24 July, 2002

Vendanges ahead

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Special signs warn about lots of tractors during the grapeharvest. The effect may not be great since some of these signs are left all year round.

The objective of the vines has changed. From raw and pure growth, it is now all about ripening the fruits. After the consolidation of the plant, the focus moves to the future: The offspring. The grapes have begun to change colour, and with a ripening that normally endures about one month, it means a very likely start of the grapeharvest of 2007 on the other side of August 20th.

In the latest bulletin from our cooperative the president expects to begin in Vertus around August 22nd, so we will most likely begin on Saturday 25th. Loisy-en-Brie normally begins three days after Vertus.

We always begin with the Chardonnay in Loisy-en-Brie, move on to the Chardonnay in Soulières, come back for Meunier in Loisy-en-Brie and end with Pinot Noir in Soulières. The order is a matter of ripeness.

Still early grapeharvest
It is later than the first expectations of the CIVC, but still the earliest I have experienced in six years. 2003 was very early too, but the circumstances were different. A heatwave of five weeks made it necessary to harvest before the schedule within days, because the grapes matured much faster than anticipated. The grapeharvest in Champagne normally takes place around September 20th.

It is the CIVC, that decides the dates where each of about 320 villages in the Champagne-district can begin. The final dates will be published two weeks before.

Summer vacation coming up. I am off from vines, grapes and blog for some weeks. I will be back sometime in late August. Enjoy summer best way possible: The bubbly way!

23 July, 2002

Colour change

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Meunier-grapes at Loisy-en-Brie, July 22nd.

The grapes have begun to change colour.

We still have terribly rainy days most of the time, but the last couple of weekends have also kindly offered sunshine and temperatures closer to 30 than 20 degrees Celsius, and the grapes benefit.

This change of colour is the last round before the grapeharvest. Alain has spent some time in both plots of vines to trim the low branches. They are typically not cut off by the tractor, that trims the rest of the leaves, due to their position almost on the floor.

The last task before the grapeharvest - if time allows it - is to remove all branches and leaves from plants, that has caught the esca-disease, to prevent further spreading of the disease during the harvest days.

19 July, 2002

Send in the horses

Champagne is a beverage under constant development during the last 200 years. Often new inventions and practises has come from the champagnehouses, but the little growers also get an idea now and then. Even past has its role.

Seems almost logical in an age, where big challenges like erosion, warmning and pollution still have no final solutions. Organic practises and even biodynamic ones advance, but actually rather ordinary winegrowers - even they are few - also give up their tall tractor for a mare in front of an oldfashioned plough. A tool, that these days mainly have retired to play a new rustic role in the flower decorations of the local commune.

In Burgundy it is getting more and more common, that the soils of some of the very wellknown plots are worked with real horsepowers, says Abel Bizouart, who is a teacher in the professional wine school of Beaune, to our regional newspaper l'Union. In this way you avoid, that heavy tractors press the soils too hard, which damages the development of the roots of the vines and also may obstruct the natural passage of rain water. On top of that, the ploughing reactivates the microbiological life, and in the end helps to create a better balance between sugar and acidity in the grapes. What else can you seek? As a winegrower?

Avant garde in Avenay
In the village of Avenay val d'Or on the southern slope of the Montagne de Reims one of the winegrowers has exchanged his four wheels with the mare Jument, who walks its way through half a hectar during one day of work. More growers may follow the example from Avenay.

At the big wine exhibition in Bordeaux, the Vinexpo, the managing director of champagnehouse Louis Roederer, Fréderic Rouzaud, said to Decanter, that Roederers recent purchase of Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande in Pauillac amongst others also is about exchanging knowledge: As one example he mentioned, that Bordeaux has experts in ploughing, something that is now over in Champagne.

That is not completey, or rather, the horsepower may be returning to the plots of Champagne. But still completely untraceable on the labels.

18 July, 2002

Washing the vats

She used to crawl into the vats herself to clean them. Today she leaves one of her employees with the job.

"Well, they're sort of big too," her sister explains with a grin, that sparkles in her eyes and is just an inch from pawky.

"Fortunately, it is not that often, the vats need to be cleaned."

A vat contains a couple of cubic metres, I would think. The entrance is not much bigger than 50 times 50 centimetres, so you'll have to be able to sqeece your body into a rather small size to make it into the dark. That is, if your size exceeds that of a garden gnome.

But this lady has common sense in the necesserary proportions, so of course she did the job herself with a bucket of water in one hand and whatever in the other, whenever the vats, where her Grand Cru-grapes fermentates to wine, has needed a loving hand and sponge.

