31 March, 2001

News March 2006

15.03.2006: The export of champagne to Great Britain grew an impressive four percent in 2005. The British drank almost 37 million bottles during last year, says Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne. The CIVC mentions growth in sales of both rosé- and vintagechampagnes (5 and 7,3 percent). Also the sales of big bottles such as Magnum (1,5 litres), Jeroboam (3 litres) and even Nebuchadnezzar (15 litres) is on the rise.

15.03.2006: The international luxury industry is careful watching the far East markets, where boom economies India and China the next years each are expected to come up with between 10 and 30 million younger, wealthy customers. According to the French Colbert Committee, that organises 69 wellknown, French brands - amongst them champagnes Bollinger, Krug, Veuve-Clicquot-Ponsardin, Ruinart and Laurent-Perrier - the growth in demand took off already in 2002, the year after China joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO). In the beginning the chinese market took between one and three percent of the luxury goods. This has now grown into between five and seven percent. China is expected to pass Japan as the worlds biggest consumer of luxury products in just five years. Only in Europe there is no growth.

27.03.2006: The Pinot Noir-genome is just about mapped now. It consists of 19 chromosomes, that each contains about half a million necleotides. It is the complete sequency of these, that Italian and American researchers have now mapped, writes Decanter.com. It is the first time that the heritage of a plant, that bears fruits, has been mapped. The new knowledge may be used to develop plants, that are better adapted to difficult climates, and more resistant to pests. Pinot Noir is grown in Champagne and Burgundy.

På dansk

Copyright: The copyright for text and photos at bobler.blogspot.com belongs to Solveig Tange. You may use my articles, photos or parts of them for non-commercial use and if I am credited as the author. Feel free to link to this site but not in your own frameset please.

28 March, 2001

Shopping trolley de luxe

The Brits love Bollinger, favourite brand of James Bond and purveyor to the British court.

With champagne now making it into the official British price index, the French bubbly seems to be reaching the utmost imaginable democratization. Champagne has always been well loved in England. Historically even before the French themselves appreciated the bubbles and considered them rather as a production error.

On the latest shopping list of the British government - an official collection of prices used to calculate two annual price indexes, used to fix the interest of the Bank of England and to set the size of state pensions as well - champagne has replaced cheaper, sparkling wines such as the Italian prosecco, the Spanish cava and the French crémant.

The 26 newbies amongst all in all 650 products tell their own story about new times, new customs and maybe most of all new, rich middle class in good old England. MP 3-players and flatscreentelevisions appear on the list next to champagne, all for the first time. All the way back from the 1950'ies are Tupperware and canned fruits.

A bottle per grown up Brit
Last year the sales of champagne in Great Britain grew four percent to roughly 37 million bottles. This corresponds to a doubling in 10 years, and it sure makes the Brits stay in front as the biggest export market of Champagne.

The Spanish cava has trippled its sales in the same period, and it can be picked up in supermarkets at campaign prices from as little as three pounds per bottle, says daily The Independent. Normally the cheapest of champagnes do not go below 10 pounds. Even so champagne still has a market share in Great Britain as impressive as 40 procent. Compare this to Champagnes share of the global market of sparkling wines which is 15 percent.

According to several comments on the site of the BBC the inflation is getting artificial respiration, when you include products like MP 3-players and flatscreen televisions. Both very likely to become a lot cheaper fast, whereas the same thing can hardly be said about mortgages and petrol prices, which are not included. Champagne however hardly plays any role in that game since those prices are not likely to fall much. The difference between the British supermarket price and that of the vigneron in Champagne (8,8 pounds) is not big.

More about the British shopping habits and inflationrates at the website of the National Statistics.

På dansk

Copyright: The copyright for text and photos at bobler.blogspot.com belongs to Solveig Tange. You may use my articles, photos or parts of them for non-commercial use and if I am credited as the author. Feel free to link to this site but not in your own frameset please.

27 March, 2001

Small course in the art of being humble

Grapeharvest in Loisy-en-Brie, 2004, my first by the way.

Our gentle neighbours have come for a drink during the weekend, and I have learned two things about the upcoming test next friday morning.

First thing: Each candidate must prune both two Chablis-vines and two Cordon de Royat-vines. There is no such thing as an easy and a difficult way of passing as I have thought all along. Only double to pass or fail.

Just a test
During the last two and a half month - 10 thursdays that is - I have had the idea that the practical test was only half as extensive as it happens to be. It makes me sort of wonder what other important parts I have missed.

But everybody still goes - and Danes and French are incredibly united on this one -
it is just a test. "If you do not make it, you just do it again, when you have the experience to be sure to pass," our neighbour, Jocelyne, tops up. Dear me!

So why is it then, that this one is so much more hideous than most other tests I have done so far?

Challenge of your head or hands
The test consists of three parts. Those that I can control intellectually, read and prepare at my desk, I am almost able to handle. Even I do find it challenging to think about doing an oral examination in French. A language where I still skip anything more advanced than present and past. But at least I know the process: What you cannot understand, you just learn by heart.

The monkey test... the written - seven correct answers out of ten possible ones in 10 minutes - works fine for me. When I practise it, I have now begun to make mistakes, because I do not concentrate fully anymore. I know it all too well.

The real challenge is the practical test. I know how to prune both the Chablis- as well as the Cordon de Royat-way, at least if I sit nice and quietly and do it at my speed. Problem is that you are supposed to keep pace with a certain minimum speed.

