31 October, 2002

Learned it from the virgin vine

Posted by Picasa
The blackbirds have been busy. Most berries of our virgin vine have been eaten. The leaves are going too.

"2008 will be a bad year for the vines," a friend said the other day. Her voice sombre as a day of doom. She elaborated:

"There are no grapes on the virgin vine this year, and that's a bad sign for the real grapes the following year."

According to representatives of third age winegrowers of Vertus in the Côte des Blancs and brought to us by our friend, who is bookkeeper for loads of other winegrowers, daughter of a father who used to educate winegrowers, and married to one herself. Shouldn't she know what is worth mentioning?

Heritage of observations
Personally I find these old sayings very interesting. Even they may not be scientifically proved and approved, these people have several decades of experiences and observations to draw from. Some of them even stand on the shoulders of a grandfather, who intelligently has passed on such valuable heritage of observations.

If they are right, next year should be fine in the Montagne de Reims. In our yard we've had lots of birds around these last weeks. Busy eating the berries of our virgin vine, that has been full of them. Better ask the opinion of one of the grey-beards of Verzy.

30 October, 2002

Leaves falling in the Côte des Blancs

A very wet drive on monday through the Côte des Blancs revealed, that nature is moving back to normality, when it comes to the grapes.

The Chardonnay-vines are close to the end of their autumn-strip. Not many withered leaves still manage to hang on to the plants along the road between villages Oiry and Vertus. The slopes above Vertus a bit less advanced, more protected from the weather than the flat and open lands along the road, I guess. In the Montagne de Reims most of the Pinot Noir-vines are still dressed up with the last reds and oranges of autumn. The difference is striking.

The funny thing is that all through 2007 the development of red grape vines - Pinot Noir and Meunier - has quite unusually been earlier than that of the white Chardonnay. Now it seems the normal order of nature has been restored.

This means, that the pruning of winter has begun in the Côte des Blancs. Not yet busy, but much bigger than what I've seen so far in the Montagne de Reims.

29 October, 2002

We need a clos as well

Posted by Picasa
Lanson in downtown Reims wants to make the most of the one and only hectare of vines, it controls completely: Another clos on its way.

The house of Krug will introduce a new clos champagne next spring. The house of Lanson are working on the same exercise with one hectare of vines, that grow within its walls downtown Reims. Bollinger has its Vieilles Vignes, and amongst others Billecart-Salmon, Duval-Leroy and Philiponnat have their own clos too. Headline: Trend with capital T.

At the moment it is not easy to increase your number of bottles in Champagne - the houses have difficulties to find more grapes to meet demand. Instead they focus more on better bottles than before. The philosophy behind the clos is a simply perfect match. The word means enclosure, the vines grow in a delimited area, typically behind walls.

A matter of legislation
Now, the problem is, you cannot just let yourself be carried away by the spirit of the times: Raise some walls, plant some vines and double the price. A clos is only a clos with a significant amount of age: That is, it must be a clos historically. Whether it meets these criteria, is the decision of INAO (the authority, that amongst others controls the AOC's). The clos of Krug for instance dates back to the middle of the 18th century. The concept goes hand in hand with an exclusive imange and the wish of more special and expensive bottles.

Funny to think, that a clos-champagne has been made of grapes from one single vineyard, which is the exact opposite of the normal philosophy behind champagnes, where you normally mix your cuvée from a number of basewines from different vineyards.

Posted by Picasa
Philiponnat in the village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ was first to introduce the idea of a clos.

The house of Philipponat came first. It introduced its Clos des Goisses as early as the 1930'es. According to Charles Philiponnat the average temperature is one and a half degree Celsius warmer inside the walls. That is, I suppose, a sort of super microclimate within the walls compared to the other side. This is also the only real fact, I have seen, about the difference of a clos compared to any other vineyard without walls.

With five hectares you can hardly call thee Clos des Goisses scarce. Certainly not when you compare with collegues like the two vineyards of nongrafted, old vines of Bollinger: All in all they cover a bit less than half a hectare. Billecart-Salmons clos-vineyard has enough vines to fill 5.500 bottles - numbered of course - r and the famous Clos du Ménil of Krug fills 12.000 bottles from a vineyard of 1,85 hectares.

