30 June, 2001

Two times 30 years

Two big groups have celebrated their 30 years jubilees in Champagne this June.

Vranken and Nicolas Feuillatte can both celebrate success in an area, that now looks more like a closed party for anybody who is not what French women's glossies would call richissime.

Both groups have worked their way all up into the top league of champagnes, and both have contributed with interesting news.

From outer to inner lines
Today it does not look like extreme wealth, when you eye the approximately 100.000 francs, that Paul-Francois Vranken, had to come up with to establish himself in the local economy in Champagne. Even of course 100.000 francs have provided a very different and much higher purchasing power 30 years ago than it would have today.

Since the 1990'ies Vranken has fought his way on the outer lines and bought respected brands such as Heidsieck and Co Monopole and Pommery, and created others such as Demoiselle and Charles Lafitte.

Today where the Vranken-group is amongst the five biggest in Champagne, the insatiable - so it seems - Belgian has moved onwards and now fights the inner lines.

At the website of the group Paul-Francois Vranken explains, that the objective of his group is to "conquer every Champagne-tasting moment on the five continents with the twin forces of Prestige and Luxury". He has also said, that for him the next challenge will be to make the customers buy different champagnes not just for the aperitif but to serve along the entire meal.

Vranken celebrated the jubilee with a concert with the American group Earth, Wind and Fire for the employees. Maybe to reflect the personal, musical preferences of the president. Anyway Earth, Wind and Fire must be in the 30 years league as well as Vranken, so you may consider the concert symbolic in this sense.

A cooperative that agrees
The other company celebrating its June-jubilee is the cooperative Nicolas Feuillatte, also in top five, and like Vranken it has worked determinedly on joining the class of the grand, old marques of champagne.

In these 30 years Nicolas Feuillatte has succeeded to develop from a purely national business to an international player as well. Today the cooperative exports 43 percent of its almost eight million annual bottles. The sale has grown 10 times bigger in 10 years.

It is also an example of a very big cooperative that has succeeded joining forces and visions into this "big step forward". Everybody who knows just a little bit about the anarchistic distaste of the French when it comes to fit into other opinions than their own must simply respect how far the bosses of Nicolas Feuillatte have managed to develop the common brand during those 30 years.

After all Nicolas Feuillatte consists of 82 smaller cooperatives with all in all 5.000 winegrowers who all must agree... Feuillatte has 2100 hectares in different spots in Champagne at its disposal, which provides rich possibilities of a big number of different cuvées. And that is obvious if you check the big selection available at the website. That is if you ever manage to pass the big number of animated bubbles to arrive into the correct page...

Future in small bottles
The Vranken-owned Pommery and Nicolas Feuillatte have one thing more in common. They both boast very trendy, very cool minibottles in their assortment.

Pommery was the first grande marque to introduce its very referred-to POP in the market in 1999. Just on time for the Millenium sales. The content is 20 centilitres, and you drink it straight from the bottle or with a straw. Feuillatte minibottles are called One/Four, since they contain a fourth of an ordinary 75 centilitres bottle, a bit less than POP that is.

Both minies exist in an ordinary brut and a brut rosé version. The content of the Feuillatte-mini is the same as in the bigger bottles. POP is a speciel blend for the taste of the new millenium, claims Pommery. You can buy POP in a 75 centilitre version as well though.

I do not know the market share of these small bottles. They are surely made to convince new customers. The little bottles make it possible to buy yourself some ultimate luxury in everyday life without being Rockefeller. It shall be interesting to see, if the POP-generation will move onwards to the more classic assortment as it grows up...

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.

News June 2006

30.06.2006: A new fungus disease - Black Dead Arm (BDA) - has finally been identified. It contaminates as the vines have their tops and sides cut by tractors during summer. BDA was found for the first time in 1999, and it now exists in all French vineareas, says La Journée Viticole. Some times it is mistaken with another disease, esca, the disease we - as many others - fight in our vineyard. It is still not known whether treatments against mildew and oïdium may work against the BDA-fungus.

19.06.2006: Norwegian Robert Lie, beat them all and took the first price in the competion of the title of best sommelier in Europe, the Trophée Ruinart-competition. The 25 year old winner has worked as a sommelier in five years - in the Restaurant Bagatelle in Oslo - and he also possesses the title of best sommerlier in Norway.

14.06.2006: The house of Salon, situated in the Grand Cru-village Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in the heart of the Côte des Blancs, is ready with one of its generally very highly estimated vintage champagnes. It is a vintage 1996, its colour is described as pale with glimpses of green. The new Salon has flavours of green apples, fresh lemon and ripe pears, typically for Chardonnay-grapes. Salon only presents new champagnes in years, where the quality of the grapes is great. The other years the grapes end as Delamotte-champagne, also with a good reputation even not as exclusive as Salon.

09.06.2006: Moët & Chandon continues the presentation of their top cuvée Dom Pérignon Rosé 1996. This time a photocampaign, that continues in the same decadent-elegant style as last years, where Danish model Helena Christensen was figurehead for the Dom Pérignon 1998. This time it is model Eva Herzigova, who supplies her legs for the benefit of the campaign. It is still the Chanel-designer Karl Lagerfeld, who has taken the photos. The new toprosé was recently presented in Los Angeles at a launchparty resembling Cannes and Hollywood when it comes to luxury and celebrity lifestyle. Karl and his pics almost steal the scene from Dom, but those with a wish to spend several hundred euros for the Dom will remember what all this is really about, I suppose. The rest can check out Karls pictures here.

