30 June, 2002

Card for the grapes received

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I have received my card as a récoltant.

This means, that all formalities now are in place. I have my own vineyard, and am allowed to sell the grapes, that will be harvested - as it looks right now - in the beginning of September to our cooperative.

I am a winegrower in Champagne.

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29 June, 2002

Match your bubbly

Once upon a time I worked as a programmer, I was young, and I never had more than three different ingredients in my fridge. At my work I liked to rave about programming this generator of recipies. Input: Content of my fridge. Output: Suggestions for supper, preferably fast ones. When you're young and single, you rarely spend many minutes at a time in your American kitchen. I didn't anyway.

Today I have been overtaken, by the general progress of society and age. At 40 to be, my program now has been made, I have many more ingredients at my disposal, and I spend so much more time in my kitchen. Since I now have kids, who'll have to taste it all, so they've got a good basis, when it's their turn to survive in a kitchen, that contains only pasta, tomatosauce and really dry ryebread.

Match your champagne
Now and then people ask me, what you serve with champagne. Since many have understood, that it is probably not the sweet cake, that is the tradition in Denmark. Unless the label of the bottle is equipped with a "demi-sec" on the label to indicate it is a sweet champagne. Which will often be the case in Denmark, where a big company like the Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin actually do sell a surprisingly big numbers of sweet champagne. If you are in Denmark, check for yourself in the shelves of the big supermarket, Føtex.

In France you drink the champagne as the starter, and - if it is one of those days - you may continue throughout the meal, adjusting the menu to fit the drink. The general rule is to begin with the Blanc de Blancs-champagne, continue with the mix - both white Chardonnay-grapes and red Pinot Noir and Meunier as it is most common - and end with the rosé. The latter is good with many types of bird and desserts with red berries. For the cheese, you will need a special vintage champagne, or you opt for a glass of red wine. No punishment anyway, I guess.

This English food- and wine-matcher remind me about my old project. It is not really great with champagne, since it covers everything. And I'm right
for the rest. And I think, I will do the champagne-matcher myself. Cheers and have a nice weekend out there.

28 June, 2002

Hit by hail

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Some berries already show disease or rot after the hailstorm that passed monday.

French summerhail are big and destructive. I have said so before, but in more theoretical terms, since the ice didn't concern us personally. Well, it does now.

Last monday a destructive belt of hail moved from Vert-Toulon and towards the villages of Bergères-les-Vertus, Vertus, Voipreux and Trécon. On the way the storm unfortunately also passed Loisy-en-Brie, and our vineyards proves this more than we like.

Destructive rocks
Rocks of ice that behaves as they please in the wild nature are sharp as broken glass, and they can fall with such strength, that they cut their way into the small berries of the grapes. Especially the grapes, that are not protected by leaves, are very exposed to danger in storms.

If the hail manages to break the protective skin of the berries, an easy entrance for disease such as mildew and botrytis - rot - is created, and the first brownish and ailing berries were obviously there, when Alain drove to the Côte des Blancs on wednesday to check the possible damages.

Case for the insurance
Now he has reported the damages to the insurance company, who will send their responsible to estimate the level of damage. We pay the first 10 percent ourselves, and somewhere around these 10 percent is where we expect to find the damages from monday. Which in the end will mean, that we will pay the storm and its damages ourselves.

We may already not have enough grapes, because the upper plot, arrived only last autumn, will not produce a lot of grapes this year. Due to disease and plants that are generally not in a great state. We have pruned the plants real hard to bring them back to something that looks like the demants for a plot with grapes for champagne. (More about grape quotas here).

The damages mean, that we will need our tractordriver to spread a chemical, that will prevent the disease, that has now been introduced in the hit berries, to spread even more.

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About 10 percent of the berries in our grapes have been hit by the hailstorm last monday.

25 June, 2002

An extra palissage

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Loisy-en-Brie in Champagne, June 24st.

Actually the palissage - the extensive work removing surplus and badly placed stems - ought to be finished by now. But since the work in a vineyard never seems to really end, this part of summer's tasks is not yet completely finished after all. Yet another sunday in the vineyards. Though this time accompagnied by a pair of scissor's.

A vineyard is a living organism, you don't program it, the buds don't grow on your command - even we pretend so at the time of pruning (;-)). They stick to their inner clock, I guess, and grow excactly as they please. Sounds really healthy, doesn't it?

