29 September, 2001

We expect "un beau millésime"

Chardonnay-grape few days before the harvest.

The picking of the grapes 2006 ended under influences of gentlelweather with maritime tendencies. This is how the CIVC (Comité Interprofessionnelle du vin de Champagne) describe the general impression of the most important weeks in Champagne this year: The weeks of the grapeharvest.

The first news about the generel quality of grapes are good. There has been only little disease this year. Especially the green Chardonnay-grapes are promising not to say that they seem to have a great future in front of them.

The harvest however will only be finished completely by mid-October. And the CIVC also awaits tasting the first clear wines before they want to say more about the potential quality of the year 2006.

However,"Un beau millésime en perspective",is the last sentence in an announcement send out by the organisation, so it seems rather good so far. We eye the perspective of another great vintage in the horizon.

På dansk

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

28 September, 2001

SOS: More grapes for champagne

"S.O.S. Champagne" is the headline of an unusual ad, that runs in our local paper l'Union at the moment. It tries to convince the inhabitants of Champagne to manifest their protests.

It is Catherine Bourson, vigneronne and elected for the region of Champagne-Ardenne for the far-right party, Front National, who has signed, and the same Mme Bourson participated in a small manifestation at the Place Royale in downtown Reims the other day.

Madame wants to pick more grapes to be able to produce more champagne, and she assures that her initiative is completely apolitical, says l'Union.

Wants more reserves
This year the official quota of grapes were 13.000 kilos per hectare. Ordained by the Ministry. Are there more berries, they must be left to end up as self service for the migrating birds.

Catherine Bourson is not the only winegrower, who wants to pick more grapes to stock them - that is the clear wine you make from them - as reserves. That leaves you with a bit of extra security for the next time you get the grosses gelées - the hard frost in spring, that sometimes destroy a big part of your potential.

Reserves, that will stay at their current level, since all grapes harvested in 2006 will be put into production straight away. Too bad, too sad, to leave grapes that could be used, according to some. One of them Mme Bourson.

Statistically there is hard and destructive springfrost once every 10 years., My guess is that it will occur more and more rarely with the warming, that is already quite visibly here with more millésime-vintages than ever the last decade and the disease esca spreading more frequently.

Dollars in the eyes
I suppose that Mme and cie has more than one longing eye glued to the almost exponentially increased export of more than eigth percent in the first six month of 2006. The market of champagne is galloping, the limit infinitely far away, the world wants bubbles. So it seems.

And shame on he - or she - who would want to pass a possible deal on bubbles on to producers from countries such as the USA, Argentina and Australia. According to the ad they "make use of our Methode Champenoise and our reputation".

Not everybody agrees with the idea of a higher quota.

"15.000 kilo, pour quoi faire?" asks the communist trade union, CGT, in l'Union. They answer themselves that the market is not ready for 400 million bottles of champagne, which is the amount, you are able to produce from a quota of 15.000 kiloes of grapes per hectare.

Also in newspapers and magazines the different spokesmen of the industry in generel assert a point of view like "let's relax a bit, play it nice and easy". Let's take care of our current market, rather than destroying it by putting a lot more out with the risk of big disaster.

At this point the chairmen like to make readers remember the last time of crises in Champagne back in the early 1990'ies, where the price per bottle dropped significantly to be able to sell just about anything at all. Champagne has certainly not always experienced golden days. In fact the major part of the history of this region it has been an extremely hard job with only small incomes to grow grapes. Maybe this is also why it is so hard for many winegrowers to see the last grapes left to rot.

In 2005 307,5 million bottles of champagne were sold worldwide.

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 September, 2001

Our grapeharvest is over

The grapes of the plot "Belles Feuilles" is picked on a very sunny day.

The grapeharvest is over. I have followed it from the kitchen, that is from the steaming giant pots of our cook of the week, Annie. In the kitchen of the vendangeoir I have heard one guest after the other with their "c'est de belles grappes".

Our 10 grapepickers and the rest of the team share this opinion. Very little rot in the grapes so far, and even the berries are not as big as last year, there are plenty of them, so the grapes still come out rather heavy.

Most green grapes
The grapeharvest takes seven days at our place. More days are too tiresome for everybody, is the general opinion. We will leaving plenty of the green Chardonnay-grapes on the vines. Enough for the migrating birds to afterparty when they will be arriving well into the autumn. A little less of the Meunier-grapes even though enough to deliver the quota of 13.000 kilos per hectare.

Our Esca-torn vineyard now produces visibly less grapes. We can still deliver what we are supposed to, but it is obvious that within some years there may not be enough grapes to harvest, if we do not do something about the problem. That is replant the plot. A situation that we share with many other vignerons as the Esca-disease seems to move north with the rising temperatures.