I just never finish adding new details to my fascination by the rather rustic details, I bump into when it comes to the production of champagne. It may be more sophisticated in the big, guilded halls but not always that charming.

11 July, 2002

The regions of Champagne

The world famous vineyards of Champagne are as close as 150 kilometres east of Paris. Less than a daytrip really, when you live in a country as big as France.

Map (Download PDF-file.)

The area within the delimitation (the AOC) covers about 32.000 hectares... you will probably never see excactly the same number twice, because the number never really is stable. There will always be vineyards that are renewed, and at least theoretically will be empty three years.

On top of that add rarities such as the cemetary in Avize that is actually placed on soils that could be planted with vines. Even this until now has not made the villagers abolish their cemetery.

Three varieties of vines are dominant: The white grape Chardonnay and the red grapes Pinot Noir and Meunier. Few old varieties such as Petit Meslier and others can still be found, but they are few.

Each area has its characteristics:

Montagne de Reims
Côte des Blancs
Vallée de la Marne
Massif de Saint-Thierry
Côte des Bar

The mountainous landscape at the windmill of Mumm in the Montagne de Reims at Verzenay.

Montagne de Reims
Between rivers Marne and Vesle the plateau of Montagne de Reims raises between 100 and 150 metres above the flat plains below, where Reims is on one side and Épernay on the other.

The ridge is 20 kilometres long from east to west and just about half from north to south. A big forest - the National Park of Montagne de Reims - covers most of the top. It is big enough to contain wild boar that at times have been seen close to our village but only early in the morning. At places the forest has been cleared to get land for at bit of vines and farming.

The rather savage forest has houses several abbeys, hermit's caves and worked as refuge for the inhabitants of the lowlands at wartime. This has been a ever returning phenomenon in Champagne, that has staged just about all big wars during the last 1000 years.

Den ret vilde skov har i sin tid rummet flere klostre, eneboerhuler og fungeret som tilflugtsted for lavlandets beboere i krigstid - et jævnligt tilbagevendende fænomen her i Champagne, der har lagt jord til stort set alle store krige de sidste 1000 år. Bjerget rummer også flere levn fra 1. verdenskrig, blandt andet en tysk udkigspost.

Begrænset romantik
Nordsidens landsbyer rummer i øvrigt meget lidt gammel romantik, når man ser bort fra de krogede gader, hvis plan - eller rettere mangel på plan - må være nogenlunde oprindelig. 1. Verdenskrigs granatnedslag fra skyttegravene i dalen og et allieret bombardement af Verzy i 2. verdenskrig har gjort kål på det meste af resten.

Op imod 40 af Verzys huse blev helt eller delvist ødelagt - formentlig også vores eget i og med en del af bjælkekonstruktionen på vores loft er gamle telefonpæle - byen må have været ganske ødelagt. 40 huse er trods alt omfattende i en landsby, der i dag rummer omkring 1000 indbyggere. Dengang må her have boet langt færre.

I dag dyrker 1899 vinbønder de 3.924 hektar, fordelt på 30.199 parceller, der er beplantet med vin i Montagne de Reims. Det svarer til en ottendedel af det samlede areal med vin i Champagne. En stor del af de tradionelt dyreste druer kommer herfra, idet hele ni af Champagnes 17 Grand Cru-landsbyer ligger i dette område. Også den næstbedste Premier Cru er godt repræsenteret.

Montagne de Reims hører også til de områder, hvor der har været dyrket vin længst. Vinstokkene i området er da også noget ældre end gennemsnittet i Champagne med hele 41 procent over 30 år mod 35 procent totalt set.

Ballonfærd over Montagne de Reims i maj.

Af de i alt 1899 vinbønder er 1.091 autoriserede som såkaldte récoltants-manipulants eller récoltants-coopérateurs. Det betyder, at de må sælge champagne under eget navn. Et af kravene er, at vinbonden bruger mere end halvdelen af sin arbejdstid på vinen. 586 er selvstændige vinbønder uden andet erhverv, 999 har en desuden en yderligere aktivitet - som os - mens de sidste 312 tilhører en eller anden form for selskab.

Antallet af selvstændige er i øvrigt vokset ret betragteligt de sidste 10 år. I 1995 ekspederede 670 vinbønder 9,7 millioner flasker. Nu er tallet altså oppe på 1.091, sidste år solgte de 10,4 millioner flaske til blandt andre de mange englændere, belgiere og hollændere, der ruller igennem Verzy og andre landsbyers små, krogede gader.

