30 April, 2001

News April 2006

02.04:2006: Even the Australians make their own sparkling wines, they are still fond of champagne as well. Australia appears in a place 10 on the list of the best international export markets, says the CIVC (Comité Interprofessionel du vin de Champagne). The consumption down under rose 36 percent last year. All in all 2,29 million bottles of bubbly.

02.04.2006: In the biggest export markets of all - Great Britain - the sales of vintage champagnes rose an impressive 7,3 percent. According to the Champagne Information Bureau it is in the wake of record bonusses in the City district of London. The vintage champagnes all in all account for less than three percent of the overall sales, so prestigious and expensive as they are, they remain a nice for aficionados and show-off.

24.04.2006: One of the biggest - and youngest - champagne groups, Vranken Pommery Monopole, has - with the expression of the management - had a "splendid year" with sales advances in 2005 of 10,1 percent. Mainly due to progress of 11 percent (volumes) in the export markets. The group sells almost half (45 percent) of its products outside France.

25.04.2006: The Norwegians drink more noble grapes. The consumption of both cognac and champagne are on the rise in the rich oil country in the far North. The consumption of cognac has risen 20 percent, while the sales of Champagne prestige cuvées has risen 129 percent.

25.04.2006: For the first time in the 15 year old historiy of the Ruinart UK Sommelier of the year, the contest has been won by a female sommelier. The lucky winner is 27-year old Claire Thevenot of the Hotel du Vin et Bistro in Winchester. She is French of origins, just like the two sommeliers that she left with the 2. and 3. position as she climbed to the top herself. The participants of the contest had to blindtaste wines, give advice on how to match wine with food, find errors in a printed card of wines, give advice on choice of cigars. On top of that the participants were asked to pour the contents of a magnum bottle of Ruinart rosé into 16 glasses. Each glass could only be filled once, and should preferably contain the same amount with as little as possible left in the bottle at the end. A magnum is the equivalent of two ordinary bottles, and thus more heavy, which of course increases the difficulty of the task. If you have ever tried to serve champagne, you will be able to appreciate the masterclass of sommeliers who are able to do this and make a straight "A".

28.04.2006: Veuve Clicquot has named their business woman of the year. This years winner is British Vivienne Cox who has climbed all the way to the very top of British Petroleum, according to her own words without ever bumping her head into the - amongst some other women - famous glass ceiling. On the side she is the mother of two small children, leaves office at five o'clock PM, does not work weekends and does not travel more than five days per month. Maybe the most interesting feature of all: She refuses to identify herself with the favourite notion of woman's glossie's: "superwoman". "This notion makes everybody feel insufficient", she says to daily The Independant. She does admit though that she is a very disciplined person indeed. To younger women - and why not make it for all women? - she says: "There are many ways to obtain succes and they do not all have to be linear." I will try to remember that one...

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 April, 2001

A scent of she-butterfly

Brown plastic gadget full of she-butterfly. Verzy, Montagne de Reims.

The vine is a robust plant. It manages with little of most things. However, a wealth of different diseases, lacks and insects can ruin the plant or the grapes or both. Therefore there is a number of different methods - often chemical - to fight all the miseries. Most of them spread with wine tractors or manually.

But in Champagne as many other places the winegrowers prefer to spread as little poison as they can. You find eco-growers and growers that are into biodynamics as well. The moon calendar and the year with a complete register of flower-, leaf-, root- and fruitdays is for sale in even the most tiny farmershop. And it is not rare that an old farmer will refer to the moon... a pregnant woman for instance will not carry her unborne child more than 9 moons, I have been told, so I know that the birth definitely is due before the 10th moon.

One of the methods - which by the way exists in many other places than Champagne - is the "sexual confusion". The brown gadget in the photo above. Most would say - I suppose - that it does not look that sexy, but it is not human heads it is supposed to turn. But he-butterflies.

Scent is chemistry
With insects and especially butterflies the females attract the males by sending out an organic scent in a gaseous form (pheromon). The males are equipped with special antennas that allows them to pick up the scent messages from the females. It is this scent that has been identified and thereafter artificially reproduced in labs.

First time I heard about the confusion was in Trépail, Montagne de Reims.

The industrial female - the chemical inside the brown plastic gadget - emits a surplus of she-butterfly all over the vineyard, which completely knocks out the male. He is confused and simply cannot figure out where to go to get one of these attractive females. His confusion prevents mating. Thus both eggs, worms - the caterpillars, that are the first phase towards the butterflies - and destructions caused by caterpillars looking for food in the vines are prevented.

