Chosing to live in the light

© Spirit Science

On this blog I have been sharing my adventures in the wine world, and the last 3,5 years my discovery journey of the Champagne region. Organic and biodynamic wines and Champagne have come to feature more and more as time went on even if posts have been more and more sporadic.
Yes I could say it is because I am writing the Terroir Champagne Book, yet on this new moon in Cancer day I feel the time has come to out and be completely honest. I have written less because I have been on the sacred journey back to me. So if it is Champagne news you are looking for, you will not really find it in this post and may want to stop reading and come back next time.

Why today? Well the new moon is an excellent time to manifest a new beginning; maybe that is why I woke up with the desire to share my journey into the light. However the courage to write came after reading messages exuding love and light this morning. It made me realize there is nothing to fear and reminded me that the only person I really need to face is my higher self. So here we go:

I moved here just over 3,5 years ago, a little lost, not too sure why I really came, or what I would be doing here. But after a serious health scare in 2011, and seeing a few close friends battle cancer, I knew there had to be more to life than just running like crazy in the hamster wheel trying to win the rat race:-) I intrinsically was drawn to discover more about the terroir – not really a a popular notion in this region – and soaked up all the knowledge I could find. I was happy even if financially life was really hard.

© Spirit Science

Then about two years ago my life was thrown completely upside down when I fell in love. Originally I did not worry too much; after all I never stayed in love too long and had build up big walls up around my heart after I had broken up with my ex husband in 2006. Furthermore the love affair was completely surreal and definitely did not fit into the regular norms and expectations of society. But somehow none of this mattered when we were together. The relationship was at the same time very fusional yet it had all the freedom and autonomy I had always craved. We often said how similar we were and through all our differences it was as if we were a mirror image of each other – at least at soul level. But at that time I had no clue about soul relationships, even if I already very much lived in the present. We had quickly found out it was the only way things were going to work.

© Spirit Science

There were lots of ‘firsts’ in the 14 months we stayed together. First time I was insanely jealous – something I had never been before; first time I felt completely at ease with someone and loved just for me. First time I did not get bored just being together with him even if our day to day life was very mundane. First person I drank liters of coffees with and rebuild the world from the safety of our caffeine fueled (sometimes spiked with Champagne) bed. First time I really listened and took advice on topics where in theory I should have known a lot more. And lastly the first time I felt really needy and felt like the world would end if I was to lose him. In the end this worried me so much that I wanted things to end just to get back to normality. And then the mirrors finally shattered with a big crash – I guess the intensity of the love affair and the way it would never really fit in so called regular standardized life had gotten to us.

© Spirit Science

Originally I felt some sense of relief. However the ‘firsts’ continued to happen. For a start me who had thought since my divorce that no matter what would happen to me I would be OK and happy, came to realize that even though I was OK I was beyond heartbroken and everything but happy. Yet it made no sense – on paper, in my mind and in the mind of most of my friends I should be much better off without him. Another ‘first’ was the immediate void between us – no more contact at all – something which seemed even more surreal than the relationship had been. To make things worse he seemed to have moved on within 2 weeks with a girl who is my complete antipode. This made for another ‘first’- forgetting all my values and wanting to hurt the person I had so loved by going out with a friend of his.

© Spirit Science

However nothing really helped as the more I tried to forget and move on the stronger the feeling grew that this was not finished – and maybe never would be. I thus discovered another first – maybe the most important of all – what it meant to love unconditionally.

As things became darker and darker in my world, a few positives emerged. The first one was I finally defined my mission in Champagne and decided to take the plunge to try and auto-publish my Terroir Champagne Project.
The second came in the form of spiritual awakening – even if this meant going through the dark night of the soul to start of with. I had been pretty confident that writing my book and embarking on a spiritual journey would keep me busy enough to forget what I had lived and ‘move on’.

But try as I could nothing would erase this crazy love affair. In an effort to ban emotion with reason I started some online research, which took me down a road I really did not want to go on as I found out about Twin Flames. It is one thing to theorize about the concept of two parts of the same soul as Plato did in his Symposium, it is another one accepting this may be what one is living. So I rebelled… But the universe has ways to make you face the thing you most want to forget, and is in fact a lot more powerful than we are. After a few months of trying to ignore the fact and living in limbo, I decided to accept my destiny and try and find out a bit more – if I am completely honest to maybe still find a loophole out.