The new Krug is made from vines grown in the village of Ambonnay in the Montagne de Reims. It is a blanc de noirs-champagne - 100 percent Pinot Noir. A true contrast to the existing clos of Krug, which is a blanc de blancs from Le-Mesnil-sur-Oger in the Côte des Blancs. True to the philosophy of ultimate discretion of Krug - it adds to the expectations and may persuade your hand to dig a bit deeper in the pocket - they have revealed very little about such banalities as for instance price. The same philosophy as that of the Clos du Mésnil.

Pricewise the clos-champagnes cover anything from between 30 and 50 euros for the cheaper ones - amongst them Cattier, Cazals and Vesselle - up to 500 euros for the most expensive ones - Krug and Bollinger.

Posted by Picasa
One of the Bollinger plots of Vieilles Vignes in Aÿ. This is what vineyards looked like all over Champagne before the phylloxera-epidemic wiped out allmost all ungrafted vines in Champagne.

28 October, 2002

2003 by Bollinger

The house of Bollinger has introduced a quite unique vintage champagne. 2003 is the name. It is certainly the first time I have heard about a champagne of this type, even 2003 has been expected impatiently by several because of the special character of that particular year.

Usually vintage champagnes are made with grapes, that have been extraordinarily well dealt with by simply wonderful weather. In 2003 the weather on the other hand played just about all the dirty tricks at hand plus most possible encores: Frost in spring, hailstorms and the violent heatwave followed by a grape harvest in haste.

Bollinger too did not have enough grapes, so they may have chosen to make a virtue of necessity. Whatever.

The 2003-champagne is a blend of 60 percent Pinot Noir from the villages of Verzenay in Montagne de Reims and Aÿ in Vallée de la Marne and 40 percent Chardonnay from the village of Cuis in the Côte des Blancs (More at Bollinger (PDF-file.))

The website Enviedechamp sell the "2003" for a price of 70 euros, which is quite a step up from the - shall-we-call-it - normal Special Cuvée.

27 October, 2002

VITeff in 2009

The biggest exhibition worldwide of anything, connected with sparkling wines and its production, just finished in Épernay. Big succes. 447 exhibitors, 20.000 visitors and 17 foreign delegations (*). None of them Danish (like me).

Denmark is also not mentioned in a bubbly map of the world, where even Kenya has not been forgotten.

Maybe the production in sites like Skærsøgaard is still too small to mention. Or maybe the Danish winegrowers just don't link up with the others at for instance VITeff? Despite free champagne and oysters one morning. Acquaintances of ours amongst the winegrowers in this area were going this particular time. Why shouldn't they anyway?.

Next VITeff takes place in two years, from October 14th to 17th 2009.

(*) Delegations from these countries dropped Épernay: Germany, England, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bulgaria, Chile, Spain, USA, Hungary, Italy, Moldavia, New Zealand, Rumania, Slovenia, Tasmania and Ukraine.

19 October, 2002

Vite, VITEff

Posted by Picasa
Heavy machinery is brought out for the annual VITeff-exhibition in the capital of Champagne, Épernay.

The biggest exhibition of bubbles in the world - the VITeff -takes place in Épernay these days. 450 stands with champagne, sparkling wines and all kinds of equipment.

Oysters and champagne for free. Hmm, that was yesterday. But I wonder if it shouldn't be possible to get hold of one or two glasses of champs for free anyway?

Bubbly from the world
Delegations from 16 out of 50 countries in the world, that produces sparkling wines, can be found in Épernay these days. Amongst them Slovakia, that according to our rather well informed teacher in winetasting produces quite good bubbly.

Most of the worlds sparklers are still French though. Apart from Champagne, you'll find crémants from different regions and natural sparklers from mountainous regions such as the Blanquette de Limoux and Clairette
de Die (check the list). 27 percent of the sparklers of the world are made in France (check out a tasting of some here).

About 20.000 visitors are expected to check out the Millesium-buildings of Épernay these four days. Last day is tomorrow.

18 October, 2002

Noisy cloud of starlings

Posted by Picasa
Brown ploughed field with green stribe of vineyards behind. From the road to the village of Puiseulx.