You must place the atomizer manually - one each twenty square metres - the national institute for research in agriculture, the INRA recommends a continuous piece of land of at least 10 hectares, so it is a task that counts workwise. Not the least since many of the vineyards of Champange are so small that you have to cooperate with quite a few neighbours to obtain a piece of land big enough to make it worth it. INRA has been a part of the development of a technology that has made it possible to spread the pheromon with helicopters.

When they are finally placed, the atomizers send out 100 gram of pheromon per hectare. Quite an amount compared with the 0,000000001 gram per hectare of the she-butterfly. He does not have a chance to find a mate. Imagine the red light district of Amsterdam but with whores all over the street, in all the gateways, in the windows, astride the ridges of all the roofs... what should a man do? What can a man do?

My inner citygirl
Unfortunately it does mean less butterflies as well. I mean, that is the point, is it not? My inner citygirl cannot help lamenting this effect a little bit. Butterflies are so beautiful. In the garden, in the forest, in the vineyards, sorry I cannot help it. The citygirl however also finds the idea of environmental sustainability very attractive, and in this case this idea seems to be in a direct confrontation with that of biodiversity.

So far we will have to experiment with the environmental sustainability in other ways. Alain tried to enroll his plot in the project some years ago, but there were already enough (?) in our area, so he was not picked out to participate. We will have to find other ways that does not imply too much of the factor we have got least available at the moment: Spare time. Therefore we so far have satisfied ourselves by buying the moon calendar, that amongst many other things shows the optimum days to dig your garden.

I have not been able to find any advice regarding the days with the best moon force to plant the vines though. Maybe that is quite okay anyway, since we only have one weekend left to do it, thus it is not really possible to choose differently. This next weekend will just have to do. But of course I could add one or two phrases in my evening prayers - just in case... plants are said to like that you talk nicely to them, I wonder if it does not apply to vines as well?

Serious business: Alain with the sprayer, last July.

When it comes to the sexual confusion one big advantage is that once it is placed in the vineyard, it takes care of itself the rest of the year... very different from the chemicals that must be sprayed after each day with rain.

The confusion method has been used the last 10-20 years. It is quite widespread in Germany and also known in Switzerland,Italy and Spain. And France, where Champagne is one of the areas with most hectares covered by the program.

Read the document of INRA on sexual confusion here

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.

24 April, 2001

The new vine

Alain pats the soil around a young plant, that will be only fully produktive in four years.

The weekend is over, and the balance is 150 pieces in the ground. That is, 150 one year old young Meunier-vines now have new soil under their feet. Hopefully for many years, since there is a long perspective regarding time when you plant vines.

Thus we take care of vines, that were planted by Alains father, grandfather and uncle back in the sixties, even before I was born. In the past wonderfully warm and pleasant weekend of April we have for the first time planted vines together. Maybe Clement or our next child will care for them once.

Even my roots are not in Champagne - not yet anyway - it is still something very speciel to plant new life, that will probably will survive yourself. The very thought pleases me. It also means, that it pays off to do the job well. Thoroughly.

A bunch of young vines, that have not yet had their roots cut in shape.

The little vines have been ordered at our preferred pepinièriste in the local city Vertus for months. It is great for once to be in the vineyard to plant instead of to remove. Even in a beautiful day with lots of sun and 20 degrees Celsius before noon. We have 425 little Meunier ahead of us to replace those that fell.

It is the disease esca, that during the last four-five years has thinned out in the rows. A disease that is incredibly infectious, because there is nothing to stop it. A product that was used before is now forbidden.

Grafting sealed with wax
For the uninitiated and for a first time planter like me as well, the little vine sticks look rather funny. 40-50 centimetres long, coated with a thick layer of fuchsia-coloured wax and in the bottom a net of roots, that is mostly cut off before plantation. Only a few centimetres of roots will ever feel the ground. This procedure is no different from what you do when you plant or move roses and probably other plants as well.

The wax protects the little vine, and especially the place where the top part has been combined with the bottom with a so-called omega-cut. Most French vines are a combination of an American vine in the bottom and a French vine in the top. The two are joined together by the omega-cut that has the same shape as the Greek letter of the same name. It is carved into the sticks by a machine in order to join them together nicely just like a piece of fine cabinetmaking.

The little bag is where the French vine is joined to the American one.

This hanky-panky is the clever solution of the catastrophy that hit most French vineyards in the end of the 19. century. The insect phylloxera spend 30 years eating its way through the roots of the glorious French wine heritage. When almost everything was destroyed a solution was found. It is used even today.