In my former job experiences I have always sold my head,never my hands. It is a very new experience to have your weak sides tester rather than the strong ones. To the practical performance you may add language as well.

Driver's license to the vineyards
The closest I get to something similar must be the driver's license. Back then I used all the cheap tricks I could come up with.

I wore as short a skirt as I could possibly find, and I made sure that the examiner, who happened to be a future politician in the area, knew all to well, that I worked in the regional radio station. I passed... but how and why was a big mystery to both my teacher and myself. But a license is a license, and I have had mine ever since.

This test is the first practical one that I try since then, even of course it is much more. I see it as a small test of the art of being humble in disguise. The so far most challenging mental test of my acceptance of a life abroad and all that it takes.

Feelings and pure logic
I know a French woman, who went to Great Britain with a university degree in her pocket. She began 12 years in England in a factory. By doing this she showed a determination and a will to get to know her new country from the bottom, and it gave her the basic knowledge of language and cultural behaviour, that soon made it possible for her to use her education abroad.

It is quite clear of course, that the emigrant must begin his (her) new life in another level than in his native country, where everything is known to him. Now, emotional comprehension followed by acceptance and action do not necessarily take place in the same pace as the intellectual.

Intellectually I understand very well, that it is not really a personal defeat to have resultats one or maybe two steps above the functionally illiterate - after all I have not lived that long in France - but even so I am not really able to accept this.

Which may be the explanation why I find it so difficult to meet my almost - even not 100 percent - certain defeat next friday. But since we have already entered the exam - payed to do it - long time ago, it of course does not make sense at all not to try. Except that logic is just about the least usable mental operation I can think of in connection with all this. A little humility during these last days would be of some help though.

Humility before D-day
I quite vividly remember my old grandmothers fight during her last years to accept a life in dependency of others. I am convinced that it is more difficult to get used to your own weakness than the contrary. At least if you once have had to teach yourself to be strong. During these last 10 weeks I have certainly learned a few things about my mind and the way it works.

  • I seem to be a hardcore competitioner who does not like to enter a contest where the chances already beforehand are small. Apparently I do not really accept the fact that it is okay for me to gamble and loose. Even around 50 percent will probably fail thus making it at least as much a matter of luck as skill.
  • I already knew that I am proud, the degree has still surprised me. I am quite sure it has helped me through the years to complete different projects and jobs. But right now it makes it hard to relax about the test: I may as well admit, that it actually matters to me whether I fail or pass even this is not home match for me.
By the way I physically have big difficulties to keep up with the others. The ninth day of the pruning course I managed to survive only two times 30 minutes and I did no attaching at all.

I am five and a half month pregnant and I have put on almost nine kilos of weight. It is hard for me to bend to see what I need to see and the working heigth of just 60 centimeters is so low that I very fast feel it as pains in the back and stomach. The rest of the time I spend lying down in the car and later on in my bed. Practising in the weekends is over too. I will have to take it as it comes.

Never renew the American vine
Neighbour Jocelyne has one last advice to share:

You fail if you prune your rachet on a shoot from the very low part of the root. This is the American vine, and it is sterile. If you renew your vine with it, you will not have any grapes, so it is certainly fair to fail on that one. The art of it is to know the difference.

"You wait and see", says Jocelyne, who has 30 years of experience in the vineyards, "In a few years it will be easy for you to spot the difference between the right and the wrong shoots." It was not for the wife of the electrician, who failed her exam the same year as Jocelyne, because she was not able to.

I am not either, of course. I just know that I must be careful if I have to use the very low branches. But I am sure she knew as well. The problems occur when there is nothing else to use, and then it is real bad not to be capable of spotting the difference.

But as everybody says: "It is just a test, come on," Right, it is just a test then.

På dansk

Copyright: The copyright for text and photos at bobler.blogspot.com belongs to Solveig Tange. You may use my articles, photos or parts of them for non-commercial use and if I am credited as the author. Feel free to link to this site but not in your own frameset please.

The very interested reader may want to know that you fail as well if you:

1) are too slow,
2) leave your vine with too many charpentes: Four are permitted,
3) remove your courson when it is not necessary,
4) have superposition or chevauchement,
5) prune your lancement under your rachet,
6) hold your secateur badly,
7) get too little points in the final count of points.
8) renew your Cordonde Royat too early.

19 March, 2001

Exam in the vine is close

Little mand on the wide open spaces of the vineyards. The binding seems never-ending when you watch it from the street. When I work myself, I move forwards nice and quietly and even think of it as quite pleasant.

My course in pruning the vines is moving towards the end. Now I know the date and time for the final test. I am more or less able to cope with the techniques, and this weekend I have been out to work a bit more on the binding. What I need now is mainly to work faster and to improve the quality of my decisions.

I think I have been rather hard-working on using the possibilities, I have had to train myself. This last sunday morning I once again went to vineyards of my mother-in-law to practise the binding of vines pruned the Chablis-way. I was fine. It is almost nice to roll your way through the rows to the accompaniment of the birds and in the bright sunlight of spring.

But even I now put suncream on my chins before work, I am still well dressed. Several layers of wool under the coat, protection trousers, gloves and bonnet and woolen soles in my wellingtons. The wind is still very cold.

Alone on the sea of vines
Seen from the outside, from the roads, from the paths between the vineyards the pruning and the binding seem rather overwhelming. All on your own in a mighty landscape of vine. And even some of the plots are rather small, the plants still grow rather close to each other, so you must work your way through a lot of kilometres before you are done. Many bring a radio, but right now with the birds sing so intensely that I prefer to hear the great song of nature rather than anything else. But then... it is not me who have spend months in the vineyards first pruning and now binding.