06.06.2006: The keyorganisation of the champagne industry, the CIVC (Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne), is currently looking for a European ambassador for the bubbly vines of the region. Candidates can compete at national editions in seven European countries - the same seven countries you will find in the top of the list of biggest European export markets. The overall winner will be the European ambassador and have access, I suppose, to taste a lot of great top champagnes during his or her official year as ambassador. You can read more about how to participate in a website created for the contest. The participants will be judged on their abilities in presenting their knowledge of champagne, blindtasting and overall enthusiasm. Written applications can be send to the CIVC before July 10th. The competition takes place on October 20th.

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 June, 2001

Laborious palissage

Our young man is still busy with the pallisage. The objective is to leave the rows as tidy as in the picture. He has still at least another week of work left.

The starting point has grown into lots and lots of messy, green stems, that hook themselves to all the wrong places, or has a direction towards the neighbouring row rather than staying in line with its own. All these stems must be put nicely back behind the double thread, so they will stay with the vine, where they grow. A work of patience, because if you do it too fast or impatiently, there is a big risk, that the soft stems will break. And from the start you do the palissage excactly to avoid this.

He does everything left to do connected with the binding up the vine. The palissage itself, but on top of that he lifts the double thread to the top level - a bit late, the stems are long now, and summer has already come up with several thunder storms - and places the little clip, that keeps it all together.

Alain has begun to buy biodegradable clips. They are made of... and it should reduce the mess between the rows. It is not that we throw lots and lots of the old agrafes, that are sometimes homemade - bend iron - and sometimes made of plastic. But if they slip between our fingers when we are out to remove them, we do not stop to look for them between the wooden chips on the ground. It takes far too much time.

The future palissage
A story in the June-edition of Le Vigneron Champenois explains - quite technically and detailed - how you with a new type of metal clips or arms can manage the palissage faster. The principle is, that you place the arm in a hook at each iron post, where it can have an open - a very open V - and a closed - a very closed V - position. Before the palissage the arm is left in its open position, where it stretches the thread so the vine is allowed to grow. It also provides the necessary workspace for the pruning and attaching.

When the time of the palissage is up, you change the adjustment of the metal arm to the closed position, which will squeeze the stems towards the espalier. The trick is that the two liftings and the staple is thus rationalized into one single operation.

So far the systems - there are several - have been tested by the technical department of the CIVC (Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne). Their conclusion is that only after several years of usage, you may start saving time - as much as 40-50 percent - but also that the product is still not technically mature. But at some stage it will probably be interesting to half the amount of work hours by such a seemingly simple technique. However, bearing the reservations of the technicians in mind, I suppose the technique so far is not as simple to work with as it seems.

The flowers are almost finished now. The pollination is over, but we will still have to wait some weeks to have an idea of the result. As far as we know the weather has been okay in the area, so probably, hopefully, it is fine.

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.

23 June, 2001


The "Route Touristique" through the small villages of Champagne is one of few fine offers for the tourists that exists here..

Ever since I arrived in Champagne three years ago I have wondered about how undevelopped winetourism seems to be here.

We live in one of the well known areas of the Champagne Viticole, and all through summer there are lots and lots of tourists who drive through our winding little streets - especially English, Belgian and Dutch - and I keep wondering how little is done to keep them a while, and of course attract even more.

Okay, there are a few humble museums of the vines, and quite a few "Accueil" or "Vente directe". The big champagne houses have their own exhibitions and guided tours with a glass or two in the end. It depends how much you want to spend. But the possiblity to try a little bit of hands on yourself, is surely not widespread.

Which is where the wondering starts, since it seems such an obvious idea to combine a week in Paris - or less - with the possibility to visit Champagne, taste some champagnes, learn a bit about how the vines are grown and end with a few meals from the substantial French countrystyle cuisine.

Rich heritage
Approximately 19.000 winegrowers directly occupy themselves - fulltime or partly - growing the vines that covers about 32.000 hectares of Champagne. They are in possession of the most fantastic heritage you can imagine. Sometimes I wonder how many of them are actually aware of it.

Now of course they make good money with their champagne. Probably not many of them are looking for alternative ways to make money, like them rest of the winebusiness in France may have to.

But Champagne does possess such treasures that it seems somewhat a crime not to do more about it. You see, these treasures do not excactly pop straight up in your face like in Alsace where you would have to be both blind and deaf and with a leg and a half in the grave if you were not to notice the charm of the place. Champagne is less obviously interesting, you must dig the gold yourself. Though I do not mind handing out a few ideas.

The Champagne gold
The wine routes that lead through the tiny villages - there are several hundred kilometres of them - are easy to find and follow, and they are fine. A lot of the villages, connected by these roads like pearls on a string, and the forestland between, have really good places to eat.

You must visit one or two of the big champagne houses, for the history, the luxury. One of them must be in Reims, where you should opt for one of those with crayères underground. These are ancient chalkmines, originately dug out in the Roman days to build Roman Reims. Since they have been extended and today they offer perfect conditions to mature champagne. The cathedral is a must, one af the famous, gothic cathedrals of France, and the place where the kings were crowned, since Saint-Rémi baptised the king Clovis there.

Famous brands however is not enough if you want to have a more general idea about what champagne is. In this case there is no way you want to miss one or two of the more humble winegrowers with their vente or accuil-signs welcoming you. The problem is only language really. Of course - even in Champagne - you may find people who speak other languages than French - I am one of them - but believe me, they are not many.

The best places will show you around in their presshouse and caves and maybe even take you to their vineyards. But prepare yourself: It is most likely to be in French. Except in our place... and a few others... for instance the girls from my "Selling champagne in English"-course may still be able to come up with one or two phrases in English even the course finished more than six months ago now.