New stems are cut off
It also means, that new stems still grow longer and longer, long enough to be caught by the double wires, I have described endlessly these last weeks, because they have required so many weekends by now.

The new stems must still be taken care of to keep the order in the lines. Necessary as it is to make it possible to walk in the vines and to pass the lines with tractors as well. Now it is the fast method though - cut-cut-cut - with the big scissor's.

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Meunier-grapes in one of our vineyards at Loisy-en-Brie in Champagne.

The weather is very unsettled. Thunderstorms with violent downpours - in rather nearby Alsace destructive hail has occurred, Champagne has been spared until now as far as I know - occasional rays of sunshine, heavy skies, quite some wind - we get a bit of everything most days (apart from thunder, which doesn't occur every day). The rather cool temperatures mean, that the vines and the grapes don't develop as fast as we've seen in the beginning of the period of growth.

At the moment the arrow of vendange points at the period around September 1st.

21 June, 2002

The prices are ricing

Champagne sells, even very well, and the prices follow. The top level is not yet reached. Especially if the giant in Champagne, Moët Hennessy, will act like they now talk.

The average price of a bottle of champagne at the moment - without taxes - is at 12,83 euros. Not much, if you think about the prices of champagne around the world. But only very few of them cost lots here in Champagne. It is the local taxes in for instance Scandinavia, that puts up the prices even more.

Grapes are the bottleneck
In Champagne the main bottleneck is the grapes. To find for grapes to be able to produce and sell more bottles. The big champagne houses, that sell 70 percent of the bottles for export, owns only 10 percent of the vineyards. Therefore they must buy most of their grapes from the winegrowers.

In the past the big houses and big winegrowers produced almost all the champagne of the area. In the last years many small winegrowers have begun to produce their own brands of champagne and sell it. Often much cheaper. For instance in our village in Verzy many of the local winegrowers sell their Grand Cru champagnes for about 13 euros per bottle. The price of the grapes make up almost half of that price (ex tax).

These are prices that are almost ridiculous according to Moët Hennessy. The leader of their champagne department, Jean-Marie Barrillière, has declared a sort of economical war about the grapes. In May he said to the local paper, l'Union, that he does not want to be the nice boy of the class anymore.

And since he represents the giant of Champagne, he also has the money to pay, what is needed, to get hold of more grapes. It shall be interesting to see, if the prices of grapes will grow so much during the next grapeharvest, that the growers will sell more grapes and produce less of their own champagnes.

In 2006 the grapes cost about five euro per kilo, which makes them the most expensive grapes in the world.

The berries grow

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The flowering is over. The berries have been pollinated, and now grow bigger and bigger. They will only begin to change colour in the last month before the grapeharvest.

The weather has changed again and again these last weeks, from warm to cooler temperatues, from rain to lots of sunshine. At the moment the grapeharvest seems due around September 1st.

Everybody still prepares to be ready in August.

19 June, 2002

Quota of records in ditto year

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Two thirds of the grapes in Champagne are red Pinot Noir and Meunier.

The year of records continue in Champagne. A spring, warmer than usual, followed a winter, warmer than usual; a flowering, earlier than usual, will very likely leed to a grapeharvest, earlier than usual as well. Even the quota of grapes seem to surpass those of the last years. Not because there are more grapes than ever though. More likely it is linked with the global demand of champagne. On the rise, on the rise.

The professional organization of champagne, the CIVC, has suggested a harvest of 14.000 kilo of grapes per hectare, and winegrowers and champagnehouses so far said only ok and yes please. In 2006 the similar quota was 13.000 kilo per hectare. So it is a decent increase, that reflects the need for more grapes to satisfy the global thirst for champagne.

Quota, I beg your pardon
This quota now and then is the subject of some wondering, sometimes some people are even amused, especially when they are not French: "Sorry, you say, you make champagne, and that you don't use all the grapes you have?"

"Excactly, We pick the amount of grapes, we are allowed to", is our answer. The rest, if there is a surplus, is left to rot on the vines.

French people find regulations, orders, laws and instructions of such very necessary. When I ask amongst friends and family anyway. How would you otherwise govern such an anarchistic population on just a basic level? When winegrowers can only sell or make champagne of a certain number of kilos of grapes, they have no interest growing extra. The hard pruning performed here gives healthier plants, less and therefore better grapes, which eventually results in a better product.

