impression. In July the temperatures still passed an average of 19,1 degresse Celsius which is half a degree more than usual. And the wine has had a great summer.

    Pinot Noir dressed for fall at Verzenay.

    Enough heat at the times - to wake up in March, to develop leaves in April, to flower in June and to mature in August - and on top of that enough water to form the big grapes of this year. With an average weights of 170 grammes most certainly in the high range of what could be expected.

    So now we just cross our fingers that the botrytis will seek other parcels than ours the last few days to go.

    På dansk

    11 September, 2000

    Camp Champagne

    Gipsycamp outside Chigny-les-Roses in Montagne de Reims.

    The many and scattered camps is back in Champagne. Anywhere outside the villages where there is no wine, you will find gipsy groups with their caravans, tents and clothes lines. They have come to harvest the grapes, and now they just wait to sign up with someone.

    The harvest of the grapes start in the Côte des Blancs tomorrow, September 12th. As we today rested after a sundaylunch with the family we could see the gipsies arrive, a caravan of caravans through the mainstreet of the village. They are here on tolerated residence during these few weeks.

    Temporary jobmarket
    Some of the gipsy teams already know where they can stay. That goes for those who already have made a deal with a winegrower last year. A deal, that they keep.

    Others just come along. During tomorrow, monday, they will ask here and there until they find jobs during the harvest. Maybe at one of those vignerons who has either been stood up or just waits until the last minute to hire people. It is these people you will also meet in the roads when their move their long line of caravans from one place to the other in search of work. When they eventually can sign up for something, the employer must provide a room for the caravans with access to water, electricity and toilets.

    The local newspaper l'Union works as meeting place for others. On special pages only concerning the harvest of the grapes, the paper lists places to show up and phone numbers to call, so that those who look for jobs can hook up with those who need people. In the paper you can also find the rates for the different jobs. And this is where you find the explanation of why so much of the necessary labour comes from outside the region. The wages are too bad.

    Rate per hour or kilo
    As picker of grapes and paid per hour I rank in the absolute bottom of everything. The aching muscles that I expect to have gained in no more than one week, is paid with 8,08 euro per hour (appr. 60 Danish crowns). My brother in law, who with a partner empties the 50 kilo boxes of grapes into the press, receives 9,12 euro per hour and on top of that a not yet settled bonus. With a working day of 12-13 hours he will have moved quite some kilos at the end of the day, since each marc - pressing - contains up to 8.000 kilo of grapes. My husband, who guides the work and monitors the content of the boxes - that is sound berries and no leaves - peaks with 10,23 euro, and on top of that he is definitely the one to have less pains in the body. That is just the way it is. There is always more money in the complete view of transactions rather than detail and speed, and that goes for much more than just the vendange.

    Food and lodging is part of my wages as well. More accurately it adds up to 14,54 euros each day deducted from the amount I make in the fields. Since we work eight hours every day, there is not even 400 Danish crowns left after a full day in the fields. Before taxes that is. But the mealsystem is great: We get so much country style food from early morning and all the way to the last piece of cake just before bedtime and champagne with the meals of course.

    The other way of payment is a single price per kilo. People that are paid after these rules normally take care of their own food and lodging. The gipsyfamilies are normally hired in this way. This year the grapes are in general very big, which makes it a lot easier and faster to reach a kilo. Thus payment per kilo - a la tâche - could be more the more interesting way of payment this year.

    Whether a winegrower picks one or the other is sometimes more a question of necessity than anything else. If he cannot provide the minimum requirements, decided by the authorities, such as a certain number of showers for a certain number of people, he may hire some pickers with lodging and others without. This does not necessary mean that those hired a la tâche will actually have access to a shower. But I suppose, in this case it is regarded as own choice rather than lacking equipment of the employer.

    Our winepickers is mainly family and old contacts.

    An army of seasonal workers
    Kilorate or timerate: One thing is sure. The vendange in Champagne has started in the first villages. There is about one month to pick the yields of the year.

    It is a job done by around 120.000 seasonal workers. Some of them are gipsies, others are from Eastern Europe and in the last group, living in France, you will find locals, some from other areas and finally a group of foreign students. From the last group Chinese students have shown quite some interest in low-status jobs similar to the picking of the grapes. However, if there actually are Chinese in the rows, I do not know.