Mont Aimé - today a characteristic hill in the landscape with a few brickbats, an information board about the 200 cathars, that were burnt by queen Blanche in the 12th century, and the humble leftovers from a long-gone hermit.

Champagne is an old county. The counts of Champagne had a castle on top of the Mont Aimé on the other side of Vertus in the Côte des Blancs. You have a great view of it from the courtyard of my mother-in-law. And there is even said to be an ancient hidden tunnel somewhere on the estate leading to the castle to make it possible for the inhabitants to reach security safely in times of unrest.

Since the castle itself was destroyed during the 100 years war, this story has been told in many many hundred years now. The king of the Huns, Attila, met his Waterloo just outside the Chalons-en-Champagne of our days, and World War I - the great war as they call it in France - has dragged its deep and bloody trail in big parts of especially Northern Champagne. After each war the sales of champagne had a boost. After each occupation - and they have been many in Champagne - the enemy apparently brought back with him a desire for the bubbles.

There are many stories around... the Romans are said to have brought the vines here, for instance to the village of Avize in the Côte des Blancs. Archeological findings have dated the existence of the vine in the area back as early as the 4th century.

So when we prune - or do other manual tasks in the vineyard - I feel very much in harmony with both nature and history. Even the varieties are different today, and the tasks performed as well probably. I am not sure they as early as the 4th century knew the advantages of pruning.

Rather unchanged tasks
We grow the vines more or less the same way as Alains grandfather. A few modern remedies have joined forces, it is not that the winegrowers are helplessly nostalgic, they do use all kind of modern technologies when they are able to and allowed to, and research is done in all areas in order to save manhours and improve the product.

We also harvest grapes in more or less the same way as always. Only the horse carriage has been replaced by a white van, and the grape boxes are no longer made of rattan but plastic.

Most of the work during the rest of the year is manual as well, and we are as exposed to the frost of the winter and the sun of the summer as people have always been. But still the big white bonnet for females to protect against the sun are no longer in fashion here, apart from at Genevieve's, the wife of the business partner of our farm company, and then the dressing up for the Saint Vincent of course.

Vinhøst i det franske
As I finished high school in the middle of the 1980'ies it was popular to travel to France to pick grapes. This possibility hardly exists today. Everybody who are allowed to - or almost - will use machines for the harvest. It is cheaper and more flexible, than a group of people that must be fed, lodged and whose backs hurt terribly especially on the third day. But when you make champagne it is decisive that the skin of the fruits is not damaged. Therefore you are simply not allowed to use machines here.

However, it does not mean that there is a lot left of the old harvesting traditions. Many winegrowers now hire teams of gypsies or others. They are paid better but they have to lodge themselves. It is a development that has taken off as the authorites demand better facilities for the grapepickers. A certain number of toilets and showers for a certain number of people for instance. Welfare for everybody.

As less winegrowers do the lodging themselves, this last piece of harvesting old style, mountains of French country-style food, a little bit of guitar in the evenings and a drink or two before bedtime may disappear completely. Unless you can save a bit of it in another way... for instance tourism.

Which I would love to do... others too I am sure... when it does not really exist as far as I know, it is because the harvestdays are already an incredibly busy and important time where you hardly look for more work. But then if it was your work to deal with a group of tourists, who has payed to try to harvest grapes in Champagne, taste a glass of fresh grapejuice straight from the presses and finish with a five course lunch of heavy countrystyle food with the rest of the team, maybe it would be a different story.

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.

22 June, 2001


The vineyards in Champagne are the most expensive in France.

It is not often we read about the local prices of land in the paper. But rumours of course travel on fast wings as well. So we hear a little bit here, a little bit there... in the cooperative, from the neighbours, a collegue, at the aquagym... They turn out to be exaggerated - that seems the second nature of rumours - but only slightly.

The average price for a hectare of vineyards in Champagne is 578.000 euros. So we are actually papermillionaires in both Danish crowns and French francs. Even the wealth is rather theoretical, since the vineyards are also a condition of our income.

The numbers cover big, regional differences:

  • Côte des Blancs: 800.000 euros
  • Grande Montagne: 680.000 euros
  • Vallée de la Marne: 680.000 euros
  • Côte d'Épernay: 550.000 euros (+25% in 2005)
  • Vitry-le-Francois: 550.000 euros (+16% in 2005)
  • l'Aube: 480.000 euros
  • Vallée de la Vesle: 475.000 euros (+15% in 2005)
  • l'Aisne: 400.000 euros
  • Vallée de l'Ardre: 350.000 euros (+17% in 2005)
Tal: The official statistics of agriculture l'Agreste.

According to the local newspaper, l'Union, the most expensive land, sold in the Côte des Blancs last year reached 950.000 euros per hectare, which comes close to that million per hectare, we already heard about at the coop last year.

One of the landmarks of the Côte des Blancs: The little summerhouse at Cramant.

It is only the prices of the approximately 32.000 hectares of vignobles of Champagne that actually reaches the skies. As for the rest, the average price of a hectare with its 5.510 euros is far from the top of France, which is the department of Var in Southern France with its 25.350 euros per hectare. Elderly people from all over Europe still move to Southern France on a big scale to enjoy a retirement on the sunny side. And the prices rice accordingly.

Unknown trend
This trend does not really exist in Champagne, known as one of the coolest regions of France. The cold weather - even it is not that cold to a Dane - is one of the secrets behind the great wine. Many of the foreigners, I meet here, are either married into local families like me, or live here due to their jobs.

Noone however can just buy some vineyards and create a career as a winegrower in France. The authorities demand papers, exams and so on. For this purpose I would on top of my recent pruning-certificate need at least to pass the equivalent of the subjects related to the wine of a French baccalauréat viticole.