© Spirit Science

I ended up in a FB group, where I very quickly met my lighthouseDeane Thomas – a brother with almost the same life path as mine, living the same experience. However he had embraced the Twin Flame concept a little earlier than me, and shared his and others experiences with me. Together we grew at the speed of light; I benefited from other stories and people on a similar journey from all over the world with whom Deane was in contact. We discovered that what this was really about, was finding the road back to our higher self; to grow the unconditional love we felt for our beloved to eventually become love and light our self and help others.

© Spirit Science

Again Deane embraced this a more and actively set out to help others in the same situation. (more info on his website).
I on the other hand was more and more drawn to nature – I basically started to live outside, craving time in the woods as well as in my courtyard; I became even more obsessed with a sustainable way of living. Only this time it went a lot further than just growing grapes; this time it included everything to do with how we treat mother nature and each other. Why we ruthlessly walk all over nature’s beauty or feel the need to put other people down just to gain more wealth or feel more important; to satisfy our Ego’s never ending need for energy in whatever form it may come.

Then all at once the journey sped up so much it felt like I was going through the spin cycle in the washing machine. I realized that LOVE was the only way to solve energy issues and save Gaia. And this love started first and foremost with me. Cause only if we truly love our self can we really love others. So I started to solve all the unresolved issues in my life, clearing up karma and learning (sometimes painful) lesson after lesson. It was the only way to find my true self and for me to build a life full of love and light. I knew once I would get there, my beloved could follow in his own time for we are one and the same soul.

© Spirit Science

So I soldiered on and then all at once it happened – completely unexpectedly. A huge veil of peace, love and harmony fell over me. I never felt so safe and loved in my life – everything became a joy – even chores I really did not like. The never ending thought mill in my head completely stopped. In its place I now have amazement and awe at all the beauty this present moment has to offer. I have lost the notion of time – as the only time is this moment. And even when things don’t go exactly as I want or I get hurt, I find a way to release these negative emotions so I can let them go and focus on the next moment.

© Spirit Science

There are disadvantages – or what I used to see as such- that come with this new state of being. For to live in the light one has to let go of the darkness, one has to take complete responsibility of ones’s life. This means letting go of the little white lies, excuses or blaming of others. It also means one cannot but speak the truth, even if others may not want to hear it. In this last case it is best to wrap it up in love and light as speaking the truth does not mean willingly wanting to hurt someone. And lastly, and this is maybe the most difficult part, we have to say good bye to people who chose to remain in the velvety comforts of the darkness. This can hurt as some of these people have been in our lives for a long time. But by acknowledging all the goodness we have received from the relationship we can continue to send them love and light and hope that one day they too will go within to join us at a later time in the light.

© Spirit Science

To conclude I would like to add that light and dark are not synonyms for good and bad. Whatever path we chose will be good as it is we who have chosen it. But having lived in both worlds I can personally testify that the purity, joy and love of living in the light is the best thing I have ever experienced!! Once I got a taste of the light, through my beloved, I longed for more. Yes the road has been hard and sometimes treacherous but it has also been the most beautiful journey of my life!!! I am so glad that it is from this place of love and light that I will finish my Terroir Champagne Book!!
Caro xox

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The Grand Cru worthy Terroir of the Aube

Emmanuel Lassaigne's vineyard in Montgeux

The Cote des Bar has always been a little stand alone in the Champagne region. The fact that the region is located on the other side of the plains, about a 150 km south of Epernay has probably something to do with it.There are also historical reasons: the 1911 Champagne Riots partly broke out because the Aubois fought the Marnais to maintain the right to sell grapes to the Champagne wine merchants – or in other words for the right to remain part of the Champagne appellation. A little odd when you think that the Dukes of Champagne had their residence in Troyes, the capital of the Aube rather than in Reims or Epernay… Strange also that something which happened more than 100 years ago still seems to matter today…

Yet the struggle between the regions continues; in fact very little has changed in the overall mentality of a lot Marnais – they still consider the Aube grapes and Champagnes as a lesser quality product. A big contributing factor here is the fact that there are no Grand Cru villages in the Aube (or any other department than the Marne for that matter). One of the reasons for this in my opinion is that the Echelle des Cru was first established and defined in 1927, when the Marne severely suffered in the aftermath of the First World War.