The inventor realized that American vines were not attacked by the phylloxera, and therefor winegrowers began to graft a bottom of American vine together with a top of French vine. The American vine is not fertile, and therefor it is still the French top, that produces the grapes. As before.

If you study the above picture carefully, you can see where the vine is grafted. A little bag a few centimetres under the top is where the American porte-greffe meats the French Meunier.

You choose the bottom part of the coupling according to your own conditions. There are special porte-greffes to use in especially acid or basic soils. The latter can be very useful in Champagne, where one of the geological specialities is very chalky grounds. You can also have porte-greffes that develop especially early, which may be interesting in soils exposed in a way that causes late development.

Most of the root is removed, before the vine is planted.

In Loisy-en-Brie however we are rather ordinary. Our porte-greffe is the standardtype of 41B, suitable for soils that are exposed to chlorose - lack of iron. On top of that it is robust and normally promoting a good yield.

So even these deep pink sticks may look rather bashful, there is quite a few years of experience and knowledge of winegrowing on both a general and a local level hidden within your choice. And these carefully chosen vines will now like little children get special attention to provide them a good start. Only in four years they will be expected to grow good grapes in a suitable quantity.

Vines grow in poor lands
When a vine finally gets hold and starts to grow, it is very easily satisfied. Which is why it is - at least has ben - such a popular resident in the dry soils of Southern Europe, where the choice has often been between olives and vines.

In Champagne as well the vines typically grow in the most complicated land. The complications may be due to too many stones, too much water, too much chalk or simply too steep a slope.

The new vines get their roots buried in a hole of some size that is filled with mould.

We help the new vines to get as good a start as we can. They get a heap of mould in the hole before it is covered with ordinary chalky soil with lots of little stones. The other thing we can do is to secure the young plants against the many hungry guests of the vineyards.

Plastic protects against animals
I may wonder why the rabbits would find these little sticks coated in wax interesting at all. But since all winegrowers protect their new plants in some way and this costs both time and money, I suppose the protection systems work.

We have bought 425 pieces of transparent plastic, that in advance has been punched, to make it easy to put together the plastic into a kind of see-through bell that is placed around the little vine and then nailed to the ground with a long bamboo stick. The art of it is to press this stick so deep into the ground that it can actually stand something.

Still it is a bit of a mystery to me how this fragile looking thing will be able to survive both the violent storms of summer to come and later snow, frost, wind and hailstorms. I note though that these things occur in most vineyards, and they never fly freely around. On the contrary they stand solidly planted protecting the young hopes as they should. So it must work, I guess.

The young vines are protected by a plastic bell, kept in place by a bamboo stick.

Long-winded youth
When they are finally in the ground and properly protected, the new plants will be left more or less on their own. The slow forcing should encourage the general health and strength of the plants. To create a strong vine is at this stage more important than to grow grapes.

This is why we prune the new plants rather thoroughly the first years. It goes for all four pruning methods in use in Champagne.

Next year the plants will be pruned to almost nothing, only up to two centimetres will be left, that depends on the general state of the vine. The more fragile, the more will be removed to leave what is left more nourishment. Next year we will leave a rachet - a short branch with two eyes - and a single eye, if the vine grows well. If it for some reason is still small and fragile, it will be cut down to almost nothing once again. This practise enables it to economize on its strength and hopefully use what there is to grow stronger.

Only after the third pruning the plant will start to look like the older collegues in the row. If it is strong it will be left with a rachet and - since we use the Vallée de la Marne-system - a baguette with five-six eyes.

That speciel attention and carefulness works is obvious. We have some very short rows in one end of the plot with young plants. They have come to an age now where they should be producing grapes at a normal level. However only this year they seem to have grown sufficiently strong, and this is only after special attention for some years when pruning them. But it proves that gentleness works.

Time will tell how the 150 newcomers of the past weekend will cope. They will be accompagnied by another 275 collegues next weekend that are at the moment attending the soils of Loisy-en-Brie in the garage of my belle-mere.

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.

21 April, 2001

April 21st

Winebud at Verzy (Montagne de Reims, northern slopes), April 21st 2006.

Winebud at Trépail (Montagne de Reims, eastern slopes), April 21st 2006.

Winebud at Loisy-en-Brie (Côte des Blancs, southern slopes), April 22st 2006.

The buds are not completely comparable, since the first one - probably - is a Pinot Noir, the second is Chardonnay and the third one is Meunier. The latter is often planted in places with high risk of late frost (the Marne-valley is a good example), because it unfolds a bit later than the others. Normally Chardonnay is the first one to unfold.