In fact you also cannot just buy farmland... a whole range of different authorities must be contacted, and you need their permission, whether you are French or foreign. If and when they - that is foreigners or non-qualified French - still are able to buy land, it will normally be due to a necessary combination with a farm manager who has the qualifications it takes.

Another landmark: The mill of Mumm outside Verzenay in the Montagne de Reims.

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.

20 June, 2001

Rapper's boycott of Roederer

Roederers vines - too fine for black American hiphoppers? Oris it on the contrary black American rappers, who lack abilities to appreciate the finer qualities of Roederer? Judge for yourself.

American rapper Jay-Z is through with Cristal. Both privately, in musicvideoes and in his chain of clubs, 40/40, that when it comes to high-end champagnes now are only allowed to sell Krug and Dom. Jay-Z has been exposed to racism, he says, and the bad guy is the boss of the house of Louis Roederer, Frédéric Bouzaud.

When manager Bouzaud was interviewed for an article about "Champagne and Bling" for the British magazine The Economist, he was asked about the possible negative effect for the image of Louis Roederer if associated with black American hiphop-culture due to the big interest of the rappers for Cristal:

"That’s a good question, but what can we do?"

Verses like "Let’s sip the Cris and get pissy-pissy" from a Jay-Z text, and the whole idea of getting pissed in vintage bubbles rather than
sipping them from cultivated, slim crystal glasses seem more like a frontal collision between French art de vivre and American freedom-to-do-what-you-want than discrimination of black Americans.

All about style
Frédéric Bouzaud furthermore noted, that his company cannot prevent "people" from bying Cristal.

Well, he will not have to anymore, since Jay-Z has announced far and wide that he is finished with Cristal. The prestigeous house - more than 200 years old - can now concentrate on the making of their elegant bubbles to people who also appreciate them in their way of living.

"We make our champagne for that three-five percent of consumers who really know wine, and who take the time to taste it correctly."

This is how the former Roederer-boss, Jean-Claude Bouzaud, described the preferred group of customers in an interview made around the time of his retirement early this year.

In France it is simply not enough to buy the right brands. If you do not possess the general education and style to consume them in the right way - following the strict codex of French art de vivre - it will work in the excact opposite direction.

A topcuvée like Cristal is not a prodict to be bought, sold and consumed as cats food and canned tomatoes. It is itself a piece of art.

An image like Paris Hilton
The boss of the cave, who blends a cuvée like Cristal from a big number of the best still vines from the best vineyards of Roederer, has a vision for his wine. And a great number of years will pass before such a champagne is fully developed and matured.

When it is finally ready to meet the world, it is supposed to be something quite unique, a mosaic of smells, a masterpiece of a complex experience of flavours. Therefore, on its way to the market and the customers, it will be accompagnied by special festivities and very big parties for a specially invited incrowd.

When Dom Pérignon recently presented its new rosé vintage 1996 in Los Angeles, Paris Hilton had to gatecrash to enter the party. She was welcome to drink as much Dom as she wanted, said manager Frédéric Cumenal to the Australian. But he did not excactly clap his hands to get his topcuvée associated with the ultrablond hotel heiress:

"I don't probably like the idea of sharing the image of Paris Hilton - not the person, she's probably not that bad - but her image, it is not what Dom Perignon is about."

So far there has been no reports - to my knowledge anyway - that Paris Hilton will boycott Dom Pérignon after this comment, so openly hostile towards blondes. Maybe that is for later. The rapper Jay-Z has put Louis Roederer on ice, and this time not because he is thirsty. It shall be interesting to follow the possible effect on the sales of the house.

Meanwhile it is sort of amusing to note the coincidence that Cristal actually was invented to satisfy another windbag.

Made for the Russian czar
Cristal was created especially for the Russian czar Nikolaj II, who loved champagne. As comme il faut - these days as well - the crowd of courtiers and claqueurs took over the preferences of their emperor. So they becan to drink and serve champagne as well.

The czar however wanted something quite special for hinself, and this made the house of Louis Roederer create the Cristal only for him in 1876. The name is due to the clear bottle of those days, made of crystal and with a golden label.

After the Russian revolution in 1917 Cristal simply disappeared with the czar. It was only reintroduced in 1945, this time for ordinary customers... with money, I may have to add.

This is where Jay-Z enters the story. But now of course he will have to do with Krug and Dom. Poor guy...

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 June, 2001

Vines are flowering

The vines in flowers in Loisy-en-Brie.

The vines are flowering. It is a rather insignificant affair, at least if you imagine something like the sumptuous white splendour of a apple- or cherrytree in spring. The flowers of the vines you will hardly notice at all unless you enter the rows and dig under the big leaves to see for yourself.

Now the most important of all is that the weather will relax and remain nicely quiet and warm like during the last two weeks for at least some days more.

This will allow the pollen to stay where it should be, around the flowers, so as many as possible of the little grapes-to-be can be pollinated and then develop into grapes.

Season of thunder is on
On the northern slope of the Montagne de Reims, where we live, we have already had the first thunderstorms of summer with both thunder and lightning and heavy showers. The next is forecasted later today.

Here however the flowering has probably begun some days before in our fields in the far end of the Côte des Blancs. Our Meunier are always some days later than the Pinot Noir dominating these soils. So the possible rain may not matter so much here. In our vineyards we would like to avoid rain for another few days though.

A vine pollinates itself, but it demands silence while working. If it is too windy or too rainy, the fine he-pollen, that is supposed to pollinate the she-flower, will be washed or blown off. This will reduce the pollination and the final yield will not be as big as it could have been.