As I sit on my little bench on its strong wheels - the camionnette - I do not experience the same kind of infinity as I see from below when I do not work. My focus is on the plant I currently work with and to some extent on its neighbour as well, but never further than that.

It is a small and simple world. The string, I use, consists of a thin metal thread surrounded by paper. Its place is a little box in the back of my vehicle. The vine is in front of me, my tools in my lap. I carefully wind the string a couple of times around the branch I want to bind. I place the two ends of the thread inside the hook of my lieuse and carefully pull to the right.

My movement- when it is succesful anyway - leaves a tight winding, that will help the vine to keep straight up, when it later during growth will have more to carry. Two bindings per branch are normally fine. One for the charpente and another one for the prolongement. I take off with my legs and roll on upwards to the next plant.

I put the branches in the correct position, then bind them with a loop of string, and finally wind the loop into a tight binding with my tool.

Now and then I have to force the branches - as much as it can be done - into the correct position. One branch may continue on one side of an iron post and on to the other and thus cannot be tightened completely. You may also try to bend a branch in order to avoid superposition - the strictly forbidden phenomenon where the buds of two fertile branches may disturb one another. And then you finally sometimes experience that the old charpente that carries the fertile branch is not long enough to reach the thread. In this case you try to bind it to something else. Anything else really.

None of the branches break, so my manipulation cannot have been that hard. And then Annie has chosen good, strong wood, I suppose, when she pruned months ago.

Last big task
The binding is the last really big manual task, before the growth begins. Which will not be long now, as the tears - les pleurs - little by little have begun to flow here as well as in Avenay val d'Or. The sap is rising, and that means life is coming back. The buds have also begun to change appearance into a more wollen look.

When they start growing for real, and the first sight of the folded leaves can be caught, it becomes a slightly more difficult task to bind without destroying anything. I suppose it is quite likely that this may be the case during the exam in Bisseul right below Avenay val d'Or, where we already last week saw the first tears.

The liese consists of a hook and a pair of scissors..

Not pruned is the exception
Most places, I have passed in the Montagne de Reims and the Côte de Blancs during the last time, the workers in the vineyards have exchanged the scissors and wheelbarrow with lieuse and camionnette.

Only very few plots are still not pruned. You can postpone the period of growth about a week if you prune late. A trick that may be interesting if you own a plot with a particularly big risk of late frost. The other obvious possibility is that the owners are simply just late.

As cousin Nathalie, who kindly let me share both her experience and put my fingers in her cordons in the village of Rilly-la-Montagne in the Montagne de Reims. It is a way of pruning that I find less complicated than the Chablis. I begin to feel rather safe making my own decisions. Even as I prune the Meunier of Nathalie thinking I prefer not to be the one to diminish her harvest too much. I think less this way when I prune the Chardonnay of my mother-in-law since I know from the harvest days they always carry the necessary amount of grapes and even much more. A few mistakes in the pruning will not show on the yield, that is for sure.

The belongings of Nathalie are a good example of the spread ownership of plots here in Champagne. She owns plots in three different places: In Rilly-la-Montagne after her stepdad and two different places around the city of Dormans in the Vallée de la Marne after her grandmother and mother. Within the close family add the fields of her husband placed in the Côte de Blancs close to ours. This means that work in the vineyards means a lot of driving around as well.

Facts of the test
So far I have learned:

  • To prune vines according to the Chablis- and Cordon de Royat-methods.

  • To attach.

  • The reglementation for the AOC (appellation d'origine controlé) of champagne.

  • To do the written monkey test almost to perfection...

    I still worry about the practical test. I am fine when I can work on my own. It is worse when someone is watching, and definitely worst when somebody is timing me.

    I also need to learn theory to the equivalent of 10 A4 pages by heart. The mental block is that it is in French. I have decided to learn one page by heart every day until the test.

    My exam is scheduled to exactly 10 days. Alains exam is the next day. Just the way I would have chosen to order it if I could. I will not have to experience him all relaxed because it is over while I am one bundle of nerves still waiting.

    But it will be hard for my pregnant stomach to get up early the next morning after the last thursday in the schoolvine. My pregnancy has made it more and more difficult for me to see what I need to because I cannot bend my body in the necessary way anymore. And after a couple of hours on top of my upside-down bucket I need to spend at least the same amount of time stretchted out in bed. So I am really looking forward to see the end of this.

    Everybody urges me to do the test - come on, you are enlisted - maybe you can make it, even in French. Both Danes and French seem curiously united in this stand.

    På dansk

    Copyright: The copyright for text and photos at bobler.blogspot.com belongs to Solveig Tange. You may use my articles, photos or parts of them for non-commercial use and if I am credited as the author. Feel free to link to this site but not in your own frameset please.

  • 16 March, 2001

    Spring is here, the birds sing

    Vineyards in the outskirts of Rilly-la-Montagne in the Montagne de Reims. The capital of Champagne, Reims, can be seen in the horizon. The distance is less than 10 kilometres.

    Spring has come to Champagne. The days at the moment boast clear and very blue skies.

    The birds, that stay with us, have begun to build their nests and are singing along in the village as well as in the forest. Their travelling collegues are on the move far above our heads, with a course straight North. My thoughts are far away from avian flu. Instead they make me homesick.