The exposure of course has a role to play as well. But even with all these reservations I still find the differences between the southernly exposed Meunier and the northernly exposed Pinot Noir interesting. The Pinot Noir-bud is just at the point of unfolding the first leave, whilst the Meunier-bud is still rather closed.

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.

19 April, 2001

The green point is pink

Vinebud just about to unfold. Verzy, April 19th.

A few days with sun seem to have given the vines just what was needed. After having laid dormant in their winter coat in what seems incredibly long the buds almost insensibly have passed the green point, where the fresh, green shoot becomes visible behind the white downs, the brown scales.

The buds bristle, the tender leaves lie nicely folded inside, at their pink breaking point. Very soon we shall see the first leaves, and from then, our friend, the vine, will just grow, grow, grow.

The first leaves visible. Verzy, April 19th.

There are big differences between plots though. Different types of grapes unfold
at different times, also the pruning method matters and then of course more important than anything else the time of pruning. Early pruning, early unfolding.

The differences are obvious. Where the buds in some plots are deliciously pink, others still hide behind the white downs of winter.

The weathergods have announced mild winds and ditto temperatures the next days. So I wonder if not the vines will grow fast. As a revenge for the so far cold spring.

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 men up for Taittinger

Second round about the house of Taittinger is on this week.

Amongst the interested around 10 have been allowed to put forward their bid, says local daily l'Union. Amongst them the American-French investment fund Butler Capital Partners, that for a while was interested in the house of Lanson, the funds Apax and Bridepoint, the champagnehouse Louis Roederer, the American groups Gallo (wine) and Fortune Brands (amongst others wine and alcohol). Also French Pernod Ricard is said to be interested.

In early April the Compagnie nationale à Portefeuille (CNPP) with Belgian Albert Frère upfront very surprisingly left the race. Since the outcome is rather open, says l'Union.

Amongst the assets of Taittinger are 288,84 hectares of vineyards in the traditionally best areas of Champagnes, 20 million bottles of champagne in the caves and wine activities in the Bordelais, Loire and California. Taittinger sells 4,5 million bottles of champagne each year, 62,5 percent for export and enough to make it as number nine in the top 10 of the biggest houses.

The current owner of Taittinger, the American investment fund Starwood Capital, expects between 400 and 500 million euros in exchange.

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.

18 April, 2001

Cold days, cold nights

The view from the vineyards of Verzy towards the Vesle-valley.

Each year has its own kind of weather to offer. 2005 was snowy, suddenly turned very warm in Midmarch, and then kept changing between the cold and the warm all the way until the grapeharvest. 2006 so far has mainly shown us coldness. Everybody talks about it, this cold, cold spring. Even butterflies, bees, ladybirds and lots of other insects have been around at least the last month, it is true: The air is cold. The wind is cold. The ground is cold.

The first light of spring came already in February, of sunshinedays - half days or even whole ones - we have had quite a few since March, but now having passed Midapril we still have not really had warm days. That is, temperatures that makes it simple necessity to leave the jackets at home and skip the long sleeves for t-shirts.

Unfolding will follow tears
This is all why the vines grow slowly. Vines use the heat in the ground as its first fuel. When the temperature of the soil beneath the vines passes a certain number of degrees, the sap rises - the tears or les pleurs - which is the juice, that will make the buds, that have been lying dormant since autumn, grow.

And the tears we have seen as we went pruning last month. Since then not much has happened. That is, a lot of work is going on in the vineyards: The attaching is being finished, tractors crash the branches left in the rows, the first chemical treatments of many are performed, new vines are planted. Apart from that not very much.

The buds may bristle a bid more than during the winter. If so, it is so little that it is quite difficult to say whether it is due to real development or just the familiar unreliability of the eye.

Meunier-bud in January.

Pinot Noir-bud in April.

It is a fact, that the buds even last week were still white and completely closed. The first sign of development is, that they swollow. A few days later white downs will push the brown and protective scales of winter aside. Growth is on.

When half of the buds in a vine reaches this point, it is the stage of débourrement - the dictionary calls it "unfolding" and for the sake of understanding adds "of the buds". An interesting event for winegrowers since this is the start of the growth, and because the wine several weeks ahead is directly exposed to one of the unpleasant risks of the year.

Dangerous frost of spring
One night below zero is enough to destroy a smaller or bigger part of your earnings of the year. Since only three percent of the vineyards of northernly Champagne are protected against frost, the rest of the winegrowers must satisfy themselves biting their nails, while they follow the weather channel up-close.