But like frost in spring or extreme cold weather in winter, we cannot do much about it. We have to live with the moods of the weather just like any other with a living dependant on nature.

Almost like last year
Funny by the way to note, that despite the very cold spring we have had this year, the vines are still in flowers around the same time as last year.

I do not know the excact number of days, but I do remember that I last year had a walk in the vines at Verzy with a Danish friend a few days before Midsummer, and at this occasion we saw the flowering vine as well.

So the flowering cannot be many days later this year, even it seems incredible when I think about the many cold days in March, April and the major part of May.

Which should imply that we can expect to harvest the mature grapes in the last half of September just like last year. The flowers may be a few days later, but there has been many discussions where the vendange were begun some days too late last year, so I wonder if not the authorities will be careful this year when they decide the dates.

The new stems on our vines have not grown quite enough to do the second and last lifting of the wires and the final palissage yet. It is only a question of growing a few centimetres more though. This means that in a few days we can expect that it is time to finish this part of the tasks of early summer. Which is good, because being tied up protects the fragile stems against the violence of the thunderstorms, that also come with summer.

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 June, 2001

British bubbles

The Chapel Down-vineyard in Kent in Southeastern England.

Straight after the French themselves the English must be the biggest lovers of champagne on Earth. Through several hundred years they have played more than just a secondary role in the development of the champagne, that is today loved globally. The last 20 years even with vineyards and own sparkling wines. The spin-off of a generally warmer world.

It is in counties such as Kent, Sussex and Hampshire, that vines now replace the more traditional orchards. Several hundred vineyards have emerged during the last two or three decades. Today 800 hectares are planted with vines, and the area is only expected to grow. The chalky underground is similar to that of Champagne, the latitude only a few degrees further north, the climate maritime, and the prices of land only a fraction of that in the famous French region.

The similarities are so big and many, that it would seem a deadly sin to bypass them quietly. Well, they don't in England. In the beginning they were flattered when several big houses from hampagne showed interest in the British plonk, today they want to deal with it themselves. And more than one has made it to the very top in international blindtastings and competitions. The tale of the British bubbles is not easy to dismiss. We do not plan to anyway.

Vineyards in Beatrix Potter-country
As we recently drove down England, we chose a detour through what must be the smallest sunken road of Kent, to visit Chapel Down outside the village of Tenterden, with a production of half a million bottles per year today the biggest wineproducer in England.

The never-ending and really dense rain of this weekend is more of a flood than
a shower of spring. But this is England of course. As a good patriot, winegrower and champenois Alain wonders how it is possible to grow and make wine with all this water. Sun - or at least quite a lot of light - after all is necessary to make the photosynthesis - the powerstation of plants - work, so the grapes mature.

But several of the English vineyards grow the three classic Champagne-grapes for the blend of their sparkling wines: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier, and their wines certainly are noticed. Both Chapel Down and wineries such as RidgeView Wine Estate and Nyetimber have made it to the top in several international competions and tastings of sparkling wines the last five years.

Each curve on our way to Tenterden seems to hide a beautiful, little English cottage, built in stones, with romantic and slightly oblique attics on the roof, and flowering bushes on juicy green lawns. Each moment I expect to see Peter Rabbit himself pull the wall of leaves aside to put out his curious little head to see who they are, these French disturbers of peace in his little kingdom of streams, trees, bushes and a road, hardly broader than a meter and very much with the resemblance of a green tunnel.

But as we arrive, there is no faded Victorian charm at all at the Chapel Down. In Tenterden big signs at the road show the way to the vineyard, and as we leave the car at the very spacy parking, we understand, that this is not an accidental hectare or two with a bit of vines for the fun of it. This is big business, and it is pulls all strings possible when it comes to wines, gastronomy and tourism.

On top of guided paid tours, own wines, English specialities Chapel Down also sells young plants.

Unfortunately we have a ferry to catch, so we can only spend few minutes running through the shop, elegantly covered with noble wood. This is so far from a classic farmshop or even an acceuil as we know them in Champagne. This is a temple of savour and tastiness. On top of the red, white, rosé and sparkling wines of the estate you can also buy culinary, British specialities such as pickles and Cumberland-sauce and delicatessen from the continent like tapenades and different mustards and vinegars. All is expensive. People who use this kind of tasty ingredients, when they cook, probably already know that they will have to pay for it.

So that is what we do - one glass of Cumberland-sauce is four pounds - and some sparklers of the house at twenty something pounds for the most expensive. Thus it is hardly on the price that the British bubbly will compete with the real champagnes, that are sold from 10 pounds for the cheapest bottles in British supermarkets. But maybe on the taste then.

Interest from Champagne
The many medals and growing recognition have brought a certain arrogance along with it. Wellknown champagne houses as well as the CIVC have had people in England to study the possibilities. However so discrete that none has commented directly in the many media who has so far published stories about the British bubbles.

Maybe smaller winegrowers have less prestige to loose. Anyway winegrower Pierson Whitaker of Avize earlier this year told British newsagency Reuters about his plans to plant vines on 12 hectares of good English soils in the Meon Valley in Hampshire. Whitaker already has vines in the Grand Cru-village Avize in the Côte des Blancs south of Épernay. His plan is to make 15.000 bottles of English fizz using the same principles as in Champagne.

In what atmosphere the visits of the big houses in Southern England takes place, I do not know. I just note that the lady at the counter in the shop of Chapel Down really does not want to talk to somebody from Champagne. On our side however we are curiois to taste the fizz of Chapel Down - a clear brut (Rivaner, Reichensteiner and Pinot Noir) and a rosé brut (100% Pinot Noir). So far they still wait for a suitable occasion in our cave.