Reserve is part of quota
A key question may be, whether there will be enough grapes to reach this quota of records. We still don't have the final answer whether the pollination in our plots has been good or not, but both where we are and here in the Montagne de Reims, winegrowers keep an eye on millerandage (grapes with berries of very different sizes). It is a phenomenon, that is an unpleasant possibility after the kind of very-changing weather that accompagnied the major part of the period of flowering.

The suggested quota is a combination of 12.400 kilos of grapes per hectare from 2007 and 1.600 kilos of grapes per hectare, that are either blocage or deblocage. This means that the 1.600 kilos per hectare either can be supplied as an amount of wine from earlier years, that corresponds with the amount of grapes, or - for those who don't possess the necessary reserve - can deliver new grapes. As we interpretate the complicated announcement from the CIVC.

So, anyway, a maximum amount of grapes and wines can be sold or put into production to end up with enough still wine to make 395 million bottles of champagne. The first of them will only be introduced on the market in 2009. The grape quota of 2006 was big enough to fill 360 million bottles, the first of these will be sold next year. In 2006 approximately 321 million bottles of champagne were sold all over the world, 2007 so far seems to be even better saleswise.

Great all in all. But least for new winegrowers like me, who not yet have access to the special blocage/deblocage of 1.600 kilos of grapes. Now, it is not likely, that there will be fruit for it in my plot anyway, so it is not that hard to get by.

I would probably not be very impressive on my own trying to block one of the gates of the city of lights with - let's say - 10 ton of stems, removed from the vines. (Since I will certainly not have enough rotten grapes.) And I certainly don't have the right temper for this kind of actions either. So I might as well hope, that the hard pruning of the vines this year has given the power injection needed for the plant to have more fruits next year. And in 2008 I expect to have obtained full rights as a winegrower.

18 June, 2002

Sale increases from May to May

Champagne sells great. Still. The last year - from May 1st 2006 to May 1st 2007 - a number of 327.241.877 bottles has been dispatched. It has never been measured better in the statistics.

The first quarter of 2007 saw an increase of 8,9 percent. The producers can hardly fill the bottles, before they leave - roughly said... they still mature in the caves and so on. This all means more and more sabre-rattling in the ranks of the professionals.

Since there is only a limited amount of the grapes, that everybody needs more of, to make more champagne. We expect growing prices on the grapes, which must eventually leed to higher prices on champagne.

The growth in the sale:

  • Champagnehouses: 11,09 percent
  • Winegrowers: 7,85 percent
  • Cooperatives: 28,70 percent
The growth in the sale of champagne is especially remarquable in faraway markets such as Japan, China and Australia. A tendency, that has been seen already some years now.

17 June, 2002


A part of our plans for the future arrived with the mail yesterday. A letter from the division of the French customs, that deals with vines and wine:

51 61201440 is my numéro d'Exploitation Viti Vinicole. This number is 50 percent of the administrative half, that it takes to be a winegrower in France. The other half, the card, that will allow me to sell grapes to approved buyers, is propably on its way.

So here it is, a part of the letter:

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15 June, 2002

Flaneries champagne-style

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The 18th music festival in Reims is dedicated to the famous cello player Mstislav Rostropovitch, one of the friends of the festival, who has died since the last festival one year ago.

A high-quality music festival takes place all summer in the city of Reims and surroundings. Mainly classical and jazz concerts of quality take place two/three times per day, many of them free.

Several champagne houses open their high profile pleasure gardens, -yards and/or houses as setting of some of the concerts. This year the following are open:

  • June 24th, 4 PM:
    Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin - Manoir de Verzy:
    Gaëlle Solal, guitar: Pujol/Regondi/Tarrega/Rodrigo
  • June 29th, 4 PM:
    Champagne Mumm:
    Jazz/Quartet Océan
  • July 8th, 3, 4, 5 PM:
    Taittinger/Demeure de Comtes de Champagne:
    Vilém Veverka/Katerina Englichhová: Vorvola/Eben/Debussy
  • July 11th, 4 PM:
    Champagne Ruinart:
    Trio Con Fuoco: Beethoven/Brahms
  • July 18th, 4 PM:
    Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin/Hôtel Particulier du Marc:
    Feeling Brass Quintet: Farnaby/Ewald/Goedicke/Puccini/Turner/Piazzolla/Bach
Read the rest of the programme here

Buildings that are part of the historical heritage of Reims also play their part as concert halls: The cathedral, the basilica of Saint-Rémi, Hôtel Le Vergeur, Palais du Tau and Ancien Collège des Jésuites and the theatre, circus and several concert halls. Last but not least the completely new TGV-railwaystation in Bézannes.