Only in May we expect the risk of frost to be over. Since 2006 so far has been a cold time with cold days, cold nights.

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.

11 April, 2001

Pink bubbles are on the move

Pink champagne is on the rise. This is our pretty, palatable Rosé de Saigné with lots of scents and tastes of red fruits. On top of that one star in the latest wineguide of Hachette.

The girls said it already last autumn: Pink champagne is on the rise.

It is not that I trust this five ladies big group of champagneproducers and family of such to foresee the general development of the entire bubbly business, just because these five sell more rosé. But I certainly did place their statement in the category "interesting".

Now with the first quarter of the new year gone by the official statistics agree with these ladies though. Pink champagne really is moving upwards saleswise. Especially in Great Britain where the more wealthy part of the population seem to stick at nothing when it comes to champagne.

Anyway they drink more pink champagne than before, and the big houses have prepared themselves to meet the new demands. Well, I suppose its more demand that raises accordingly with supplies available really. The other way around - the more ordinary market mechanism - does not seem to apply the same way for Champagne, since new types and bigger quanties have to be planned many years in advance.

The rosé of the house of Ruinart with fine bubbles, a scent of cherries and other red berries, fresh and balanced with notes of fruit and delicacies. 45% Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs, 55% Pinot Noir from Montagne de Reims, 18% of the blend is red wine. 80% of the grapes are from the harvest 2000, the rest is reserves from other years. (Much more at Ruinart's site)

More growth in the sales of rosé
During the last ten years, the wellknown British love of champagne has driven almost one third of the entire global growth in champagne sales. Since 2000 the spicy pink has increased impressive 20%, says the British newspaper, Daily Telegraph.

Most of the big houses do have a rosé in their assortment, and both giants - Moët et Chandon and Veuve Clicquot - expect very high rates of growth especially in the pink field during the next years.

Veuve Clicquot put expectations as high as one fifth of the sales of the normal big seller, the "ordinary" yellow label. The collegue in Épernay, Moët et Chandon, expect a growth as high as 20-30 percent during the next couple of years.

And this is even rosé champagnes are more expensive than the ordinary ones. Partly because it means more work. The colour demands more effort simply.

The house of Taittinger describes its rosé as fresh and young with a scent and taste of red fruits as wild raspberries, cherries and black currant. The bubbles are fine, and the foam persistent. The intense and shimmering colour originates from red wine of the house. More at Taittinger's site.

The beautiful colour costs
There are two ways of making a pink champagne.

The first and most commonly seen is to add red wine to the blend of the wine of the year and the reserve wines. Afterwards the blend is transferred to champagne bottles and yeast and sugar added. These three will form a trinity, that will end up with champagne. In this case the amount of red wine added decides the colour.

The other possibility is to produce a "Rosé de Saigné" - literally translated it means a bloody rosé. In the proces you leave the skin of the grapes to let it macerate with the juice at the time of the pressing. In this way the pigments from the skin will colour the otherwise cololurless must.

This is excactly the kind of colouring you normally want to avoid when you make champagne. Tha is unless you want to do a Rosé de Saigné. The longer you leave the skin in the juice, the more deep the colour of your final product will be.

The girls - forgive me that I return to my personal and quite unofficial focus group - also sell more small bottles. My personal dream for the time being is to combine the two, probably with more sugar than the ordinary final dosage of a brut. Perfect for a pretty cake with red fruits, perfect as accessory for inviting girlfriends for an occasion you want to turn out somewhat special.

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.

09 April, 2001

No Taittinger for Belgian

Belgian financier, Albert Frère, is not amongst the interested buyers of the house of Taittinger, put up for sale by its American owner, Starwood Capital, not long ago.

Last summer the Taittinger-family sold its family-owned empire, that apart from the famous champagne also covered several hotelchains. This was necessary because the same Albert Frère wanted to withdraw his part of the capital of the group. Since he was said to be interested to buy Taittinger back from Starwood, but now he has drawn in his horns once again with a press release with no further comments.

The price of the house of Taittinger is estimated to between 400 and 500 million euro. Amongst the interested buyers are the American investment fund Butler Capital Partners according to the French news agency AFP. Butler Capital Partners was also part of the run-up for Lanson, but choose to withdraw in the last minute. Also the bank Crédit Agricole du Nord-Est in cooperation with the family Taittinger are said to be interested.

Taittinger boasts 288 valuable hectares of vineyards in the best areas of Champagne and 20 million bottles of champagne in its caves. On top of this they are involved in other vineareas such as Bordeaux, Loire and California.