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 June, 2001

First sign of big grapes

Our tiny Meunier-grapes in Loisy-en-Brie.

The very tiny start of the berries is already present in the vines. Do not let yourself be cheated on their humble looks though. They are actually big, and there are more or less the amount of grapes we want. An average of 12 per plant.

It may not sound much. Last year during the grapeharvest however one grape weighed an average of 200 gram - the biggest as much as 600 gram - so despite the modest amount of grapes, there will be more than enough to meet the quota. You need 1,6 kilo of grapes for one bottle of champagne, and normally one plant delivers the necessary frut for one bottle.

At this moment we wait for the flowers. A good flowering should mean a good pollination, and eventually good grapes with berries of an equal size. Not all flowers on a grape will be pollinated, normally it is only about one third. The vines are hermaphrodites and therefore self-pollinating.

The weather is important though, rain and wind are unwelcome because they either wash off or blow away the pollen. In both cases the pollination will be less good. Grapes that have not been pollinated may either fall off or develop very small berries, that will remain small, green and hard (millerandage). Such grapes are useless.

Quotas and delimitations
The final amount of grapes to deliver can only be calculated once the quota of the year has been decided. Normally rather close to the grapeharvest when you can begin to have an idea about the amount and quality of the grapes of the year.

In the Montagne de Reims the Pinot Noir-grapes are big as well. Here from a Veuve Clicquot-vineyard between Verzy and Verzenay.

The authorized amount of kilos of grapes seem to be going slowly up. Undoubtly as a reaction on the growing global demand of champagne. The authorities of Champagne - and champagne - adjust the quota a little bit here, a little bit there - but always only a little bit: 500 or even 1000 kilos more or less per hectare to reach an average annual amount around 12-13.000 kilos.

Bigger enlargements will mean new authorizations to plant vines on soils that have not been within the appellation before. To receive such an authorization means that if you have grapes, you will be authorized to write "champagne" on your label. Otherwise you can plant grapes. And the price of your land is sure to develop in a very nice positive way towards the skies.

It is the INAO (Institut National des Appellations d'Origine), that administers the French regional quality brands, that gives the authorizations. If you have land in one of the winegrowing communes you can apply until June 30th, says "Champagne Viticole" in its latest edition.

Alain does not seem to think, it is worth it for us. Unfortunately. We could do with one or two hectares more... couldn't most, I wonder? Bigger grapes only mean more money in the sense that they are faster to pick, and you will thus need less hands at harvesttime.

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.

12 June, 2001

Palissage in bright sun

Summerweather in Champagne, Loisy-en-Brie, in the Côte des Blancs.

A weekend with Mediterranean temperatures is over, the first part of the palissage as well, and this week so far seems to be equally warm, which should make it possible to finish next weekend.

This sunday noon we measured 35 degrees Celsius in my mother-in-laws very sunlit courtyard, so the work in the vineyards had to be postponed until the worst heat was over by 15 hours. In the vineyards you are very exposed to the moods of the gods of the weather, and especially cold winters and burning summers can be merciless.

Rognage begun
The vines however sucks the sunlight, and are growing intensely. Now they can finally compensate for the cold spring to such an extent, that we have now look for flowers whenever we pass some vines. The flowers remain the very first, very early hint about a possible harvesttime. Whatever unprecise it may be.

Several places in the Montagne de Reims but especially in the Côte des Blancs with the early developped Chardonnay-vines the tractors have finished the first shaving of the vines - the rognage - where you simply cut the top of the stems to stop the growth of the vines in this direction.

We normally wait for the flowers before we do the rognage. Of course our Meunier are not as developped as the Chardonnay we pass when we drive through the Côte des Blancs.

Alain lifts and put back stems between the double wire (palissage)

When the top has been cut, the vine will change its strategy of growth, and instead grow on the sides. The next few months the tractors will thus be cutting the sides of the vines when they roll through the vineyards.

Meunier og Chardonnay
In the vineyard in Loisy-en-Brie it is obvious that our Meunier are less developped than the Chardonnay of Alains mother on the neighbouring plot. The stems simply have not grown the same centimetres yet.

However, it is very much time to lift the double wire into the first hook. After driving through the Côte des Blancs we conclude that we must be the last ones to lift this year. In Montagne de Reims most winegrowers have finished the lifting too, but they are less advanced with the rognage.

Vallée de la Marne we cross less frequently - unfortunately - since this is the kingdom of the Meunier. But we do know that our cousin, who owns vineyards in the Vallée de la Marne, were supposed to lift her wires last monday.

Stems with a course the wrong direction.

Fragile stems
However as we arrive, we can see, that around our plots most winegrowers have not yet lifted. Still it is time now... Alain gets almost annoyed as we get there. The stems are longer than he would have expected, some on their way towards attaching themselves to the neighbouring fence, which is certainly not what we want.

When the green stems have grown so long they are more difficult to work with without destruction. They are still very soft, thus fragile. Then on the other hand less will fall out, so there will be less manual work afterwards.

But it is certainly time. The tractor, that regularly passes here to spray against different insects and diseases, has already damaged stems here and there. That is the price you pay to be late.

The wire on the ground is lifted and placed in the bottom hook.

The jobs is finished in between three and four hours. David is there too, which is good, both for the tempo and the morals. Even you do not actually work together you can still meet up for a drink now and then.

Almost superheated they come back in the early evening. The first part of the palissage is over. If the weather stays fine, the stems should have grown long enough to make it feasable to lift the wires to the upper and last level next weekend. This is also the time to place the staples that keeps the two wires together and the stems inbetween as the vine will grow bigger during the summer.