14 June, 2002

List of brands

This is a collection of champagnes, all from big houses, chosen by experts from the national French newspaper, Le Figaro, for a theme on wines in September 2005.

The criteria for the selection is not mentioned, but it is interesting to see, how the selection more or less covers a complete round amongst the major brands in Champagne. No smaller producers are represented.

Well, it is not a fast and easy job to get an overview of 5.000 different brands, where most offer several products. You've got to start somewhere after all.

Non vintage bruts
  • Vranken: Tête de Cuvée
  • Canard-Duchêne: Cuvée Léonie
  • Alain Thiénot: Brut
  • De Venoge: Cordon Bleu
  • Joseph Perrier: Cuvée Royale Brut
  • Bruno Paillard: Brut Première Cuvée
  • Ruinart: "R" de Ruinart Brut

    Three amongst the mentioned bruts are brands, that have been developped during the last 20-30 years: Vranken, Thiénot and Paillard.

    I have tasted the Vranken and Joseph Perrier bruts, both a bit too sexless for my taste. The "R" of Ruinart would be my choice, but I do admit, that I have a weakness for this brand after enjoying their blanc de blancs some years ago.

    Vintage (millésimés)
  • Chanoine: Tsarine 1995
  • Deutz: Brut 1998
  • Moët & Chandon: Brut Imperial 1999
  • Jacquesson: Avize "Grand Cru" 1996
  • Gosset: "Grand Millésime" 1999
  • Charles Heidsieck: "Blanc de Millénaires" 1995
  • Bollinger: "La Grande Année"1997

    We have a similar Moët-bottle in the cave to drink for some occasion, but we don't particularly like the non-vintagebrut of this brand. Maybe the millésime-bottle will convince more efficiently one day.

    Moët-flasken har vi liggende i kælderen til en eller anden lejlighed, men egentlig er vi ikke specielt begejstrede for dette hus' stil. Måske millésime-flasken kan overbevise om noget andet.

    If you like the vigorous style of Bollinger, there is even more of it in this vintage bottle than the - well - ordinary Special Cuvée. If I was to buy one of these bottles, I would go for the Charles Heidsieck after tasting there brut sans année with great pleasure.

    Rosé champagne brut
  • Duval-Leroy: Rosé de saignée
  • De Saint-Gall: Rosé brut "Grand Cru"
  • Piper-Heidsieck: Rosé Brut "Sauvage"
  • Mumm: Rosé brut
  • Henriot: Rosé brut
  • Billecart-Salmon: "Elisabeth Salmon" 1996
  • Veuve-Clicquot: "Vintage Rosé" 1999

    The most expensive bottle of the pink company is the Elisabeth Salmon, always mentioned amongst the best of pink champagnes. I guess, there is a reason why, so of course I'd love to taste it. But, I don't know when we are in the mood to spend 150 euros for one bottle of champagne... so I guess, I'll have to wait.

    But the rosé de saignée of Duval-Leroy interest me too, because I like the saignée style, where the colour originates from grape skin, that has macerated in the must instead of adding red wine as in the rosé champagnes.

    Cuvées de prestige:
  • Nicolas Feuillatte: "Palmes d'Or" 1996
  • Philipponnat: "Clos de Goisses" 1992
  • Pol Roger: "Winston Churchill" 1995
  • Taittinger: "Comtes de Champagne" 1995
  • Laurent-Perrier: "Grand Siecle"
  • Louis Roederer: "Cristal" 1999
  • Pommery: "Louise" 1996

    I have never tried a prestige bottle of one of the big brands. Could I choose freely amongst these, I would begin with Pol Roger, because I often like the brands, that are popular in England such as for instance Bollinger and Lanson.

    Your own taste
    The more champagnes, I try, the more I am able to define and develop my own taste. Today I find many - but not all - of the most popular products of the big champagne brands uninteresting. Vintage champagnes and prestige bottles are a different story.

    The best bruts of the small winegrowers are more interesting - and cheaper - but you have to drink your way through an awful lot of bottles, before you can separate your own favourites from what is bad or what you dislike.