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.

05 April, 2001

Oil your scissors

You must take care of good tools, a secateur worth around 60 euros is not excactly cheap.

I have had the opportunity to boast with my new diploma in pruning in front of one of the vignerons from our village, and I'm quite convinced I was almost being offered a job. Had I not said that we have enough vine ourselves to take care of at the moment.

At the same time the lady won at least 10 points as she following my nonchalant announcement of having stored my secateur for the rest of the year asked if I remembered to oil it first.

Of course I did not... but now I will learn how. My old teacher in layout loved the phrase "God is in the detail". I should think the same principle works when you grow vines as well.

A neighbour revealed herself - once again - as a very discreet person as she only now told me, that a professional pruner will do three vines in eight minutes... the last two months I have worried quite a bit about my posibilities of reaching just two in the same amount 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.

01 April, 2001

Passed in pruning

I have made it through the exam in pruning. And please note: This is no April fool.

The test - in the beginning our teacher a bit patronizing described it as "not excactly A-levels" - is amongst the most challenging ones, I have done so far, so I am very pleased indeed.

Today Alain is up. I worry less for him; I think he - as a winegrower and a winegrower's son - should be able to bring home the secateur d’or - the golden scissors - but he says, he does not care.

Next Saint Vincent we will hold each others and our childrens hands and join the procession through Verzy with final stop in one of the champagnehouses of the village. At the vin d'honneur we will then get our diplomas. What a day! My name - with the others from Verzy who has passed the test - will be mentioned in the paper l'Union, which is certainly something I compare with the proud moment of the first article on print all way back to the days of Journalism school. I am quite convinced that I am the first Dane in Champagne to do and pass this test as well.

60 percent made it
Now readers, who have been patient with me and read about my efforts with the pruning during these last months, may wonder about my judgement of my own abilitites, since I right before the exam gave myself a merely five percent chance to pass. Well, I still think so. But I happened to be so lucky that the one parameter completely out of my control, happened to come out to my advantage. Simply, I was marked by a friendly jury.

Not everybody was that lucky. Or qualified. Out of about 200 candidates, who arrived in the morning, 61% could leave the vendangeoir of Veuve Clicquot in Bisseuil with the knowledge that they made it all the way to the certificate.

This is only one step or maybe two above that of unskilled labour, but it is a piece of paper, that can get you a job in this region. And a job, that is better payed than work in a factory as well. As late as in this week the demand and the continued expected demand of labourers in the vineyards were mentioned in one of the magazines of the business.

Now, I am not excactly on my way out into the rows of the neighbours with my secateur. But I could and anyway I expect to work in our vineyards next winter. So far we have had 180 hours of pruning and 80 hours of attaching, but with the extra half a hectare we expect to get next autumn, the amount of work will almost double.

They sent a lady
Friday morning in Bisseuil. A couple of hundred people are queing up outside the dining hall at one of the harvesthouses of the Veuve Clicquot. When it comes to style, this is rather far away from the ordinary yellowish-orange elegance of the great brand. This is rather basic: Concrete and wooden tables with benches and no hullabaloo whatsoever. Not even a single commercial poster to decorate the two walls without windows.

Anyway, everybody seems to concentrate on their tables: You have to find the one with a number that corresponds with the piece of paper given to you during the course. A piece of paper that also works as admittance today. So I steer for number 20.

And this is where we all wait, until everybody has shown their id's at the secretary's desk at the very entrance of the room. Only then the members of the juries enter the room and head for their tables. Until now they have been waiting next door packed like sardines in a tin. Once again we show our papers, to make sure everybody has placed themselves at the right table.

I am annoyed as I see an elderly lady amongst our examiners. Until now I have planned to use my extra eight kilos due to pregnancy to excuse my slowness when working - not completely unfair - and also the fact that I cannot really control the number of buds on the lower parts of the plant. No holds are barred.

But this lady probably has children of her own, and maybe she never tried these problems herself, I worry. Maybe she will dismiss my puffs and blows as just nonsense. Later this morning I however shall become more than satisfied with both the lady and her collegues. But this is half past seven in the morning and everybody so far seem rather harsh.

Call-over of the failed ones
The written test is distributed. As known from the last many thursdays, it consists of 10 questions to answer during seven minutes. It is piece of cake.

  • Where is autres cru placed on the échelle de crus?
  • Which pruning methods can you use in Grand Cru-areas?
  • How many buds can you leave on a prolongement of a Cordon de Royat-pruned Pinot Noir?
And so on, when you have mugged up nothing but this for two months, the major risk of mistakes is more that you scan rather than read the questions, and therefor do not catch possible tricky nuances, before you answer.