Examples of the Kimmerigdean and Portlandian clay in the Aube

In this logic, one can possibly justify why the whole of the Cote des Bar (more than 6000 hectares of land) was uniformly qualified at 80% – the lowest level in the qualification system. One has to remember that the Échelle des Crus qualification system was originally established as a fixed pricing structure. The price the vineyard owner would get per kilogram of grapes was set depending on their vineyard’s village rating. Whilst some traditional champagne villages, such Ay or Ambonnay can probably rightfully claim their Grand Cru status – after all wine grapes have been produced here for centuries – the WW1 collateral can explain some of the ‘odder’ Grand Cru choices such as Sillery and Puisieulx. Following this reasoning, we can further explain why the Aube received one overall rating – they had been a lot less impacted by the war than the Marne.

Having said this, nothing changed when the Echelle des Cru was reviewed in 1988 to be a better qualitative reference for the region: the Aube remained as it always had been at 80%. This once again reinforced the common believe that the grapes and champagnes from there were inferior to the one’s coming from the Marne… Again very odd if we take into account that the Aube is responsible for just under a quarter of the total Champagne production , and that most Brut Sans Année or NV Champagnes will have some Aube wines as part of the blend.

This begs to question what exactly defines the quality of a wine or Champagne. In Bordeaux the 1855 qualification was based on the price the bottle was sold at the time – eg the more expensive the wine the better its perceived quality. In Burgundy on the other hand the quality is very much linked to terroir – a notion which has become more and more popular in the wine world in the last few decades.

So if we follow the Burgundians and link the quality of the grapes to the terroir of a given vineyard or village as the Champenois claimed to have done in the Echelle des Crus, we need to find a definition for terroir. Most common definitions believe terroir encompasses the subsoil in combination with the micro climate, and exposure. If we apply this to Champagne and compare the two regions we can indeed see a difference between the Aube and the Marne – the subsoil in the Aube is limestone based whilst the Marne has a chalk based subsoil. For the rest the climate is more continental in the Aube, with slightly colder winters and warmer summers and the majority of the vineyards in both regions are often located on slopes and have multiple exposures…

Slice of Kimmeridge clay in Bertrand Gautherot's Sorbee vineyard

Since the obvious difference is the subsoil, can we conclude that chalk is better than limestone to make Champagne? I find this a very dangerous assumption even if it is one the emerging English Sparkling wine community often refers to; after all they also have a chalk subsoil. Nevertheless very few experts really believe English Sparkling can pass for Champagne… It is just too different – chalk subsoil or not.

Regular readers probably know that I find it very difficult to talk about terroir as in the subsoil, if we do not take into account the viticultural philosophy of the winemaker. This is because I believe there needs to be a possible exchange of the subsoil with the plant – either by having direct contact – eg deep roots into this soil, or indirectly by ground water exchange. There has to be some ways the subsoil’s minerals and nutrients are transferred to the plant and I believe that the systematic use of synthetic herbicides and fertilizers will hamper this direct or indirect subsoil exchange. Let me explain: systematic use of synthetic fertilizers discourages the plant to dig deeper for nutrients as everything it needs is readily available in the fertilized subsoil. Furthermore the use of herbicides and other synthetic products will fossilize the soil over time and the ground water exchange coming from the subsoil will be minimal if it is there at all – this has been shown in studies by soil experts Claude Bourguignon and Claude Kossura.

If we include this in the Champagne reality we can easily see why the different Aubois subsoil did not really matter, because traditionally the vineyards have been using a lot of fertilizer and chemical products. After all the Champenois yields are probably the highest ones in the world – which is quite a feat considering the continental climate.

However, as I wrote for Palate Press in April, things are changing in Champagne with the new Viticulture Durable en Champagne (VDC) policy. Whilst I personally believe that this policy does not stretch far enough, I also know that we cannot change decades of habits and ways of farming of more than 15,000 people overnight. So I see the VDC as an important steppingstone for change in more than one way and why not to eventually review the Echelles des Cru?

Coupe géomorphologique réalisée par la Chambre d'agriculture de l'Aube -

So lets get back to our original topic – the difference in subsoil between the Aube and the Marne – is there really a definable qualitative backbone to it? Here again we have to question what the subsoil can bring to the vine, grapes and wine to make it ‘better’ than the same vines (farmed in the same way) from another place. This brings us to minerality – yet another very difficult to define popular wine word. Sarah James Evans MW wrote a Decanter feature on the topic and started by saying that whilst she found the term useful, there is no definite definition on the topic. However, she elaborated “The wines being described as mineral are also generally described as ‘elegant’, ‘lean’, ‘pure’ and ‘acid’. They have a taste as if of licking wet stones and often a chalky texture to match.” She also added “The assumption is that mineral wines are superior to ‘mass market’ fruity wines“.