This year we have not met any starlings in the Côte des Blancs. All the Chardonnay-grapes must have been picked to make champagne. In our vines we have the les Bouvreux - the grapes of second generation, that has matured since the grapeharvest - left on the plants. Chardonnay however usually supply less buds of second generation than Meunier.

The starlings navigate in the hilly lands between the Montagne de Reims and Reims itself. The flocks are so big, that they are even noisy. An almost infernal chirping, despite the alluring acrobatics in the air, as the birds circle, rise and drop.

As in our vines, the vineyards of the villages of Taissy and Sillery too have a new generation of mature grapes. On top of that these vineyards are next to ordinary farming land, that currently swell of winter crops. The birds scream, descend and eat.

Later this week Météo France warns about the first frost. I suppose, that will send the birds further south, giving the rest of the winter wheat a break.

17 October, 2002

17 terroirs of Champagne

At the moment Champagne includes 35.000 hectares, where the owners can plant vines and use the grapes to make champagne. Only 3.000 of these hectares are impossible to use, because they are covered by churchyards, villages and similar stuff.

The area is divided into four main regions, that are divided into 17 different terroirs. A word, the French use to siginify a special combination of climate, soils, heighth and other factors, that influences the quality of grapes on the particular spot. Not all experts and/or vine countries operate with the notion, but it is an important one in France.

Source: Maisons Champagnes

Each of the four big vineareas of Champagne includes about 8.000 hectares.

Our vines grow in the Val de Petit Morin. I just learned that. The last three years I've claimed we belong to the extremities of the Côte des Blancs. The cooperative names us Crus Périphériques de la Côte des Blancs, which means something like vines from the periphery of the Côte des Blancs.

These are the areas that the next 10 years will be extended. New permissions to plant vines will be granted in some or all of these 40 villages. Read more about the regions of Champagne here.

12 October, 2002

Extension in Champagne expected

Posted by Picasa
Plots with vines in Champagne are very expensive. Now more will join in.

More vines are on their way in Champagne. The first step forward has been made as 40 communes from four departments with suitable soils for vines have been listed on a paper due for the authorities in the INAO. Such was the cover story of our local paper l'Union earlier this week.

The rumours of an extension ahead have been around for quite a while. And during the past summer pressure was a bit more up with articles here and there and in all languages about a time in near future without champagne for everybody, who is interested. As demand is high, and grapes too few.

The article in l'Union is the first concrete description, I have seen in writing about the big work that is now about to begin.

Long project
The project will then be extended with opinions of experts, possibilities to appeal and presentations of the work for the authorities involved. Only in early 2009 the project can be offically started with the necessary decrees, and the areas involved split in plots for vines. This proces will include new hearings, presentations and so on.

Only in 2017 this new big delimitation - such is the designation of the area of the AOC of champagne - will be finished. The vines can be planted from 2015 if the plan progresses as it should.

The prices will skyrocket
Prices of soils, where the status will change from agriculture to vines, will skyrocket, so the careful proces makes a lot of sense.

Discussions - to use a very neutral word - must be expected, when some will become euro-millionaires overnight, whilst others have to continue with wheat, barley and sunflowers.

In 2006 the average price for a hectare of champagne land was 665.000 euros. You buy ordinary farming land at 4.370 euro per hectare.

The new land for vines will probably be priced in the low end from the start, the expensive end is at one million per hectare. There are only rarely publicly known purchases but about a month ago Just-Drinks.com said, that the house of Vranken-Pommery Monopole bought three hectars at this price.

Land to grow vines for other French appellations are sold at an average of 76.580 euros per hectare.

The communes in the game are:

    Marne: Baslieux-lès-Fismes, Blacy, Boissy-le-Repos, Bouvancourt, Breuil-sur-Vesle, Bussy-le-Repos, Champfleury, Courlandon, Courcy, Courdemanges, Fismes, Huiron,
    La Ville-sous-Orbais, Le Thoult-Trosnay, Loivre, Montmirail, Mont-sur-Courville, Péas, Romain, Saint-Loup, Soulanges, Ventelay.
    Aisne: Marchais-en-Brie.
    Aube: Arrelles, Balnot-la-Grange, Bossancourt, Bouilly, Etourvy, Fontvannes, Javernant, Laine-aux-Bois, Macey, Messon, Prugny, Saint-Germain-L'Epine, Souligny, Torvilliers, Villery.
    Haute-Marne: Champcourt, Harricourt.
source: l'Union, October 10th.