Great weather
The weather has been just great. The heatwave of last week thank god ended before we started picking. It is hard to pick grapes for a week. Just about the last thing you need is that you must do it in 30 degrees Celsius.

Morningmist, grey skies, light showers and temperatures that only in the middle of the afternoon pass 20 degrees Celsius are much better. The only really warm day is blessed with a wind of a strength quite unusual in Champagne. It makes it okay to work despite the heat.

"There is always something"
Bad luck hit in several tempi. Gérard got a bad cold, could not move his neck and eventually also not drive to carry the grapes to the presses.

Even worse, four winepickers got so tired - two of them mainly due to solidarity, it seems - that they decided to go home the day before the last day. Some friends and family came to help so it all ended friday as planned anyway.

When asked Gérard only said: "There is always something coming up". But it was the first time, that our family experienced this kind of mass exodus. I guess it was also first time or at least not often that new pickers turned out to be that slow. Apart from me... but I never really count as part of the team. I am just there to help out the tired ones.

Do not sit on your bum
As one of the local "big mouths" passed by on the second day, he had a clear opinion after the sight of the two girls sitting on their bum while working. This, he said, would never be accepted by my wife.

Personally I now the time where your body just do not want to be bend over the vines anymore, but only kindly accepts to move on from a position with the bum straight on the ground. The problem is that it takes a lot longer to move from one plant to the next if you sit on your bum. And time is money, is it not?

Some places would just fire slow workers straight away after seeing the lack of potential after one day's work. Not in our family, where the tradition is that pickers help each other. Just not these girls who tended to slow down when they actually got help. Which would make the others work even more. Hmm, I guess that is why some vignerons just fire the slow ones pretty much straight away.

The harvest goes on
The vendange finished nicely though. Of Course. As always. So far only the first villages are completely done. The first communes began picking the grapes already on September 9th, the last ones only this weekend.

Vertus, as we belong to, is almost finished. You hardly see any cars and tractors carrying grapes anymore. The Côte des Blancs-villages Avize and Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger still worked this weekend as well as several Montagne de Reims-villages. Several vignerons in Verzy finished today... easy to recognize as they sounded their horns and decorated their cars with vineleaves.

Officially the grapeharvest only ends well into the month of October. So it is still far to early to say anything about the vintage of 2006. Even "there is always something" I guess it will all come out nicely. As always.

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.

14 September, 2001

Haze in September

View over the Vesle-valley from road in the vines at Verzy, Montagne de Reims, September 11th 2006.

The weather has changed again. After the saddest August as long as anyone can remember the first weeks of September brought Indian Summer and as much as 30 degrees Celsius day after day.

But we are moving away from Midsummer Day towards winter solstice and it is obvious despite the warm days. The dew falls heavily and each morning when I ask whether it has rained last night, Alain tells me, that the moisture is due to the dew. And it stays, the ground now never seems to dry completely like in summer.

The forest smells wet soil, and a haze hangs over the horizon more or less all day. I start to think that this weather is typical for a September in our mountain, since I now this September notice it for the third year. It wraps the horizon in its airy robes in a most pretty and spectacular way. I cannot help noticing, always enjoying.

Unfortunately this meeting between what is wet and what is warm can also be traced in the vines in less wanted ways - disease - so far we have been lucky to avoid: the botrytis and the mildew.

More haze at Villers-Marmery in the Montagne de Reims, September 10th 2006.

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 September, 2001

Last preparations

Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay - Holy Trinity Champagne style.

Two days before we begin to pick the grapes the last preparations is done. Alain has been in the vineyards of the family today to take samples to have them analyzed at the cooperative.

Our Meunier-grapes are so far the best ones - a matter of balance between sugar and acidity - and will most likely be picked as the first, when the team of 12 begin saturday morning. And they really are good, the Meunier-grapes.

Luxury and getting ready
We ate some of them a couple of days ago, and found them both sweet and with the acidity that normally characterizes grapes from this region.

I am still that much of an amateur that I find it very luxurios to eat the most expensive grapes in the world as just a handy dessert.

In Verzy the grapeharvest begin monday and everywhere we see activity: The vendangeoirs are prepared for the pickers, boxes are piled up in front of pressoirs, tractors are shaving the rows for the last time this year and the grass in front of the vineyards is cut as well, which will make it easier for cars, machinery and people to pass.

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 September, 2001

Vendange with maximum quota

Clip, clip... a harvest with a maximum quota of grapes has just begun.

Clip, clip, clip... the first communes in Champagne have begun to harvest their grapes, the rest prepare a harvest, that has come a few days before expected. Just like last year. We will start in one week, and as everybody else we prepare a grapeharvest of maximum size.