    I often hear them when I am in the vineyards. To work, to take photos or to stroll along. A great privilege to have such errands for hours in this great living room of nature.

    The sun warms cold chins
    It is still rather cold. In the morning almost freezing with temperatures round or below zero. The wind is cold, the air as well, but we clearly feel that the sun now gives battle against the forces of winter. It warms the chins, and I am quite convinced that winter now does not have the slightest chance of comeback.

    After completing the eighth thursday at the pruning course in Avize, I even managed to return home with sunburnt chins. Never gave it a second thought to put sunscreen all along with my woollen sweaters, hat and gloves.

    Frozen earth and puddles outside the village of Bouzy in the Montagne de Reims.

    The vines are still lying dormant though. When we prune, we can see, that the time of tears - les pleurs - has not yet begun. That is fine, says cousin Nathalie, who has offered me private training in the company of her Pinot Meunier pruned cordon-style in the outskirts of Rilly-la-Montagne, another little winegrower's village on the northern slopes of the Montagne de Reims.

    The tears of the vine reports the new season
    The time of tears is a phenomenon, that begins, when the vine after lying dormant all winter begins to wake up for the next period of growth. As the tmeperature of the soil passes a certain degree, the concentrated sap inside the vine becomes fluid again and rises upwards, to reach the buds. If you prune the vine at this time, the sap will flow everywhere you cut as if it was an open wound. These are the tears of the vine.

    The tears however are not bad for the plant. According to the pruning-course the best time to do your pruning is March. That is if it does not freeze more then 2-3 degrees the following night. Frost may expose the plant to damage. Few days after the pruning, the wound has heeled and will be able to resist damage.

    Pantry of the rabbits
    Nathalie has developped her own methods, and she is keen to share. As you remove the attachments of last year, you at the same time get an idea of the cordons and the shoots of the plant. You estimate if it is time to renew the vine and if so you do a lancement from last years rachet. Then you do three rachets - certainly not according to theory, where you are only allowed one.

    But what is also not according to theory is that the vineyard of Nathalie is amongst the more popular playgrounds of little rabbits in Montagne de Reims. And the little beasts are not satisfied jumping around in the rows, they forage as well. Amongst their preferred food are the young buds of the rachets. Which is why Nathalie leaves two rachets with two buds and one with one bud. A little extra to be better safe than sorry.

    I often pass this spot late in the evening, and it is quite true. No where between Rilly-la-Montagne and Verzy do I see more little rabbits fooling around than exactly these hills. It seems to be a really hot spot amongst rabbits.

    It leaves Nathalie more work because once she has finished the pruning and the attaching she will have to do an extra trip to check all the vines to remove those of the extra rachets that were not necessary after all.

    The tallest point in the Montagne de Reims (259 meters) is situated between the villages Bouzy and Louvois on the edge of the big forest, that covers the entire top of the Montagne.

    Friday bar begins on thursdays
    Thursday - day of the pruning course - more and more resembles what we in Denmark know as the bar of fridays. The beer(s) you enjoy with your friends to celebrate the end of the week and start of the weékend.

    Today Damien has brought redwine, baguette and homemade patées of his mother-in-law for a casse-croûte before we begin. A couple of hours later - just before lunch - he serves champagne, a rose de saignée from the departement of Aisne, the extreme Western point of Champagne, and on top of that a blanc de blancs from Avize.

    Now, I happen to like our own rosé de saignée very much with its wonderful deep pink colour and rich taste of red fruits, so I find it slightly difficult to reconcile myself with that of Damien. The taste is much less fruity and more dry. The grapes of Aisne are simply more sour, says Alain. However, the rosé wins an incredibly lot by being drunk with the little quiche-pieces of Florence and crips. It seems much more rounded and pleasant in salty company.

    The other bottle of Damien - the blanc de blancs from Avize - is very pleasant on its own. Pure Chardonnay-champagnes sometimes seem too close to bubbly white wines, but this one is wonderful and arrives wonderfully smooth on your palate, a perfect aperitif. It certainly wins over our own non vintage blanc de blanc, which is more sour. However, if you like to have your taste buds challenged, our vintage blanc de blanc - Le Vertueux is the name - is probably more interesting. But then again it is not quite fair to compare a vintage with a non vintage champagne. They are just different.

    The whole range of different champagnes in Champagne is a true treasury for your perceptions. If you enjoy this kind of challenge.

    På dansk

    Copyright: The copyright for text and photos at bobler.blogspot.com belongs to Solveig Tange. You may use my articles, photos or parts of them for non-commercial use and if I am credited as the author. Feel free to link to this site but not in your own frameset please.

    15 March, 2001

    Taittinger finally for sale

    One of the most prestigious houses of Champagne is finally up for sale. Last year the American fund Starwood Capital bought the entire Taittinger-group. Now it has finally opened the sale of the champagnehouse part of the group.

    Interested buyers may require a dossier, that is written by the banks JP Morgan and Rothschild. However, expect a rather deep dive in your purse since Taittinger is estimated to approximately 450 million euros. According to the daily Le Figaros financial pages Starwood does not expect to sell for less than 550 million euros. The auction is expected to begin this week.

    Amongst the assets are 288 valuable hectares of vineyards in the best areas and 20
    million bottles of champagne in the cellars. On top of that put activities in other wine areas such as Bordeaux, Loire and California. They may be sold separately though.

    The sale of Taittinger follows another mentioned sale, namely the one of Lanson International which was acquired by Boizel Chanoine Champagne in the end of 2005.