Claude Kossura explaining Champagne's subsoil at Terres et Vins de Champagne

However is there any proof that the champagnes from the Marne have a greater minerality then their Aube counterparts?

If we ask geologist and pedologist Claude Kossura the answer is no. He explains this by making reference to the different historical ice ages which defined the formation of the soil structure. He points out that the soil structure in the Aube, just as Chablis, was formed after the second ice age. It is a layered structure which was formed in the Kimmeridgean and Portlandian age and consists mainly of clay and limestone. The clay can be more silt or marl based and just like the limestone it contains a wealth of freed mineral elements. The soil structure of the Marne dates back to third ice age, and is thus younger and different in consistency. The main elements are different chalk layers, some sand, limestone and sandy/silty clay. Again there are a lot of mineral elements present in this soil, however they are different from the ones in the soil from the second ice age.

Interestingly enough, Sarah James Evans actually makes reference to Chablis as a classical example of a mineral wine whilst she gives no example of a more chalky subsoil one. Even if I do not believe this means limestone and clay are more conductive then chalk to show minerality, it shows that some Aube terroirs are on par with the ones in the Marne, and could have Grand Cru status if we really look at the soil potential. I further subscribe to this after spending quite a bit of time visiting sustainable, organic and biodynamic producers in the Aube these last few months for my ‘terroir champagne’ book . Tasting their wines which – I like to stress here once again – all come from vineyards where the soil is extensively worked and viticultural practices are very respectful of the environment, I personally believe that the Aube’s terroir tends to give a great mineral note, especially in biodynamic champagnes. Excellent examples of more mineral champagnes are Vouette & Sorbee, Marie Courtin, Roland Piollot, Olivier Horiot, Fleury, Val Frisson, Ruppert Leroy, Jeanne de Rose, Coessens and Jacques Lassaigne. Most of them have a very flinty, smokey or wet stone characteristic which adds elegance and freshness to the cuvees.

I know I am not the only one who has noticed the great potential of the Aube champagnes – in the recent Organic Amphore competition, the Aube champagnes took the top spots. And several chef de caves have had me taste Aube Vin Clair whilst stressing the potential of these still wines are bringing to the blend – which means they have also noticed.

Nevertheless I do not believe the Echelle des Crus will change any time soon, more because of political reasons than anything else. However we never know, maybe when the Champagne appellation will be extended in a few years a full review of the terroirs will finally give the due credit to the Aube vineyards. In the mean time, I suggest you find a bottle of any of the producers I mentioned and that you make up your own mind :-) Santé !

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Beyond the Bubbles: the Esssence of Champagne

French Wine Society Champagne Program

The essence of champagne for me is its strong sense of unity that bridges across the regions diversity.

It starts at appellation level; Champagne is the only AOC for the sparkling wine of the region. Unlike other French appellations, there are no regional sub- or micro-appellations – in fact the sub-region does not even feature on the label. This unity at appellation level allowed the ‘Champagne brand’ to go from strength to strength. In fact, the brand is so strong that that it is considered its own category in the wine world – there is champagne and then there is sparkling wine. It is an aspirational category for winemakers and consumers alike because it is perceived as the summit, the ‘El Dorado’ of sparkling wine.

The appellation unity is closely guarded by the Commité Champagne (CIVC), the region’s interprofessional organisation. The Commité Champagne, which is made up of equal representatives of the Champagne Houses on the one side, and champagne growers and cooperatives on the other, makes all its decisions unanimously. Whilst this sometimes means that decisions are slower and often more complicated to take, it also means everybody adheres to them once they are implemented. There is a general belief that the decisions will benefit everyone. A major decision taken every year is the appellation’s maximum yield and production figures. Unlike other regions, the production is partially set to accommodate future wine sales, making sure the market will not be flooded after a particularly abundant year.

Besides defending and promoting the appellation, the main task of the Commitée Champagne is research. The research is focused on producing a higher quality wine and hence covers a wide variety of topics. Some examples are; more disease resistant vines and rootstocks, better practices in the vineyard and winery and better environmental practices. The results are readily available to everybody working in the champagne industry as the aim is to improve the whole of the industry.