Pinot Noir og Chardonnay
Kooperativer spiller en forholdsvis vigtig rolle, idet 761 vinbønder sender hele eller en del af deres høst til et af bjergets 15 af slagsen. Heraf er Mailly Champagne Grand Cru og kooperativet i Ambonnay de suverænt største. Knapt halvdelen af druehøsten (45 procent) bliver i øvrigt solgt videre til de store huse.

De har dog langt flere druer fra bjerget i deres cuvéer i og med, at de også selv ejer jord. Langt fra alle foretager namedropping fra vejkanten men til dem, der gør, hører i hvert fald Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart, Roederer, Mumm, Bollinger, Henriot, Moët og Taittinger.

Rødvinsdruen Pinot Noir er den vigtigste type i Montagne de Reims, 56,5 procent af jorden er beplantet hermed. Chardonnay følger næst med cirka det halve (28,5 procent), den finder man især i Villers-Marmery og Trépail, det er interessant nok at smage champagner på ren Chardonnay herfra, for det har en helt anden karakter end tilsvarende champagner fra Blanc de Blancs. De sidste 14,9 procent af jorden er beplantet med Meunier. Tendensen gennem de sidste 15 år har været mere Chardonnay og mindre Meunier.

Chardonnay-vin ved Villers-Marmery.

Montagne de Reims omfatter kommunerne: Ambonnay (G), Beaumont-sur-Vesle (G), Billy-le-Grand (P), Bouzy (G), Chigny-les-Roses (P), Louvois (G), Ludes (P), Mailly-Champagne (G), Montbré (P), Puisieulx (G), Rilly-la-Montagne (P), Sillery (G), Taissy (P), Tauxières (P), Trépail (P), Trois-Puts (P), Vaudemanges (P), Verzenay (G), Verzy (G), Villers-Allerand (P), Villers-Marmery (P). (G = Grand Cru, P = Premier Cru).

Verzy og Verzenay er blandt de 10 vigtigste vinkommuner i Champagne. Ikke overraskende, alene Verzenay - en landsby med omkring 1.000 indbyggere - kan opregne over 70 små og større, selvstændige champagnevirkesomheder.

Kort over Montagne de Reims (Link til PDF-fil).


Lysthuset ved Cramant i Côte des Blancs.

Côte des Blancs
Côte des Blancs' kerneområde er højdedraget, som begynder lige syd for Épernay og strækker sig over godt 20 kilometer frem til Bergères-les-Vertus. Undervejs ligger en perlerække af ældgamle landsbyer med for manges vedkommende lige så ældgamle traditioner for at dyrke vin: Oiry, Chouilly, Cramant, Avize, Oger, Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger, Vertus.

Toppen er ligesom Montagne de Reims top dækket af en ret stor skov - den huser også vildsvin - vinen spreder sig ned ad skråningerne. I alt 3.162 hektar, der er beplantet med først og fremmest Chardonnay. Denne hvide drue er den helt fremherskende i Côte des Blancs - deraf navnet - bare 2,3 procent er beplantet med Pinot Noir og 1,1 procent med Meunier.

Parcellerne bliver mindre
I dag Côte des Blancs dyrker 2306 vinbønder gennemsnitligt 1,51 hektar. Tallet dækker dog over, at næsten 2/3 (64 procent) råder over mindre end en hektar. Hele 1428 har en anden aktivitet udover vinen. Bare 585 dyrker vin som hovedaktivitet, hvilket udover lyst hænger sammen med, at man skal have en vis mængde jord for at kunne leve af det.

Den gennemsnitlige størrelse på en parcel i Côte des Blancs er da også med sine 10,48 ares noget mindre end gennemsnittet i hele regionen, som er på 12,01 ares. Tendensen går imod yderligere opsplitning, hvilke hænger sammen med generationsskifte og at jordpriserne er så skyhøje, at det næppe i dag er muligt for nogen at købe søstre og/eller brødre ud.

Parceller mellem Givry-les-Loisy og Soulières på den anden side af Vertus.

Côte des Blancs er ligesom Montagne de Reims er meget gammelt vinområde. Det betyder for de ældste deles vedkommende - det er landsbyer som Avize, Cramant og Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger - at det klassificerede område er udnyttet stort set 100 procent.

I Avize har man således undladt at dyrke vin på kirkegården, der ellers er omfattet af den såkaldte delimitation og således godkendt til vindyrkning. Men det hører vist til en af de absolutte og meget lokale eksotismer.