    På dansk

    Copyright: The copyright for text and photos at bobler.blogspot.com belongs to Solveig Tange. You may use my articles, photos or parts of them for non-commercial use and if I am credited as the author. Feel free to link to this site but not in your own frameset please.

    13 March, 2001

    USA and EU sign deal on names

    Champagne has moved a small step forwards on the long and winding road towards the global rights of the name of champagne. Last week the EU and the United States both signed an agreement, that is the climax so far after more than 20 years of talks.

    Today it is only in the USA that vintners still write champagne on their labels. Now the American administration however has agreed to ask Congress to limit the usage of 17 European names of places such as Burgundy (France), Chianti (Italy), Sherry (Spain) and Tokay (Hungary).

    Until now the Americans have viewed these names rather as notions of certain types of wine rather than place names.

    A row of big steel tanks is certainly not very romantic. In Champagne these vats are used for the first fermentation, not for ageing.

    Nobel taste from wooden chips
    You get nothing in this world for free, of course. The Europeans have had to allow American wines, that has gained their fine, wooden taste from ageing in steeltanks with wooden chips added and not from oak barrels. A cheaper method of production that so far is not allowed in Europe. In the wake of the agreement Italy has asked the EU to change its legislation in order to allow usage of wooden chips.

    The EU has had to acknowledge American geographic names such as Long Island and Applegate Valley. But that has probably hurt less than the wooden chips.

    Each others biggest markets
    USA and Europe are each others biggest export markets of wine. So far EU sells more than double to the States (two billion euros), but that may change since the import from the USA is on the rise.

    As the deal was entered last autumn, it was criticized because it only covers new wines. This means, that the vintners, that all time along have sold their sparkling wines as champagne, can continue.

    Talks about what the new agency AP describes as a "more ambitious" agreement will start in some months. The possible introduction of American wines with a low percentage of alcohol on the European market is amongst the subjects to be discussed,

    Oldfashioned oak barrels are on the rise in Champagne. Typically to age the wines that are added after disgorging as the liqueur de tirage.

    Read the American press release about the agreement.

    Read more about the agreement here.

    The deal includes many more products than wine and champagne. In Denmark the feta may get in trouble. In Great Britain the blue Stilton-cheese can expect protection. Read more about the effects of the deal at BBC.

    På dansk

    Copyright: The copyright for text and photos at bobler.blogspot.com belongs to Solveig Tange. You may use my articles, photos or parts of them for non-commercial use and if I am credited as the author. Feel free to link to this site but not in your own frameset please.

    10 March, 2001

    Seventh Thursday on time

    Pinot Noir pruned style Cordon with prolongement and coursons.

    The seventh Thursday turns out to be the day, where I have enough guts to finally go for my first Cordon de Royat pruned while watching the time. I am probably the last one on the team to try this out.

    Once again we are in Avenay val d'Or, where we prune and attach private vines in the Southern foothills of the Montagne de Reims. A charming landscape with very tiny and very sloping plots, all of them planted with Pinot Noir.

    Now and then it rains, but as we are all dressed to stay outside, the drops seem a minor detail compared to the fresh air and the calling of the wild geese as they pass far above our heads. Spring is in the air, and the temperature has passed 10 degrees Celsius.

    To me the most difficult hurdle on this course has always seemed to be the time. That is to prune your vine in less than four minutes. Well... and I do not pass the test, but at least I am not taken down by time. Instead I fail on one of the many little details you have to know by heart.

    Take care of the future grapes
    A vine pruned the Cordon de Royat-way will carry grapes mainly on its prolongement - a one year old branch at the end of the old cordon - and then as well on the coursons - the very short branches that grow more or less straight up from the back of the cordon.

    As I have finished to prune one plant with time measured I note that it is éliminatoire to remove a courson without reason. Which is fair, I suppose, after all there are not many branches that actually carry grapes on a vine pruned style cordon.

    Alain mentions that his mother always has said that the Cordon de Royat gives less grapes than the Chablis, and true it is as we count the average number of buds, that there are a lot less on a Cordon de Royat (appr. 10-12) than on a Chablis (appr. 15). The given numbers with the reservation that all vines are different, thus the number of buds as well.

    It turns out that the permitted distance between the outermost courson and the prolongement is actually not the 10 centimeters, that is the rule for the rest of the coursons. In this extreme position as little as the distance of the entre-noeud - which is the equivalent of the distance between two buds - is acceptable. I am quite sure, now I will never ever forget this.

    The instructor Stéphanie is also not quite happy with the way I shave the cordon. She wants me to cut the branches to be removed much closer to the cordon in order to make shure that all possible growth is eliminated. It is a matter of training and technique as it is physically quite hard to cut the hard tree. Even with a new ready for action secateur as mine.

    But even I personally have diminished the future crop of the owner, I am still really proud that I have actually managed to pass within the time limit. Nothing else matters today.

    The important systematism
    Since I have been such a good girl to actually do the test, I stay and watch a few others do the same. Which brings out a few interesting details, that Alain has already mentioned, but it is always nice to see for yourself as well. The others make as many or as few mistakes as I do. Plus a few more of those éliminatoires.

    For instance you must never leave more than two long branches on a Cordon de Royat-pruned plant. That is either two cordons, one cordon and one lancement or just simply one cordon.