The historical ace
The extension project is the biggest in several decades. The latest extension of the delimitation in Champagne took place in 1990, where the commune of Fontaine-sur-Aÿ was granted the permission to plant vines referring to the fact that the commune historically - before the creation of the delimitation in 1927 - had had vines on its lands.

This argumentation is no longer possible. Historically 56.000 hectares of land were planted with vines in Champagne when it peaked. Today 35.000 hectares are part of the delimitation and only land, occupied by churchyards or lawns, are not planted with vines today. We'll see what the extension to come will bring from 2017.

10 October, 2002

Most wellknown wine worldwide

Bordeaux is the most famous wine area in the world. Followed by Champagne and Chianti as second and third, says Wine Intelligence after a survey amongst 11.000 consumers of wine from 11 key countries about which of 28 areas they know the best.

This blog is more interested in champagne than red wine really. The free details of the survey don't reveal whether champagne was known enough to make it to become second. Who cares? Here is a completely non-scientific comparison anyway:

Check the numbers, when you google the three mentioned wine regions:
Bordeaux, Champagne og Chianti.

Fun, isn't it? I guess I have to hurry up with the information, that Google of course doesn't distinguish between wine buyers, key markets and that sort of thing. It just performs a stupid search. You can read about the survey of Wine Intelligence here. But - I warn you - no conlusions, it's all commercial.

04 October, 2002

A long way from Pyongyang to Paris

This morning I saw the unbelievable pictures of the two Corean stateleaders, Kim Jong-Il and Roh Moo-hyun, touch glasses on CNN. Glasses with champagne.

The meeting took place in the capital of North Corea, Pyongyang. The South Corean president Roh had crossed no-mans-land as the first South Corean for 54 years. Since technically the two countries have been at war with each other all this time.

Now the two stateleaders have signed a deal of reconciliation. The intention is to work towards a formal peace treaty. All the good work was celebrated with bubbly.

Despite all the historical whirr of wings, champagne in this connection worked quite oppositely than probably intended on my mind. Since North Corea is one of the very poor nations in the world, with a population that has lived on the edge of starvation for years. I wonder, what kind of image is achieved from such pictures?

Almost at the same time, in Paris, the sublime Italian dressmaker Valentino - you know, the guy with the red gowns - was sent off to retirement by a tremendous accompaniment of popping champagne corks. That kind of champagne celebration is sort of more comme il faut. In Denmark French Marie was toasted into her new job as future wife of prince Joachim.

A big day for champagne.

02 October, 2002

Grape prices are growing

Posted by Picasa
Vores Meunier-druer gik for samme pris som sidste år, men sådan er det ikke overalt i Champagne.

Grape prices are growing in Champagne.

Here and there the price per kilo has passed six euros. Just two years ago it was less than five. Back then a winegrower explained me, how five euros is the traditional limit of crises: Whenever the kilo price pass this limit, the crises is at hand, just around the corner.

But that was in the 1990'es apparently, in those days when champagne saw its latest crises in the years around the first Gulf-war. These days nothing implicates that the story is the same in 2007. The sale grows as the grape prices, and there are no signs of difficulties in breathing so far.

In the first six months of this year, the export of champagne bottles has grown eight percent. About one out ot two bottles are sold in France, the rest all over the world.

Growl of the big ones
Some of the big champagnehouses have been growling about a future lack of grapes this some. In Champagne the winegrowers own 90 percent of the vineyards, and they keep rather than sell some of their grapes. Either in the caves, where the bottles wait higher prices. Or to produce champagne with their own name, often sold for half the price of a similar product from a big house. Some times the winegrower's champagne is also not worth more than half. Other times you get better champagne and cheaper.

Winewriters refuse the talk about a lack of champagne in the near future. There are simply too many bottles in the caves of the area to make it reasonable to talk about close crises.

Increasing prices must be rather realistic in the future. Since somebody has to pay for the more expensive grapes. Maybe that is also why many champagnehouses at the moment introduce one prestige bottle after the other, and for higher prices than the more traditional flagships.