    Another way - cheaper but maybe less fun - is to buy the Hachette or some wineguides to find the accessible paths through the jungle.
  • 12 June, 2002

    Take the TGV to Champagne

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    The TGV train passes Beaumont-sur-Vesle below Verzy. The speed of the train is an impressive 320 km/h on the new Est-distance, 300 km/h in the rest of France and 250 km/h in Germany.

    TGV Est is now a daily reality. A train ride from Paris to Strasbourg now takes two hours and 20 minutes, with the ordinary train it takes four hours. The fastest connections between the Paris Est-train station and downtown Reims are down to 45 minutes, which is half. You may also take the TGV train directly from the Charles de Gaulle airport in Roissy outside Paris and with the fastest connections reach Reims in half an hour.

    So the tourist industry is happy. A lot of French may not know where to place the Champagne region, where the much more known beverage with the same name is made. But le comité régional du tourisme (CRT) de Champagne-Ardenne has ensured not to end up in the unpleasant situation when it comes to British journalists specialized in life style.

    Welcome to the British
    The British market is the biggest for champagne exports at all. British tourists bought an impressive percentage of 40 of all sleep-overs in this area last year, and they are eager to receive even more.

    The tourism industry of Marne anyway let their good will accompany by action. Last year British life style journalists were invited to the Ritz in London to enjoy a meal, composed by the chief of Reims-based threestar restaurant of Les Crayères, and accompagnied by top champagnes. Too bad that I did not make it into life style features, written in English in time ;-)

    Final destination Berlin
    The major part of the first passengers of the TGV Est were probably French. They tested the new waggons with design by Christian Lacroix last sunday. Now we all wait for heaps of tourists for the approaching season here in the department of Marne.

    The plan for the new fast train is to extend it all the way to Berlin. So far the German cities of Frankfurt and Stuttgart are connected. It is no secret, that I liked these perspectives of easy transport to the big centres of Europe very well, when we bought our rural idyll in Verzy some years ago. We have a drive of just 20 minutes to the nearest TGV-stop in Bézannes. Anybody up for a house here?

    11 June, 2002

    Expensive day in the courts

    The fist of the authorities land rather hard, rather blunt when winegrowers cheat.

    The other day was "journée des viticulteurs" - expression from the newspaper l'Union - at the court in Reims. Therefore I now know a bit more about, how much the judges assess different offences at.

  • The customs officers found amongst others 500 liters of wine, 97 bottles of redwine and 1.321 bottles of sparkling wine in the caves at a winegrower of Aÿ. Wines that were never mentioned in any of the papers you are supposed to. The unfortunate objected that the wine was for his own consumption, but the court still fined him 16.752 euros.

  • In 2003 a winegrower in Villers-Allerand planted vines on half a hectare, that is part of the delimitation and was approved to be planted with vines. However his access to this land, owned by his parents, was not approved. The vines were removed and the winegrower fined at court to pay 450 euros.

    Neighbours and family
    You could ask yourself, how the authorities get to know such details. One of the answers is that neighours, family and friends, turned unfriendly for whatever reason, report irregularities or even illegalities. That is also the case in Villers-Allerand.

    In a slightly different category I remember, how a company, hired to do the vendage some years ago, began to harvest the grapes in one plot a couple of days early. Different dates for different grapes were confused by mistake. These grapes were eventually all scrapped.

    This way of blunt and sure settling is also a way to keep the morale and quality up.
  • 10 June, 2002


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    Nice and clean lines of vines in Loisy-en-Brie.

    We did it. Finally the end of lifting threads and putting back stems behind them. Alain finished the lower plot this afternoon.

    In the meantime the younger stems in the upper plot has grown so much that they now are to put back behind the threads as well. So even we feel finished, there is still a walk of an afternoon in the upper plot waiting for us.

    There is always something to do, but now we just want to think, that we are finished at least for the rest of the day. It is the first time in one month that the tractors can make their way through to cut the tops of the vines without too much damage.

    The best German winesites

    Today I found this vote at the Deutsches Weininstitut. You can vote for your favourite amongst 12 German winegrower's sites, and you know what? Several of the websites are so nice, that I simply have to share this link.

    Thus I don't even know if some German sekt could be hidden in one or more of these pages. So here goes the standard exorcism: Please remember that you only find real champagne from Champagne and so on ( ;-D ). Champagne is also where you'll find heavy-heavy websites, monstrous Flash-animations, that take over total controle of your screen and time for too long if you loose your way into the cyberspace of some of the brands with money to spend.