However, I am quite convinced that I have made 10 good anwers out of 10, and when the chairman of the organization, that is in charge of the exam, announces, that the seven minutes are over, I have been finished the last couple of minutes. Many others too, I reckon, I just have not had that much of a surplus to check their performance as well.

All 200 are sent outside, and all those whose numbers are not read out, are to continue to the practical test in the village of Avenay val d’Or a couple of kilometres from here. I concentrate about the numbers only – getting numbers right is one of the most difficult disciplines in French – so I do not have any surplus to find out where to go now whatsoever.

The chairman has given, so it seems to me, rather complicated driving instructions just after the written test was finished, but I understood next to nothing of all that. I check with my female examiner, that I will start with Chablis. At least I have gotten this much right.

But where they are, these Chablis, I have no clue, and since I - wrongly - suppose that it cannot be the same place as the Cordon de Royat, I panic. Which direction is now supposed to be mine? The only thing I know is that the five others from my table are going to the same place, but I have already forgotten what they looked like, and my jury will be lost as I go to the car to pick up my tools.

Alain arrives and gets hold of our teacher, Stéphanie, who today is here as an examiner. She explains, where we are going now. Apparently everything grows in the same spot, and there is plenty of time to get there. Soon the real trial of the day is about to begin.

"Vite, vite, vite"
As usual I attract attention as I arrive with my bucket: "C’est bientôt la vendange?" is a sentence, I have heard quite a few times now. Most vignerons seem to use the same type of black plasticbucket for the grapeharvest. But together with little walks and stretching exercises I use it as a chair in order to keep my body as content as possible during the hour of waiting laying ahead of me.

We have arrived last of all, so I am at the back of the line. Which suits me fine, it gives me time to relax again, and also the possibility of noting that either our examiners are really nice or the other members of my group are very able, because not one of them fail, even we have had the Chablis-pruning first, and it often contains more pitfalls than the Cordon de Royat. It is so fast and easy unnecessarily to abolish a charpente, that ought to have lived one more year, or on the other hand to keep one, that you ought to have removed.

But as the first four guys have made their way through, I can spot the test of the other female of our group just 20 metres in front of me. She kneels at the two vines, she is supposed to prune - not out of respect, the height of the vines is just very low - and we can see - Alain next to me - that it most certainly looks like one member of the jury is helping her. Also he looks very much like somebody we know from the village of Alain.

A few moments later I am signalled to approach and presented for the first vine that I must prune. I have already checked out what I could and seen that these vines seem to be much more regular and according to theory than what we have been used to in the course. On these vines you find the right kind of shoots from the bottom of the plant, the old charpentes are not several metres long, and they all seem to have nice rachets from last year with good possibilities of rejuvenation.

I cannot help getting nervous though as I have to remove a small and rather sad looking charpente in order to avoid superposition with my lancement. The other three charpentes are easy. My choices of prolongements are not great though. "Tu coupe là. Là, là, là," goes the examiner, who monitors my efforts at close quarters, and who is indeed the man, we already know. My eye is not great when it comes to the number of buds, this I already know.

Only the next day I remember that it is "éliminatoire" if you leave a vine with more than four charpentes. This I have completely forgotten, and it would have happened to me, if I had not removed the sad, young charpente. It is so easy to forget a detail you would never fail when you work nice and easily in your own vineyards withput the pressure of an exam.

I can hear the examiners discuss, but not whether it concerns me or the woman who was in front of me: "Elle sait tailler" – "she knows how to prune" – but also that this is too slow. "Vite, vite, vite", says Christian, and I try my best to work faster, faster, faster.

Loose bindings
I have made it as far as to the attachments. At least the binding is not a performance on time. Christian slips a roll of thread into my hand rather than a piece that is already cut off. This removes another worry of mine: Will they be annoyed with me when I use more thread than average? On top of that, my bindings happen to be not excactly the tighest of their kind in Champagne.

The first one I miss completely, and I must start all over again. I can hear the examiners note that I do not seem to have gained a lot of experience in the art of attaching the vines. I explain that I have not really been able to practise much since my big and pregnant stomach is not very pleased when I have been in the fields to bind. In fact I have had to rest a full day after practising just an hour or two, which has made me sort of cautious when practising this discipline.

I hesitate as I reach my lancement. Now, how will I avoid a superposition, when you are only supposed to bend it forward or keep it vertical? One of the examiners tells me to bind it vertically, and I will be fine. So I follow orders.