    This we all know, I am sure. But in the heat of the battle - watched by the keen eye of the instructor - you can easily miss something that is normally obvious to you. Especially if you do not stay closely with the systematism that Stéphanie has tried to teach.

    However she has only said everything once, which for me is almost the same as never and thus a rather doubtful grounding of necessary knowledge. Now of course I am free to study the papers at home, quite probably all details are mentioned somewhere. The risk is to get something wrong as they are written in a rather complicated way. Even Stéphanie has chosen to write and distribute her own papers to explain things in a more easy way.

    Attachment of the cordon
    The last hour in the vine we practice the attachment of the vines to the wires.

    Basically you have a thin piece of metal thread covered with thin paper. You twist it around the branches you want to attach, you put your tool - the lieuse - about a centimeter under the loop. With a slightly bended left hand you keep your threads together, meanwhile your right hand pull the lieuse to the right.

    The hook of the lieuse ready in the loop.

    The two opposing movements will twist the extremeties of the thread together in a hopefully rather tight binding that will help the vine to keep itself upright, as it grows more heavy during the period of growth that will soon begin. But not yet though. The pleurs-period, where the sap of the vine flows down the branches at each cut, has not begun.

    My attachments are rather loose. I have to redo quite a few of them and foresee yet another weekend in the Chablis of my mother-in-law. If I want to enable myself to do these fast and well within the next few weeks, I will have to practise.

    Today however no one can take away my happiness because of the fact that I have now once pruned a Cordon de Royat and stayed within the accepted limits of time.

    På dansk

    Copyright: The copyright for text and photos at bobler.blogspot.com belongs to Solveig Tange. You may use my articles, photos or parts of them for non-commercial use and if I am credited as the author. Feel free to link to this site but not in your own frameset please.

    07 March, 2001

    Riots were followed by strict rules

    The winebusiness in Champagne may resemble the long gone Soviet Union with its economical ten-year plans. Since I arrived here, my explanations of the close control of business has made many a visitor smile. Others - even amongst those with laid-back genes of competition - seem more challenged by the strict rules.

    But actually there are good explanations of the apparent tyranny. Have a look at Southern France these days with local winegrowers under such a economical pressure that some of them angrily responds with violent actions. And then let me explain why the strict rules for the appellation of Champagne are not such a bad idea after all.

    Quite simply they have secured industrial peace for thousands of people in the business for almost 100 years.

    Riots in Midi
    A region like Languedoc-Roussillon in Southern France has for years been a big supplier of cheep wine. The problem is that too many winegrowers produce too much wine for too little customers.

    A well known problem in these areas. In 1907 half a million demonstrators took to the streets of Montpellier, 80.000 did the same in Narbonne. They were unhappy with the falling prices of grapes caused by overproduction. They charged vintners and winemerchants - the négociants - of diluting the local wine with cheaper wine from Spain and North Africa. Soldiers were deployed against stonethrowing demonstrators, they opened fire and killed five.

    In todays Midi the more militant amongst the winegrowers also target the négociants, who are the link between the winegrowers and the customers. Last week there were several attacks against different négociants, who on top of French also sell foreign wine. Vats were opened and thousands of hectoliters of wine sent into the sewers, writes British winemagazine Decanter.

    Foreign wine is one of the targets in an area on the edge of dispair after sales of the local wine has taken an rather deep dive of minus 40 percent in the last three years. (2)

    It may seem far away from quiet and rich Champagne. But back in 1911 the situation in Champagne developed in the same sort of overheated and desperate way. Back then the French government chose to send 35.000 soldiers to the departement of Marne to re-create peace after six months of riots, that in April 1911 reached their climax in a rage that so far exceeds what we see in Midi at the moment.

    Everything was allowed in Champagne
    There were several reasons for the great rage. Slowly one was added to another during the preceding years.

    The big champagnehouses had good times during the Belle Epoque before World War I. The winegrowers on the other hand lived in very poor conditions, and without many ways to improve their situation. They were in a bit of a hold, since they made their living from selling grapes, and thus had no living if they did not find buyers. Only few winegrowers in those days had the expertise and equipment to make champagne themselves.

    The big houses owned only few of the vineyards in Champagne. They were thus dependant on buying grapes, which they tried to do at as low a price as they could. The more unscrupulous of them send buyers that used any dirty trick they could imagine to obtain this objective. (1)

    On top of that the arrival of the railway made it possible to buy grapes in other and cheaper regions in France. And since only 51 percent of the grapes of a bottle of Champagne had to be local, it was a great way to save money. Even worse the worst profit-mongers came up with the idea of mixing the grape-juice with apple-, pear- or even rhubarb-juice. No one demanded that champagne should be made by grapes alone according to the new and very interesting book about Champagne written by the American journalists Don and Petie Kladstrup. 1)

    All this combined with a series of bad grapeharvests - the worst one in 1910 where some harvested only four percent of the normal yield (1) - made the winegrowers of Champagne go berserk in April. They were inspired by the 1907-riots in Midi, took off to the streets and raged for 24 hours.

    "Our empty stomachs have armed us." Such the Kladstrup's quote a winegrower who participated.

    Civil war in Marne
    Champagne was already seething with anger and just a spark was enough to light the smouldering rage. That glow was the novelty that the senat decided to recommend a cancellation of a law from 1908, that classified Aube in Southern Champagne as second-rate vineyards.

    The law had already through some years put the two wineareas - both part of Champagne - on the brink of civil war with each other. In 1908 the law released great joy in Marne and corresponding rage in Aube. Three years later the situaion was reversed. The governor of Marne send a telegram to Paris where he described the riots following as "a state of civil war".