Vinstokkene har for hele 46 procents vedkommende over 30 år på bagen, hvilket ingen alder er for en vin, der snildt klarer 50 år. Man overvejer først at skifte den ud, når den vitterligt ikke give nok druer længere eller de ikke længere har den fornødne kvalitet. Det er et både omfattende og dyrt arbejde at forny en hel vingård.

Tendensen er ligesom i Montagne de Reims at antallet af selvstændige, der sælger egen champagne fra eget hus, er voksende. Sidste år solgte 1392 firmaer således 8,7 millioner flasker, i 1970 solgte 428 firmaer 3,9 millioner flasker.

Stærk kooperativ tanke
Den kooperative tanke er stærkt fremherskende i netop Côte des Blancs, hvilket uden tvivl hænger sammen med de mange små brug. Der skal trods alt både en vis mængde druer men selvfølgelig også lysten til at drive egen virksomhed til, før man begynder at sysle med egne etiketter.

De store huses tankbiler henter stadig most hos La Vigneronne.

I takt med, at det er blevet økonomisk mere attraktivt for vinbønder at dyrke druer i Champagne er man også begyndt at orientere sig mod at få en større bid af kagen selv. Hvilket bedst har kunnet lade sig gøre ved at slutte sig sammen i kooperativer, ikke mindst fordi mange - ligesom min svigermor - har haft almindeligt landsbrug at tage sig af udover vinen.

To kæmper tegner den overvejende del af kooperationen i Champagne. Det er Nicolas Feuillatte i Chouilly, hvis medlemmer tilsammen råder over mere end 2100 hektar, og ved Épernay og Union Champagne i Avize, der råder over 1200 hektar gennem sine medlemmer. Andre halvstore kooperativer i Côte des Blancs omfatter UPR i Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger og La Goutte d'Or og La Vigneronne i Vertus.

Sidstnævnte leverer vi selv druer til sammen med godt 230 andre. Den årlige produktion er omkring en million flasker. Da La Vigneronne åbnede i slutningen af 1950'erne var formålet primært at presse druer og sælge mosten videre til de store huse. I dag sælger man stadig most til blandt andre Lanson, men man går også hele vejen selv. Vi kunne således i november 2004 præsentere den første årgangschampagne af mærket Eustache Deschamps, forarbejdet af 100 procent Chardonnay fra Vertus.

Nyplantet vingård i Côte des Blancs.

Côte des Blancs omfatter kommunerne: Avize (G), Bergères-les-Vertus (P), Chouilly (G), Cramant (G), Cuis (P), Grauves (Chardonnay=P), Le Mesnil-sur-Oger (G), Oger (G), Oiry (G), Vertus (P), Villeneuve-Renneville (P) og Voipreux (P). (G = Grand Cru, P = Premier Cru).

Vertus, Chouilly og Le Mesnil-sur-Oger hører til de vigtigste vinkommuner i Côte des Blancs med henholdsvis 536, 510 og 429 hektar med vin.

Kort over Côte des Blancs (Link til PDF-fil).


... fortsættes med:

Vallée de la Marne
Kort over Vallée de la Marne (Link til PDF-fil).

Massif de Saint-Thierry
Kort over Massif de Saint-Thierry (Link til PDF-fil).

Côte des Bar
Kort over Côte des Bar (Link til PDF-fil).

... når tiden og lysten tillader det... jeg gad nok vide, om der overhovedet er nogen, der når helt herned...

På dansk

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

05 July, 2002

Three percent destroyed

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Disease enters easily through the holes made by the hail in the skin of the grapes.

When I read about the destructive summerhails in Alsace and Côte Rotie in Rhône, I feel very happy about those three percent of the crops, that has been destroyed in our plots, as a storm blew our way some weeks ago.

Alain is annoyed anyway. Wednesday at lunchtime he visited the plots with the insurance expert, who has estimated the damages, and there is a bit of way between his three and five percent and Alain's estimate of 10 percent. And the winegrower pays the first 10 percent of the damages.

Whatever, we can be happy about work, we did not do. Alain would call it choice. Anyway, we did not remove leaves along the sides, for the berries to enjoy more sunshine (not that we have much at the moment). The leaves protect the grapes in storms, for instance against hail, and there is not doubt that leaves also rescued some of our grapes during the recent storm.

03 July, 2002


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The size of the Meunier-grapes in our plots in Loisy-en-Brie on July 1st and June 24th.

Our weather is currently an infinite desert of showers, heavy skies, where the colours varies from light mousegrey into deep thunderblack. Completely enchanted we put our heads out, should a ray of sun after all loose its way and find us.