    The Germans of course don't waste my time - after all they have quite a reputation of efficiousness - instead they supply me with pretty photos of vines, wines, beautiful surroundings and some of the experiences linked with it. Some call it winetourism. A field that is not very developped in Champagne.

    While we're at it: Did you remember to vote for your champagne blog today? Since I also don't use Flash (I can't), not yesterday, nor today and very likely also not in the future, it's safe to vote for me every day here. Even the vote doesn't really matter, there is no competition to win, I'll happily admit that I enjoy to check how my blog is placed on the list. I do it every day!

    Maybe I should add, that I am not against Flash, if it makes sense to use it. But pure show-off is just not good enough to waste 10 seconds in front of somebody else's commcercial.
    Maybe I should add, that the reason we don't do a real website ourselves is, that it will only make sense when our business has grown a bit bigger than growing grapes. When we get that far, I will certainly remember these Germans for inspiration.

    07 June, 2002

    No more champagne from down under

    Australian vintners will quit their habit until now of naming certain of their sparkling wines champagne. A name, that the EU amongst many others wants to reserve for products, that originates in the region of the same name.

    Australia on the orther hand will get protection of some of its own geographical names. Also certain techniques used by Australian vintners will be approved. Finally some of the bureaucracy, that you meet when exporting wines from down under to the EU will be simplified. All this is the result of a deal of last night between the European Commission and Australian officials in Canberra.

    Australian wines are popular in the EU-countries. Wines worth 868 million euros in total are imported to the EU, and - in comparison - a trifle worth 62 million euros is exported to Australia, says French newsagency, AFP.

    The deal most be approved by Australia and the 27 member states of the EU, before it can come into force in one year.

    More about the defense of champagne here
    More about trade between the EU and Australia here

    06 June, 2002

    Bad weather bad for the grapes

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    Chardonnay in flowers in Loisy-en-Brie.

    Whilst the last flowers finish, we have begun to wait for the results. A good pollination gives many grapes. The weather is the joker.

    Kindly it let pretty, rather quiet days of sunshine accompany the very first flowers at the feet of the plants, where we now see the first, small grapes. More capriciously it turned down the heating and up the wind, rain and even storms, as the amount of flowers increased.

    When the flowering is over, what you see is what you get. This year the flowering has been long, because the weather turned out the capricious way. Thus we may end of with both less grapes, smaller grapes and millerandage - grapes with berries of different sizes. A phenomenon, we now look out for. So does some vignerons in Verzy. The expectations for a big number of grapes for the harvest are not too positive.

    Due to the weather, always the weather. I'll wait another bit before I repeat the good old proverb of the locals: That "flowers in May are never good". We'll see.

    05 June, 2002

    No sugar for bikini-babes

    I have already written about how women who must or want to stay very slim, can go for champagnes without sugar. With a bit of a twinkle... for frankly... you can also choose to skip the chocolatebar and drink the glass, you really want, instead.

    Well, whatever, the market for ultra brut, brut sauvage, zéro dosage, whatever they are all called, is serious and it seems to be a tendency going up.

    Champagnes with no sugar
    Several big champagne houses have lately introduced products, that have no sugar in the dosage. This means that the liqueur d'expédition, used to adjust the taste and sweetness of the champagne, only contains wine and no sugar as is most common for champagnes.

    Ayala has introduced a champagne without sugar, Cuvée Rosé Nature, on the market for those who are very consicous of their figure (Hmm, and for those who like the non-sweetened taste too, obviously). One glas contains 65 calories, a glass of Ayala rosé with a brut dosage contains 89 calories. Ayala has not published their description of the Rosé Nature yet, but the clear one is described here. Laurent-Perrier has another with a similar, low content of calories.

    The champagnes without sugar are better after maturing some years. That means, they need more ageing and are thus more expensive. But... one can of course always spend what is saved on the bikini... In England and Scotland where the sugarfree Ayala had it's debut, the idea is popular.

    More to read: "EU wants to quit sugar in wine".

    04 June, 2002

    EU wants to quit sugar in wine

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    After the maturation the liqueur d'expédition - a mix of old wine and sugar - is added to the champagne. This is the moment, where you adjust the final sweetness of the wine.

    The European lake of wine must be drained. It has become the fate of the Danish commissioner of agriculture, Mariann Fischer-Boel, to find the solution. One of the proposals: To stop blending sugar in acid wines and use must of grapes instead, can get direct implications of the way, champagne has been produced for generations.