The quota this year is 13.000 kilo of grapes per hectare, which is the so far biggest I have experienced during the four years I have followed the grapeharvest in Champagne.

Last year - 2005 - the quota of grapes - as far as I remember - was 11.500 kilos plus 1.500 for reserves. This means that we picked the same amount as we will this year, but were only payed for the 11.500 kilos from the start. The rest have been and will be payed as the blocked kilos are put into production. A decision made in the INAO, which is an organisation that is under the competence of the French ministry of agriculture.

Unlike the rest of France and other wine areas in the world as well, the market for champagne is just going up, up and further up. The sales makes the head spin around (... "font tourner la tête") as regional newspaper l'Union put it the other day.

Champagne sales up again
The sales have grown no less than 8,8 percent in the first six months of 2006. A rather big growth and completely different from the market of still wines. This is why the officials have chosen to put a maximum of grapes straight into the production of champagne.

The main part of this years yield will be turned into champagne straight away. Here vines at Villers-Marmery in the Montagne de Reims.

This means that we this year will not pick any grapes for reserves. Everything will be turned into wine and then champagne straight away.

On top of that the INAO plans to ask the EU for permission to have a bigger quota. It is not the region Champagne itself or even the French authoritoes that decide this. It shall be interesting to see, if the EU-officials will be able to seperate a market of still wines in deep crises from a market of champagne and sparkling wines doing just great with ever increasing sales.

So far the 13.000 authorized kilos per hectare are enough to fill 360 million bottles of champagne. Two fermentations and a maturing period of at least 15 months - several years that is - seperate the consumer from vintages and non-vintage champagnes of 2006.

På dansk

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

07 September, 2001

Grape harvest in 10 days

Vines at Villers-Marmery, where the harvest start from the 16th.

Our part of the yearly party begins in 10 days.

The first communes began to harvest grapes today. Vertus, where our cooperative is based, starts on the 13th, Loisy-en-Brie and Soulières, where we have plots, from the 16th, and here in Verzy, where we live, from the 18th. The dates can be found for all communes in todays edition of l'Union.

On the meeting this evening in the cooperative in Vertus the president made the wishes of the management clear regarding the number of kilos to deliver every day and when. Last year the grapes were delivered in a way where there was not enough pressing capacity fast enough.

This year "La Vigneronne" has installed two new presses and also bought machinery to automatize the filling of the presses - farmers love new machinery according to Alain - so it should no longer be necessary to use raw musclepower to empty the 8.000 kilo grapes that each press contain.

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 September, 2001

Grapeharvest begins Sept. 7th

Chardonnay at Villers-Marmery in the Montagne de Reims.

As late as last week people - the neighbours, the hair-dresser, the priest, grandmother and equally well-informed sources - talked about a grapeharvest to begin around September 20th.

But actually the first winegrowers can start already September 7th. It is the most southernly vines at Sézanne about 40 kilometres more south than ours. Others must wait some more weeks before they can start. The picture thus seems rather diversified when it comes to time.

So far the dates per individual commune are not yet published. We expect to get them tomorrow September 6th at a meeting at the cooperative in Vertus. Only then the last planning of the vendange of 2006 can be finished.

Measuring the grapes
The weather has been really beautiful these last days. Sunshine and 30 degrees Celsius has followed the endless rain of August, and the heat makes the content of sugar in the grapes rise very fast.

Also the botrytis - rot - is on the rise. The CIVC publish a bulletin with the latest measures several times per week, where we can follow the development of the sugar/acidity, the potential alcohol and the botrytis per department. But measurements done in each commune will decide the start date for each commune.

Some winegrowers make their own measurements. An individual person cannot decide when to start, but the difference in maturation can be quite big in the different fields. For instance here in Verzy there is a rather big difference between the grapes on top of the slope and those downhill (last monday 6% uphill and 8% downhill). Therefore you must analyze your grapes to decide where to start and where to end. Simply because the vines more downhill get more sun than those uphill.

Ripe Chardonnay get a dotted skin.

Despite the ever-changing summer - when it comes to weather anyway - despite the violent hail in July, the grapes are in a generally good condition. They are heavy, and there are about 18.000 kilos per hektar. 5.000 kilo more than what will eventually be picked.

The next weeks we will see a massive influx of season workers who will want to pick them.

The hair-dresser is busy already now, she says. Apparently the winegrowers wifes queue up for new hair-styles just before the vendange. To present themselves nicely, I guess, they are hardly to find in the fields with new hair-cuts and colours. Me neither this year... I will have to survive the vendange with my hair old-style... I did not know this thing about going to the hair-dresser. Next year I may be better prepared.

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.