Still many of these rainy days somehow manage to finish with a blue sky, white, fluffy clouds, real sun and caps and bare legs. Combined with rather mild nights, it seems to give the grapes enough warmth. Since they actually grow so much, that they begin to swell.

So even the possible first day of the grapeharvest so far has moved a few weeks further into the autumn than first expected - at the moment around September 1st - it can still change, if a heatwave should after all decide to pass by.

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Den 3. juni var blomsterne endnu ret tydelige, og bærrene knapt nok begyndt at vokse.
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The picture is from June 11th, however you cannot completely compare with the two top ones, because this one shows Pinot Noir-grapes from Montagne de Reims. The flowers are from June 3rd, one month before the top picture.

01 July, 2002

Fill up the bottles (tirage)

Fill up the empty bottles, tirage at the cooperative in Vertus.

A still wine becomes sparkling after having gone through a second fermentation.

The six months after any grapeharvest is spent turning the grapes into wines or crus. This may refer to plots or villages, it depends how many base wines you have or want to keep.

These crus are blended criss-cross the villages and grape varieties and even years - reserve wines - to obtain the taste already defined as that of the house of that particular champagne. Since the grapes vary within different years, so does the proportions of reserve wines. This is the unique way you create champagnes. The mix is named the cuvée, which already sounds nice, doesn't it?

Into the cuvée is added the liqueur de tirage.

The yeast and the sugar
This liqueur is a mix of yeast, sugar and - in our coop anyway - bentonite. This is a mineral, that makes the dead yeast glue together, which in the end makes it easier to remove it all from the wine (Read Remuage).

Together with the sugar the yeast make up the chemical motor, that starts the second fermentation. The yeast, that is not able to breathe in the closed bottle, eats the sugar - this is in fact the second fermentation - to survive, which develops the alcohol and carbon dioxide along the way. Finally, when there is no sugar left, the yeast dies. This process is called the prise de mousse, birth of the bubbles, or more correctly the carbon dioxide, that will develop the bubbles when opening the champagne. 24 grams of sugar is used per litre of wine to end up with a pressure of six atmospheres inside the bottle. The process takes a few weeks.

To add yeast and sugar is a method, that was developed and based on the works of the scientists Louis Pasteur and Jean-Antoine Chaptals works. These two men were first to explain how sugar and yeast works, when grapejuice fermentates into wine.

This new knowledge made it possible to control the development of carbon dioxide in the bottle. Only by then the champagne makers were able to control the pressure in the bottle. Until then many bottles were lost in the caves because the glass could not stand the pressure inside the bottle. The very big losses (80 percent in 1828) were also connected with the irregular manually made bottles

Tirage on the go
Tirage takes place several times in a year in our coop. Each time a company arrives with their transportable production line with a number of work stations manned with skilled staff.

They lift the bottles in one end of the line, and the bottles therearfter move on to the following station, connected to a tank, that contains the cuvée. This is where the bottle is filled up. The next work station adds the liqueur and finally the bottle is closed with a temporary capsule. It reminds me of a big beer bottle cap, but it is bigger and on top of that equipped with a plastic container on the back, that will be used at the time of disgorging.

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The still wine is sucked from the tank, put into the bottle together with the liqueur de tirage and is finally closed with the temporary capsule (bidule).

When the time is up for disgorging the bentonite- and yeastmix will glue to the plastic container as a stopper after the proces of remuage.

This happens after the prise de mousse, then followed by the maturation sur lattes at least 15 months. Or more. A good bottle will only be better, when it spends some more years in the caves. A really good bottle can spend a lot of years in the caves, and be still better.

Pleasant conditions
However this is only the case as long as the carbon dioxide is in the chemical company of the dead yeast. They chat in these nice conditions - peace and tranquility, darkness and cool air - and this develops the characteristic taste of yeast, that a real champagne must have. This is where the development of the tertiary aromaes, that you only find in bottles that have been allowed to mature, takes place. More time sur lattes, will add more complexity in the champagne.

This is why there is usually no reason why you should store your champagne to let it mature at home. When you buy it - in a wineshop or at a winegrower - the important lees is long gone (read Disgorging).

After the tirage the people move on to the next place with their machines. In Verzy I can hear when the neighbour does her tirage. On days where bottles moving on lines make more noise than the birds of the forest, and where lorries that deliver bottles must crawl through our very narrow street at the pace of a snail are the days. Even it's a lot of sound, it's a merry one, so I'm fine with it.

Three men lifting bottles to keep up with the pace of the line.