You cannot fail the exam on your binding, and I do not think I have committed real serious trouble during my pruning. But I understand that my examiners have been more than gentle when it comes to time. You are not supposed to use more than eight minutes pruning your two plants, and even I have no clue whatsoever of the time, I have used, I am rather sure that I have been slow. But they let me move on to the next test - the Cordon de Royat - which is already more than I would ever have expected.

Dispute about rejuvenation of the Cordon
On a muddy piece of land with the Chablis-grapes on one side and the Cordon de Royat on the other, we meet up with Sébastien, Didier and Maxime, all known from the course of now many thursdays, and who try their luck this morning as well as me. We have all been lucky - some of us maybe even skilled - and made it through the first half of the test.

All of us extremely reliefed. That is, just as reliefed as you dare when you still have another half of the test in front of you. I will move on to the Cordon de Royat, which at least Alain and I consider more easy than the Chablis. It normally has less risks of fatal errors. But today, the Cordon de Royat turns out to imply the most tricky of all traps imaginable.

To judge from opinions given from the candidates some of them fail because they follow rules, that at least we in our group have been taught to follow. The tricky part is the rejuvenation of the Cordon de Royat. Excactly when are you supposed to do it?

We have been told to do a new Cordon, when the old one covers a length of two thirds of the entire length between two plants. But apparently not all share this opinion, and today it is the examiners who decide. Several of them seem to rejuvenate at a much later stage than what has been taught at least in our class, where several fail the test apparently because of this.

I have gotten used to ask any owner of any vine, how he or she wants the vine pruned, since it seems nobody do it excactly the same. And apparently the AOC-rules - even they seem so detailed - can be interpretated in many ways by different persons. Also of course only an owner can know his or her excact local conditions which have to be taken into account as well.

I note that I am amongst the lucky ones with a jury that has not come here today to exercise their annual possibility of playing the powergame, but rather to evaluate whether I and the others in my group can actually prune or not.

Which I happen to think I am able to now. Even I feel blessed beyond imagination that I make it through both pruning tests, I also feel worthy of my paper, once it will arrive.

The oral trial
Maybe I should mention that the last trial of the day - the oral examination - pass off in a very laid back way. A few days before friday a friend strongly urged me not to neglect this last, dreadful part, after all "you never know". Some times you actually do make it - against almost all odds - and this is excactly the case today.

And I have followed his advice and actually did prepare the oral part, and as I read my two questions, they just seem so easy, I can hardly believe it. I manage to write my answers down in a fashion so thoroughly that the censors do not really have any follow-up questions. Dismissed. I am free to leave, and I passed! The rest is to wait for my final points on the lawn outside.

Most of those who have made it all the way to the oral part, manage the last part too. But since half past seven this morning more than one third of the original number of candidates have been rejected for all sorts of reasons, amongst them Didier. This makes me sort of sad, since he actually needed this paper to get a job. I really sincerely hope that some vigneron will give him a job anyway.

Our teacher Stéphanie gains a lot of points with me as she spend this hour in waiting with four mentally handicapped youngsters, that she has lead all this way, and who will now be able to find work, probably one of very few chances for them. One of them gains the famous secateur d'or and with it probably even more warm wishes than anybody else here on the green lawn under the bright and warm April sunshine.

It is so nice to see, and it does undeniably put everything else during these last many weeks in perspective. So let me in that same spirit add, that our word blind bloke in his fifties also made it all the way through. That pleased me a lot to see. It has not been very pleasant for him - thursday after thursday - to get his handicap displayed in front of everybody, so it is nice at least to see him achieve what he came for in return.

The chairman has used the hour, we have to spend waiting, to improvise a little speach, where he in a very detailed manner - unfortunately my limited French makes me miss most of his examples, I still get the point though - sums up all the horrible mistakes he has found, seen and heard of this morning. Finally the points are published - name by name - with my 440 points there is an awful long way down to the 380 that are minimum to pass the limit. I wonder how I managed to collect all these nice little points all for myself. I mean, where on earth did they come from?

På dansk

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Alain passes his test with no major difficulties the next day. No golden scissors but he can bring back some oil for the care of our secateurs and a whetstone as a recognition of his skills in the art of pruning. We celebrate the good resultats with two guys from the course sharing a nice lunch and two bottles of champagne: The Blancs de Blanc and the rosé of Besserat de Bellefon, both very nice and gentle but maybe also a bit too tame, at least when you know how other brands with a stronger personality almost literally attack your taste buds. It is all a matter of preferance really.