    Champagne is far north, when it comes to grow vines, only 150 kilometers east of Paris. A situation, that traditionnally is on the climatic limit of where big scale growth of vines is worth it at all.

    Sugar in Champagne
    Throughout history Champagne has just about been able to reach the necessary amount of sunshine to almost ripen the fruits. This is one of the secrets behind the characteristic freshness of champagnes.

    Now the natural content of sugar in the grapes has normally not been enough to reach the sought after alcohol percentage of around 12. This is why the permission to chaptalise has often been given here. To chaptalise means to add extra sugar when you just after pressing the grapes discover that they are not sweet enough to reach an alcohol level of 12,5 percent, which is the level of champagnes these days. The added sugar will during the first fermentation transform itself to alcohol.

    It is the French Ministry of Agriculture, that almost every year permits to chaptalise in Champagne. At the moment only sugar is allowed, which means that the EU-proposal to add must instead is not currently a possibility here.

    Twice again sugar pops up in the proces of making a champagne. First it appears in the company of yeast as the liqueur de tirage to control and start the second fermentation, where the bubbles develop. Last in the company of reserve wines as the liqueur d'expédition, added just before the bottle is ready to be sold. This is the time, where you adjust the final sweetness of the bottle (brut, sec, démi-sec and so on).

    The basis of these liqueurs is always wines from Champagne. To add water is - naturally - not allowed. You will actually find producers of wine, that mix water with their wine to keep their percentage of alcohol at an accepted level. I very much doubt it has ever been the case in Champagne. Partly because the control is harsh, not the least from the neighbours. Party because too elevated percentages of alcohol are normally not a problem in cooler climates as in Champagne.

    So far the warm weather of the last years has ripened the grapes destined for champagne much more than what was the case before. The tendency the last 10-20 years have been more and more millésime-years. Sweeter grapes means less chaptalisation. So maybe EU in the end will be overtaken by warmer climate anyway.

    Read more about amongst others chaptalisation in Champagne in the shared website of the champagne houses.

    03 June, 2002

    Weekend in the vineyard

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    Our lower plot in Loisy-en-Brie.

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    The stems hook themselves up to anything they meet.

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    Plastic staples keep the double thread together and the stems between the wires.

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    The vines still bloom.

    One and a half day in the lower plot with Meunier-vines. 15 lines are finished. This means:

  • The double thread has been lifted.
  • Stems growing outside the protection of the fence have been put back.
  • Plastic staples have been placed.
  • The feet of the vines have been cleaned for stems growing towards the next line.

    Left to do is another 21 lines, a bit more than half the plot, since the lines are not all the same length.

    We will enter another week with pleasant temperatures and risk of storms. It would be real nice to be able to finish this task soon...
  • 01 June, 2002

    Really late cleaning

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    If the stems haven't been collected when you lift the double thread, you have to place them manually afterwards.

    The mood changes between confident optimism like "We'll make it, don't worry" and black despair "I've never seen anything like this".

    This year nothing is normal however, and the vines have grown like crazy between the first lifting, where things were still rather tidy, and the second, where about time is a moment long gone. Read more about lifting.

    This means, that the stems have grown so long, that they now break very easily, when you manipulate them. And also that the two plots at the moment are far too fragile and unprotected, should one of the regular thunderstorms of summer arrive with it's unpleasant mix of wind, rain and hail. We've already seen a couple of them, but without damage for us so far.

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    The stems have grown so long, that the lines are anything but neat and nice.

    All possible hours - that means, when it doesn't rain - we go to the vines to lift, put back stems and place the little plastic clips that keep the whole lot together.

    No stems the wrong way
    Many of the stems have grown longer than one and a half meter. Some grow nicely along the fence, others try to work their way towards the neighbouring one. It is about time to remove them, otherwise the tractor, that will cut the tops of the vines, cannot go through.

    The last task is to place the little plastic clips, where it is necessary. The idea is one per plant, that is a bit less than one per meter. The clip keeps the two threads in the same heigth together, and that makes the stems stay where they are. Only after the clips are placed, the wind cannot lift the double thread off the hooks on the iron posts anymore.

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    Stems with an unwished direction towards the next line, at the end of the stem the sensitive point, that will seize and twist itself around whatever obstacle it meets.