    Many French are now rather aware, that you do not hire Chinese people for jobs, you do not want to see copied in China later on. But of course you may have to choose between one evil or the other, since the number of thefts is said to rise as the gipsies arrive.

    Closed Tabac
    I cannot say how much is rumour and how much is true. But I can see that some people most certainly act on the changes even if it means less income. The woman who runs the local tabac for instance only sells cigarettes from an almost barricaded shop during the grape harvest, and only to people she already knows. So I have had to go to the next village to get supplies since I did not know about her special practice.

    Anway somebody has got to go for the grapes, the Champagne gold, and that provides the gipsies a way of making money. The other solution would be that the winegrowers would raise the salary to a level, where the locals would be interested in the more physical aspects of the wine.

    When I watch the number of temporary camps and the amount of garbage on the edge of the ditches, however it does not seem necessary to change anything for a while. I suppose that everybody must be okay with what they have got...

    På dansk

    08 September, 2000

    Rolling, rolling from September 17th

    The harvest of the grapes has started. Château de Boursault behind is the only château in Champagne. You find it just outside the village Cramant i the Côte des Blancs.

    It is just before the vendange starts. The first village in the Côte des Blancs will start on monday (September 12th), and here in Montagne de Reims the harvest of the grapes kicks off from September 15t). With both Chardonnay, that mature early, and Pinot Meunier, that mature later, we need to make a choice that favours both types, so we start on an untraditional saturday (September 17th).

    This means, that the normally quite sleepy winevillages in the area now start to wake up for the only week during the year that bursts of activity. The preparations are ongoing everywhere.

    Cleaning of the year
    Our neighbour on one side has been busy cleaning the vendangeoir of the neighbour on the other side to make it ready to accommodate the people, that will come to pick grapes and carry and drive them to the press. And I wonder if not aunt Monique and Annie are busy with broom and bucket in Soulières as well.

    A small truck delivered supplies such as food, drinks and toiletpaper for the neighbour this morning, and just an hour ago the greengrocer guy from Brittany passed by with his van.

    Harvest à la ancienne means a lot of life and fun in the farms. The normal population grows multiple times, because the winepickers live there during the harvest. Part of their salary is board and lodging, which makes the daily shopping and cooking a rather extensive job during the harvest. However it is eased somewhat with a good sense of logistics. For instance, why not get your Charlotte-potatoes delivered in 25 kilo-bags instead of dragging them to the car yourself after a visit in Carrefour or Leclerc.

    Plannning and logistics
    In Soulières our chef, Annie, studies her old dog-eared note book. The idea of keeping track of proportions and recipies comes from sister-in-law Martine. Today the little book has developped into a bit of a goldmine of information about the vendange for the last 20 years as experienced from the kitchen.

    The cheese Maroilles with green salad is typical for the vendange.

    He - or she - who has tried to cook for many knows that you do not estimate the necessary amounts in quite the same way as you do for a family of four. Then on the other hand during this week you need to keep fysically hard working bellies happy, both when it comes to quantity and variation.

    This is why good planning and well-run logistics probably cannot be overstated. So the breton is very welcome, and the freezers emptied as much as possible to leave some space for the deliveries from supermarkets and wholesales.

    In our place we prepare everything ourselves, but there are others that get the food from catering-companies, go to restaurants or simply hire people who can take care of their lodging and meals themselves.

    The travelling people
    This year our winepickers are recruited from Normandy, and on top of that there are some local people as well that already work in farming, others are just interested in the vendange.

    Others engage teams that manage themselves. Some of them from Eastern Europe, others are gipsies or with a translation of the French term: "The travelling people". And the first of them have already arrived, since this morning an old gipsy woman with a dark brown face as wrinkled as an apple from last year sounded the bell at our gate to sell kitchen towels.

    "N'ai pas peur", she said once the gate was open. I do not know if I looked frightened - or why I should. Maybe it is just her regular conjuration of people like me. I did not buy any of her ugly and cheap looking things but I regretted it almost straight away. I do not envy the gipsies their wandering, marginal life. Freedom or whatever you'd call it to make it sound nicer.

    Chardonnay with evening sun, Verzy September 3rd.

    Tight control
    With the food, drinks and lodging ready and the workers on their way, only the grapes now have to finish their maturation. And then of course the final quantity to pick be settled.