    In the village of Dizy at Épernay cars were burned and pianos chopped to pieces, in Épernay the caves of the champagnehouse De Castellane were destroyed. In the village of Aÿ outside Épernay at least 40 houses were destroyed, amongst them six champagnehouses, complete with caves and stocks. Thousands of vines were trampled down and burned. Wine from six million destroyed bottles of champagne poured down the sloping streets of Aÿ to end in the river Marne. It was the day the Marne drank champagne, so Don and Petie Kladstrup write in their book.

    And that was the end of it. The big riots lasted just 24 hours. But the rage send signals all the way to Paris about the precarious situation. World War I however got in the way of fast reform. Only in 1919 a series of new laws stated that champagne could only be made of grapes grown 100 percent in Champagne. In 1927 the first AOC (Appellation d'Origine Controlée) was made for Champagne. It signigied that only winegrowers in Champagne were allowed to put the word champagne on the labels. At least within France. Aube also joined the appellation on equal terms with Marne.

    All this has ensured peace in Champagne ever since.

    Rules created the balance
    The strict rules re-established that confidence between big houses and little winegrowers, that completely lacked. A necessary confidence, since one party owns 90 percent of the grapes, whilst the other one possesses not just the equipment and expertise of making champagne but also the system to market and sell champagne abroad.

    You do not have to love each other to understand, that one depends on the other, and on top of that has the same interest: To sell champagne and do it as well as possible.

    Which is why nobody seems to complain about the strict control in these parts. The rules and laws may be many and complicated. But you probably should not count on an annulment of the system.

    The riots in Midi these days in their own way explains about the necessity of finding a good balance.

    På dansk

    Copyright: The copyright for text and photos at bobler.blogspot.com belongs to Solveig Tange. You may use my articles, photos or parts of them for non-commercial use and if I am credited as the author. Feel free to link to this site but not in your own frameset please.

    Nothing too big or too small for control... Examples:

  • How to prune the vines all the way down to the number of buds left.

  • What work can be done with machines.

  • Which grapes you can grow.

  • How many grapes you must harvest per hectare

  • How many extra kilos of grapes you can buy extra on the market.

    (1) Don og Petie Kladstrup: "Champagne. How the world's most glamorous wine triumphed over war and hard times." 2005, HarperCollins Publishers.

    (2) The number is reported to Decanter by Jean Huillet, chairman of the cooperatives in the departement Hérault in Languedoc.
  • 04 March, 2001

    Crooked vines in Avenay val d'Or

    Pinot Noir at Verzy in the Montagne de Reims. The cordon is or are the old, thick branches. These vines are still not pruned.

    To prune or not to prune... it has become a lot more fun to enter the vineyards and have your daily five centimeter layer of mud sticked under your boots.

    It is not just me, the whole group seems a lot more relaxed, able to tune better and faster into the vines and prune them. Just like that. Everybody works better and faster now. The most obvious sign of enhanced well-being is that more find the necessary extra mental energy to fool a bit about with one another, and actually that is quite new in this group of people. Until now almost everybody has been far too occupied with their vines and secateurs to find the time to tease the neighbours.

    One explanation is that we simply have become better. The other, that this second way of pruning that we have now begun to deal with - the Cordon de Royat - is a bit more easy than the Chablis. My guess: A combination. As a Dane after all I am brought up to seek compromise rather than extremes.

    Sun in the slopes of Avenay val d'Or
    The school in Avize owns seven hectares of vine, but needs 15 to ensure that all students get enough practise in pruning. The lacking eights hectares they find through deals with different vignerons. These will thus get their pruning for free, performed by normally quite careful students, but still with the risk of mistakes, even serious ones. "Éliminatoire", as our teacher, Stéphanie, never fails to comment with her constant focus on the exams. Now in four weeks.

    It is the adults amongst the students that will be send off to the most distant plots - after all we have cars - and this is why we descend a slope at Avenay val d'Or - a small Premier Cru village on the southern slopes of the Montagne de Reims - on this sunny Thursday afternoon.

    An elderly man accompagnies us dressed up in the green parka of the vineyard workers and heavy boots to show us his cordons. They grow between iron posts, placed with a regularity as the wind blows. Very unlike the normally almost military presicion you will find in most vineyards in Champagne. Now, it is not that they are more slobby in Avenay val d'Or than elsewhere. The irregularity made it more easy to perform the necessary manoeuvres with the plough in the old days, and since then the system was kept, explains the owner.

    He stays with us all afternoon. You could get the thought that he - with his long experience - could prune just about the same as we do in those two hours we spend in his plot. But maybe he likes to have a visit, maybe he spots a good future wineworker or two.

    The terrain is tough. We begin in the bottom of the plot and prune our way upwards. So even the rows are rather short, I have to stop after arriving at the top. It is physically very challenging for me to move up with my rather muddy basket, that makes our host look at me in a rather suspicious way until he gets the explanation. My pregnancy makes me loose energy too fast if I must bend all the time. And since we cannot take the camionette each Thursday, I have come up with this basket-solution for the time-being.

    The other little plot of the day I have to skip. Which makes me miss the end of the day - un petit coup - from the local cooperative, where the owner delivers his grapes. Sad, since it is always interesting to taste another champagne.