02 September, 2001

Annual visit of the gipsies

Gypsy camp outside Chigny-les-Roses in the Montagne de Reims.

With the grapeharvest just around the corner still more gypsy caravans arrive in Champagne. Earlier this year than normal due to a big religious meeting in our neigbouring department, Moselle. This has send more corteges of camping cars through the area than usual. Some are just travelling through, others seem to wait for some days or weeks of work during the vendange.

And as often when it comes to the gipsies - the travelling people is the French euphemism - their presence bothers many locals.

Complaints and negative mentioning
The whole range is covered in an anything but objective choice of words in the local newspaper. In several articles it talks about an "invasion" of the lay-bys of Reims without bothering to mention that the official area for campingcars currently is being renovated. It mentions complaints at mairies, prints negative quotes from neighbours about the gypsy women, who with pleading eyes and begging tones go from door to door to sell, what their call the finest of craftsmanship to exorbitant prices.

Now, I know from experience that in these small winegrower's villages it may not take very much before a neighbour might feel so bothered that he will complain to the local authorities rather than have a word with you. Our carpenter for instance put his car outside our house to have an easier access to his tools and materials. Some neighbours could hardly pass in the street. So they complained.

Garbage as a souvenir
What I understand much better, is people who get angry when they have to clean out the garbage and worn-out stoves and fridges, that the gipsies often leave behind, when they move on.

But since the gipsies work for the winegrowers, the commune could also choose to pass on the bill of cleaning. Everybody knows who harvest for who anyway.

This rather dirty aspect of the vendange has been discussed on lots of meetings between winegrowers and their representatives during spring. The employers have again and again been asked to assign land at the disposal of the gipsies to avoid angry neighbours.

I have no idea if anybody will actually comply with such a request. I have just noticed how miserable the land is where these travellers often camp during the vendange. And I have wondered that anybody should have to put up with that. One of the answers I get is that the gipsies only get facilities at a more reasonable level - toilets is one of them - when they have signed for jobs.

Until then they must use the official land for their purpose. If they find it, because according to the August 12th-13th edition of Le Figaro less than one third of the compulsory amount of areas have so far been established (30 percent). Maybe this at least partly explains why there are so many illegal temporary settlements here. Cities with more than 5.000 inhabitants must have such a camping ground.

Cheated on, badly
This year I had already made up my mind. As the first gypsy woman rang my doorbell, I had already decided to buy something. Unfortunately the first one this year did not have any of the homewoven baskets, that I had decided to go for. This one had a lot of bric-a-brac in her bag. As my descision was already made, I guess I was a really, easy victim.

I got the whole ride anyway, that I am a beatiful and good human being and so on, even I told her straight away that I did not need flattery to buy something. I would rather deal with it fast.

Now after living in a little village in more than two years, I have learned not to let in any sellers. If we trade, we do it in the gate... no one will see anything we have they can come back and steal. But I do wonder a bit about my new habits. Am I developing the same kind of suspiciousness as the locals? Or could it be linked with the vegetable seller from Brittany who cheated on me just before last year's grapeharvest?

The gypsy woman cheated on me too of course, badly. But I hardly have to mention that. She is after all a professional in that kind of business and I am not. What I am not going to say is what I bought and how much I payed. Alain will never discover it even it is visible every day.

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 September, 2001


The countdown for the annual vendange has begun. No one yet knows the precise date... that will be for next week.

In many places the winegrowers currently measure the content of their grapes, it can vary quite a lot. A neighbour told us one week ago, that the potential of alcohol on the lower vineyards of Verzy compared to the upper is six and eight percent. Which means that you have to plan your harvest rather well to be able to pick all grapes at their best.

The technicians of the CIVC are also out with their baskests to collect and measure the content of the grapes. Numbers from all villages are put into a diagram, that is distributed every three days at the moment with numbers at department level.

Sugar and acidity
In these diagrams we can follow the maturation of the grapes and also the growth of the disease botrytis for each of the three varieties Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier.

The real art is - as always - to decide for the best obtainable balance between sugar and acidity. It is supposed to be around 10 to be at its best, but there cannot be too much rot. A difficult balance, especially if you have several varieties.

The rainy clouds, that all August have hung heavily on the Champagne skies, now at last have moved on. Even without causing too much disease, in our vineyards at least.

Activities of harvest on the rise
The gipsies are arriving. Some have begun to apply for jobs during the vendange.

The vendangeoirs in the villages are being prepared as well. Rooms cleaned, kitchens filled with food and grapeboxes stacked outside the pressoirs. Everything is buzzing.

The CIVC makes the start dates public on September 6th. Each village has its date for each variety. Around this time you can finally finish hiring your team as you only now will know excactly how long the harvest will be in your plots.

In English

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