    On a big meeting in Épernay in the end of last week the winegrowers suggested to take 13.000 kilos per hectare, hence a small part - 1.600 kilos - for blocked reserves. Now the authorities must decide the final number.

    It is not the winegrower himself but a body under the French ministry of agriculture that has the final say about the amount of grapes that can finally be turned first into wine and then into champagne. A fact that may cause twitching in the competition genes of some Danes and maybe even make them ask if this tight control explains why a bottle of champagne is that expensive?

    Of course there is not doubt that the limitations help to keep the supplies of champagne down, which must affect the prices. On the other hand it helps securing the quality of the final product as well. The thinning of the grapes during the summer - the so-called green harvest - raises the quality of the remaining grapes. Says theory anyway.

    The latest reports from the fields as follows:

  • the yield of the year is between 14.000 amd 18.000 kilos per hectare.
  • the grapes are between 160 and 170 grams and
  • there are in average 11 grapes per square metre.

    Nothing left to say but: Please go ahead and pick!

    På dansk

  • 06 September, 2000

    Taste of Villedommange grapes

    Pinot Noir grapes from Villedommange, Montagne de Reims.

    On the 59th edition of the big yearly exhibition of "a little bit of everything for the farmers" in the regional capital Chalons-en-Champagne we had the chance to get a first taste of the grapes of 2005.

    The people of the Clos de la Chapelle - an association of 23 independant vignerons from the village Villedommange in Montagne de Reims - supplied the grapes - green Chardonnay and blue Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier - and made sure they got pressed the old style way leaving it to the visitors to have a taste of the new must.

    Draw it yourself must on the market in Chalons-en-Champagne.

    A nice little push for the profession, which at the same time gave vice-chairman Denis Mahut, Clos de La Chapelle, a possibility to talk about the outlook of the vendange 2005. It augurs well, and with an expected output of around 18.000 kilos per hectare the Villedommange expectations are in the high end of the general average of the region.

    Denis Mahut goes on, that he expects to begin to harvest the grapes around September 19th, writes regional newspaper l'Union.

    Publicity the tall way in Chalons-en-Champagne.

    On top of the grapes the vignerons of Villedommange also demonstrated the usage of old equipment on Saturday.

    Amongst them one of the more spectacular manual processes - the dégorgement - where the temporary cork on the champagnebottle is removed together with the leftovers of the yeast and replaced by the final cork.

    The foire in Chalons-en-Champagne thus an excellent opportunity to experience this rare, manual skill.

    På dansk

    05 September, 2000

    Halfway we think

    The coop has its heyday of the year these days. Posted by Hello

    We are now halfway through the grapes, that is theoretically anyway, because it is not easy to know exactly, where the middle is, since the plants not carry the same amount of grapes. Also the length of the rows vary, they are even in three geographically different locations. On top of that the quality of the grapes vary. This year is is in general high, most of the grapes are pretty mature and only a few are diseased or rotten.

    Now we have stopped completely harvesting the less nice grapes, and also those at the bottom of the plant or the most difficult ones squeezed inbetween branches, eachother or the metalthread are left. Also even foreman Gerard says the best ones are at the bottom, because the flowering starts here, which makes them the oldest.

    On this the fourth day of the harvest we thus don’t follow the rules from the ministry too closely anymore. Maybe because there exist several different interpretations of it. Some says, it means you must cut all grapes even to leave them on the ground. Others say you must cut grapes in each row but not necessarily take everything. Nobody seems to have read the text themselves.

    Whether you must interpretate in one way or the other, one thing is sure. A man from another village in the neighbourhood has according to the harvest gossip – we got the story tonight from cousin Jean-Michels wife - had four rows harvested by somebody else, which was definitely a mistake. In years with too few grapes to harvest it may happen that somebody will steal some of your grapes straight from the plant in the night or try to get grapes from other areas to deliver as his own at the press. This is why you these days see extraordinarily many policecars around the roads. Your risk is to be caught and loose the license to grow wine or your living for most people here. But years like this one where everything – however you understand it – is to cut, only people with very limited brains would actually hunt for grapes in the neighbours fields.

    For the time being we stay where we are. Geographically and kilowise. 6200 green Chardonnay-grapes were shippes of too the presses in Vertus today, the same amount as yesterday. Even the muscles seem to be getting used to the new times with fysical work on your knees or like me sitting on the bum, eight hours every day.

    På dansk