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 June, 2001

Battle about netsales of wine coming up

A bottle of champagne for less than 25 euros if you buy at least six bottles. Sounds interesting? Here in Champagne you can find winegrowers that deliver their bubbly production straight to the door of the customers by mail.

The sale takes place on the net, and the customer pays only French taxes, and not Danish or Swedish luxury taxes. Freight per mail is of course very expensive, champagne must be packed up in a speciel manner to survive transport, but the final bill is still a lot cheaper than buying your champagne in the Swedish monopoly for buying alcoholic beverages - Systembolaget - or even a Danish wineshop.

Monopoly does not give up without fight
This way of trading has been in a grey zone for a while, but now a battle between EU and Sweden is coming up. Systembolaget - the monopoly store - has tried to stop the foreign netshops from selling wine - and champagne - to Swedes, who were fed up paying too much.

But the EU-Commission is on the side of the winegrowers and netshops, and it has now announced a courtcase against Sweden at the EU-Court this summer or autumn. A spokesperson for the EU-Commission, Caroline Stege, says to the British winemagazine Decanter, that EU has two cases against Sweden, where the monopoly breaks the principle of the free movement of goods in EU.

The winegrower Thierry Perrion in Verzenay, Montagne de Reims delivers as described above. Read more here. Netshops with a big selection of wines and champagne: Chateauonline, 1855.com and Berry Brothers.

Read more at Decanter.com.

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.

08 June, 2001

Mention bien

This may not be the most exciting picture you have seen from Champagne so far, I agree, but it actually captures my state of mind in the hours it was taken quite well...

The place is the village of Bisseul close to Épernay, the date is March 31st, and at this very same time I was sitting in the big, ugly buildings to the right - the vendangeoir of Veuve Clicquot - to do the written part of the pruning exam.

The rest of the day - where there were more interesting photo opportunities and even sun - I was far too much beyond myself to think about photo documentation for posterity.

What I wanted to say anyway was actually just that both Alain and I - with lots of others - are named in the latest edition of Le Vigneron Champenois with a mention bien. Not excactly an A-level, I suppose, but not bad and better than needed to pass anyway.

Now we just wait for our diplomas and the free bar... but this is only at Saint Vincent, January 21st. Hopefully I am finished breast-feeding by then, and thus free to enjoy one of the really nice sides of living in Champagne.

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.

06 June, 2001

So green the vineyards

Veuve Clicquot-vines between Verzy and Verzenay early June.

Vines at Verzy early May.

The vines have spurted like crazy since the first leaves began to unfold in late April. What in early May was just the very first leaf and a bit of stem has now developped into one meter long stems with seven leaves on each. Five of the same - big - size, fully grown adults, and two smaller ones, that will grow into full size during the next month.

The grapes are clearly visible. Little, green and hard as stone of course and with a resemblance closer to that of blackberries or raspberries than grapes. But this is a very early stage. Probably during this month the vines will bloom, it will grow even more green material, the grapes will start to grow bigger and only much later - in August - the vine will change the functionality of its inner powerstation and begin to spend the energy supplied by the leaves on the maturation of its fruits rather than growing bigger itself.

Very young grapes resembles blackberries more than grapes.

Late unfolding
The tender Pinot Noir-clusters that we see in the vineyards between the Grand Cru-villages Verzy and Verzenay in the Montagne de Reims are already rather big, says Alain. Big and also bigger than our Meunier-clusters on the other side of Vertus in the Côte des Blancs. Maybe because Meunier-vines normally develop a bit later than Pinot Noir. Chardonnay is first, which is evident when you study the average dates of this years débourrement, the day where the first leaf is unfolded on more than half of the vines:

  • April 22nd: Chardonnay
  • April 24th: Pinot Noir
  • April 25th: Meunier

    It has been an unusually cold spring. Actually it has been so cold that the old winegrowers already did start to comment on the possibility of a grapeharvest as late as October. As in the old days, where it was necessary to cover the vineyards with nets to avoid that the huge groups of starlings should eat too much of the yield of the year. Nets that collected dust in outhouses and sheds in decades.

    Now the calendar says June, and after a cold and wet start, it seems that we are up for some warm days with more than 25 degrees Celsius and the possibility of eating all meals outside. This heat will surely speed up the growth, the flowering and probably subtract a good number of days from these first guesses of a possible harvest date. A lot may happen during the summer. The classical example these years is still the heatwave in 2003, that very suddenly made it necessary to harvest before foreseen with such short notice that we were only back from holidays in Denmark on the last day.

    A cold spring
    So far this has not excactly been the situation this year. The average day of unfolding - débourrement - according to the professionnal magazine Le Vigneron Champenois edition in May is six days later than the average of the last 25 years.

    The leaves came out - at last - during a short period of warm weather in the second half of April. The weather took yet another turn back to the icy side, and made it necessary to participate in the annual fleamarket of Verzy wearing winter coats on the 1st of May. Since then it just rained and rained and rained. It is only now, with the first week of June already gone by, that we see the sun again, feel its warmth.

    The green stems are soft and easy to remove.

    Ébourgeonnage and épamprage
    In May we have spend some hours to remove superfluous buds and shoots on the vines. the jobs that are called ébourgeonnage - removal of buds - and épamprage - removal of stems. You simply walk up and down the rows and remove, what is not necessary, manually.

    Regular readers may remember that we when pruning the grapes spend a lot of time to secure that only a certain amount of branches, each with a certain amount of buds were left on each vine. However superfluous buds always remain. You simply cannot see them all when they are still lying dormant, and the extra ones are instead removed now before they have grown too much. The objective is that the vine will spend its energy only on the necessary growth and not for instance on shoots that grow from branches that are more than one year and therefore will not supply us with grapes anyway.