    Principles of the Cordons
    Avenay val d'Or is placed in the Montagne de Reims, and here Pinot Noir is the main type of vine in the vineyards. Since this is a Premier Cru-area the winegrowers can choose between the Chablis-pruning and the Cordon de Royat-pruning. For Pinot Noir you normally go for the latter, which is the method we are here to practise.

    It complies with more or less the same principles as the Chablis. One trap you must take care of though. A Cordon is old wood, that year by year grow some centimeters. However only shoots from the growth of last year - the prolongement or the coursons that is - will surely carry grapes. Therefor it is quite decisive that you are able to distinguish one from the other when you prune.

    The method of the Cordon de Royat is, that you first cut your rachet - the little branch with two buds at the bottom of the stem. Already known from the Chablis as the rejuvenation of the vine.

    Cordon-pruned Pinot Noir with prolongement and coursons.
    No lancement, as it seems there is enough room for the growth of the plant.

    It must grow directly from the stem and cut on as pretty a shoot as your available choice permits. We always long for un beau bois. Reality and theory however can sometimes be of a distance of what seems lightyears apart. When this is the case, all we can do is to say a prayer that the little weak one will grow stronger during the growth season. We may even help it a bit by removing one of the buds, thus only one will remain. This will allow the survivor to be fed better.

    Next stop is to prune your prolongement. Like in the case of the Chablis-method you choose a branch from last year in a position at the end of the cordon. This is where we will pick the next grapes. At pruning time next year this prolongement will have grown into an integrated part of the cordon, and by then it is no longer fertile. Year by year the prolongement will thus gradually extend the cordon a little more.

    One thing we must watch though. Like in the Chablis-method the neighbouring plant has to be kept quiet. The prolongement is not allowed to interfere in any way with branches of the next plant. If this is the case, and no rejuvenation is in place - more on this later - the first possibility is to shorten the prolongement with one bud and check if that solves the problem of chevauchement. If not the whole cordon must be shortened all the way up to the last courson . This decision means, that the plant this year will give less grapes than it ought to. On the other hand it will save some power on the removed prolongement, that it can use on growing a nice lancement instead.

    Cordon de Royat with rejuvenation coming up. The old cordon will probably be removed at next years pruning.

    Now has come the time to think about rejuvenation of the vine. The criteria is the length of the cordon plus prolongement. If these two covers more than two thirds of the entire length of the vine, time is up to prune a lancement on the rachet of last year in a length of one bud above the thread. Unlike the Chablis the number of buds is not regulated. It is illemité. During the next years this branch will grow into the next, vigorous cordon.

    At the next pruning you will cut a prolongement on this new lancement, you will bend it towards the wire and attach it there. When the young cordon has reached a length of two thirds of the old one, the veteran will finally be removed completely. The process is called rajeunissement progressif - stepwise rejuvenation that is.

    You are allowed to renew only 20 percent of your cordon-pruned vines each year. You cannot renew – cut a lancement - the year you remove an old cordon. The first is to ensure the production of grapes, the second to spare the plant.

    Coursons of the cordon
    The last thing to do in the stepwise and systematic method of pruning a cordon is to deal with the coursons. You start with those on the younger cordon should you have one, and finish with those on the old cordon.

    Coursons are very short branches that have been cut in a height of two buds in case of Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier, and three if it is Chardonnay. These short branches must grow on top of the cordon. In case of emergencies on the side – this is obvious from the placement of the older coursons - but never from under the stem. Like the case of the prolongement it is important to prune these on the wood of last years courson. This is to ensure that they are fertile: Bois fructifère. You create a courson with 15 centimeters between each. In theory anyway, since in real life we are fine with as little as 10 centimers between each courson. More or less the equivalent of the pruning scissors, which happen to be the at hand measure.

    The knots on top of this old vine are old coursons.

    As soon as the coursons have been established you can continue to cut a new one at the same spot as long as they will supply new shoots to work with. When there are no more, you will have to prune a new courson straight on the cordon. A just established courson will not be fertile since it grows on wood that is more than one year old. At the pruning of next year, it ought to have new shoots and these will be fertile.

    As the younger cordon has its own coursons established we remove them from the old one. This is to ensure that there is never one courson placed directly on top of another. Superposition.

    The final thing to do is to clear your remaining branches and coursons for anything that is not supposed to remain: Surplus branches, dry grapes, anything that may disturb the impression of a well dressed and trimmed soldier ready to grow in just a few weeks now.

    The vines still rest but it will not be long now before the pleurs will begin. It is the term for the sap rising to the extremeties of the plant. Some time after this the growth will begin.

    Coursons in a Cordon de Royat-pruned vine.

    Following French tradition I can hardly keep back my proudness of being able to tell that I - today - managed to do the two written tests 100 percent correct. Stéphanie lifts her eyebrows slightly and enthusiastic goes : "Mais c'est bien". This sixth Thursday thus has been almost fully successful, and I feel quite ready to set off to spend next Saturday in my mother-in-laws Chardonnay with the lieuse.

    They are all pruned now. Cousin Gérard did not refrain from observing the rule that you must finish your row once you have started. Tough and rough, I reckon, since after all it takes a lot of time to finish a 200 meter long row when you spend 10 minutes per plant. Then on the other hand, he does not at all comment on missing lancements or far too short prolongements. We have all been new in the vine, I suppose.

    På dansk

    Copyright: The copyright for text and photos at bobler.blogspot.com belongs to Solveig Tange. You may use my articles, photos or parts of them for non-commercial use and if I am credited as the author. Feel free to link to this site but not in your own frameset please.