    The double wire is lifted from the ground unto a hook on the iron post. In this picture the thread is removed from the hook and put on the ground before pruning. You may see last years shoots - the brown branches - between the double wire.

    Lifting the wires
    The new shoots of the vines have now - with their seven leaves - grown so long, that quite a few winegrowers have already lifted the wires. Both in the Côte des Blancs and here in Montagne de Reims. Our cousin started the job on Whitmonday in her fields at Dormans in the Vallée de la Marne. Alains cousin has already lifted the wires in the vineyards next to ours, but that is Chardonnay-vines, which are normally more developped than our Meunier. We will be checking next weekend.

    The hullaballoo of the double wire has several objectives. The wine is a twining plant, it will grow long stems, that are also quite thin and fragile at this first green stage. Being kept up by and close within the wire protects the stems against possible destruction in storms. It also keeps the vineyards tidy and easy to pass for the tractors that regularly drive up and down the rows to spray insecticides and to cut the vines all summer.

    The double wire can be placed in several positions on the post. In our vineyards it is placed about 20 centimetres below the top wire at 100 centimetres. On each post you find a hook, actually two, in different heights. When we lift the wires we first put it in the hook at the lower level. The principle is then that this wire will pick up the new stems and force them closer to the middle of the row. When they in some weeks have grown longer, the wires will be lifted into the top position at 110 centimetres.

    Too many stems have not been caught by the wire, which has been lifted too early.

    The art is to do this at the very right time which is when a maximum amount of stems will be caught by the wires. All stems that fall out because they are not long enough will have to be placed within the wires manually. This is why it is rather important to know when the time is right: It simply reduces your work afterwards. Alain likes to say that he is good at finding the right time... he hates unnecessary, stupid work, so I sort of believe that... but let's see next weekend.

    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.

    Alain counts the leaves. Seven per stem, five are adults by now.
  • 02 June, 2001

    Greenpeace: Nuclear waste threatens vines

    Nuclear waste found in a wasteground near the town of Soulaine in the most southernly situated area of vineyards in Champagne, the Côte des Bar, threatens the vineyards, says Greenpeace. The responsable authorities, ANDRA, declines this.

    Leftovers of radioactive material has been found in the underground less than 10 kilometres from the vines. However, so far no proof has been found, that the wasteground actually has contaminated vineyards, the environmental organisation admits at the winemagazine Decanter.

    ANDRA says, that contamination of the groundwater takes place, but is with 17 Bequerel per litre too small to be any threat. The European limit is 100 Bequerel per litre. Jacqueline Eymard of ANDRA says furthermore to Decanter, that as the water flows towards the Northwest and the vineyards are south, the water can never damage the vines.

    One million cubicmetres
    When the wasteground is completely full, it will be one of the biggest in the world with more than one million cubicmetres of nuclear waste. There has been reports about leaks, says Greenpeace to the German newsagency, dpa.

    A crack in one of the waste containers emerged last year as a layer of cement was poured into it to seal the waste. This apperared in a report to the French government, published last year in May. ANDRA just got a "go" to repair the damaged container.

    80 percent of the French consumption of energy is provided by nuclear powert.

    Read more at Greenpeace and ANDRA.

    The official authorisation is here.

    The wasteground will be open for visits for those who dare later this month.

    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 June, 2001

    Starwood sells to Taittinger

    The Taittinger-family will continue in front of the wellknown champagne brand of the same name. The American equity fund, Starwood Capital, has decided to sell the 300 hectares of vineyards, 22 million of bottles in the caves in Reims and whatever assets the company possesses to the bank Credit Agricole Nord-Est. In cooperation with the family it has bid approximately 660 million euro for the whole lot.

    This means that Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, grandson of the founder of the company, can stay in the manager's office, which was already his at the time of the American buying last summer. The sale apparently was inevitable after rows between the 38 family members running the activities, where some were under pressure to sell shares in order to be able to pay French wealth tax.

    The Starwood Capital fund came and bought the shares of the Belgian financer, Albert Frere, and the Peugeot-family. However, the Americans were only interested in the hotel-part of the empire. A sale of the champagnehouse was expected ever since.

    Staff and suppliers happy
    Now Starwood says that it chose Credit Agricole Nord-Est and the Taittinger-familys bid because it contained the fastest takeover, simple contract conditions and a will to secure the company and employment in the region. Thus, the fund did not just go for the maximum amount of money, says Patrick Wojtowicz, secretary in the worker's concil, to Bloomberg News.

    This council met on Tuesday in order to discuss their opinion about the bid from Taittinger and Credit Agricole Nord-Est. They decided to be happy. Even they cannot veto, the staff have a right to be informed according to French law, and they can always use the rich, French tradition of strikes to create a real and expensive hell for an unpopular buyer. Strikes following an expected take-over was last seen when the house of Lanson was sold in the end of 2005. Unexpectedly Lanson was finally sold to the champagne group Boizel Chanoine Champagne instead of the Franco-American investment fund, Butler Capital Partners, that were the first favourite.

    Also the winegrowers that deliver grapes to Taittinger are happy, which should ensure the necessary supplies of grapes. Even Taittinger possesses more vineyards than most big houses, it is not enough for the currenct production and they are therefore dependant on contracts with independent vignerons to buy more grapes.

    However, since everybody say they are happy, the future so far seem quiet for a while. Now the next interesting question is when the bank, Credit Agricole Nord-Est, will want to leave with all the money, and if Taittinger by then will be ready to stand up economically on their own.

    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.