Vins Clairs tasting at Nicolas Feuillatte

Vins Clairs tasting at Nicolas Feuillatte

When we look at the actual champagne wine, the unity is very much expressed by the philosophy of blending. Blending is done three ways: across grape varieties, across villages and across vintages. Around eight out of ten bottles sold are non-vintage blends of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier from more than one village. As the second fermentation process and aging are strictly regulated, most champagne will share common characteristics. Once the champagne is ready to be sold, it is tasted by a committee of professional tasters who decide whether the wine is typical enough of the region.

We also have a certain unity in the soil; the whole of the champagne region has very chalky subsoil. There are variations in the exact consistency of the soil; generally different combinations of limestone, clay, wet chalk, marl and sand. While the differences in soil, microclimate and exposure make for differences in the wine, just about all champagnes have mineral notes and great acidity. Combine this with the fine bubbles from a slow second fermentation at low temperature and we have the main typical characteristics of champagne.

Groups photo St Vincent de l'Archieconfrerie 2015

Finally there is a unity in the history and culture. Life was often very hard in the Champagne region and since the Middle Ages, the winegrowing confréries of St Vincent, provided a system of social security for vignerons on village level. Help varied from looking after the ill and elderly to working in the vineyard and the cellar. Today the confreries still celebrate St Vincent in most villages of the region. The whole industry joins the celebration of the St Vincent de l’Archieconfrerie on the third Saturday of January. It is a day where growers and houses from the whole region celebrate mass together to give thanks for the previous harvest and ask St Vincent for a prosperous new harvest. Outstanding services to the champagne trade are recognized with an annual ceremony and Champagne’s unity is sealed with ‘a flute of the friendship’ and a piece of brioche.

Author’s note: I wrote this article for the French Wine Society Champagne Program Scholarship. I feel this program would be very educational as it it has the world’s top Champagne educators will share their knowledge. Wish me luck!

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Organic wine bashing – why I feel it is wasted energy in more ways than one

AB = allowed to bash??

This morning I read yet another thread of organic and biodynamic growing bashing on Facebook, this time in the so called enlightened “The science of French wine” group. The discussion started by somebody posting a link to a study which ‘proved‘ that ‘both vitality and biodiversity of indigenous yeast populations are highest in conventional vineyards when compared to organic and biodynamic vineyards‘. Interestingly enough, the poster, a wine producer in the Netherlands, failed to acknowledge that conditions of the study were more than a little suspect. In fact the PhD thesis study was split up in 4 parts – which I struggled to relate to each other. The first part dealt with the potential of biomass (earth) to absorb and break down chemical components, the second part dealt with crude glycerol as a soil amendment on microbiological and chemical component of soil, the third part compared the effects of different fungicide treatments on the yeast community colonizing the berry surface and the 4th part studied yeast interactions during mixed wine fermentation. Looking a little closer into the testing conditions of the third part – as it was this part which gave the results quoted here above – I was baffled to see that the conclusions, which our dutch winemaker used as ‘facts’ against organic farming, where based on a one off count and comparison. By this I mean 1 experiment was conducted in which 12 bunches of undamaged grapes were picked on the same day (10.10.201) in two different vineyards of the same region. The vineyards were not adjacent, however they were located only 500 meters apart; one vineyard was organic, the other conventional. After picking the grapes were bagged and brought back to the lab for yeast population analysis. The study contains little details on the specifics of the tests; eg there is no mention as to why the vineyards were chosen 500 meters apart rather than right next to each other; the conditions and time frames of the treatments have not be clarified either, and there is no information on the bunch selection process. In fact all we know is that a one off test was carried on a specific day.

As an ex researcher I therefore really struggle to accept the results of this test as being scientifically conclusive. In my experience and opinion multiple tests preferably conducted over several years are needed to give any scientific relevance to the experiment.

However our poster saw the study (and especially its results) as gospel and countered any argument to the contrary. He described himself as ‘sustainable’ and was joined by several other sustainable winegrowers who all more or less claimed that organic farming was a far greater risk to the environment than their sustainable way. They also sent out the general idea that organic proponents are brainwashed hippies who really do not have a clue as they are driven by conviction rather than facts…

This ‘organic and biodynamic bashing’ is something I have become very familiar with since I have started to write my book. Again most of it has come from a few self proclaimed sustainable growers and winemakers who I believe are frustrated with the organic market. I believe they lash out because they struggle to get the recognition they feel they deserve and/or because they would like to sell their wine at the higher organic price.

It is a fact that most governments recognize that organic farming is more environmentally friendly than conventional farming. In France it is far more strictly regulated and the AB label stands for a better environmental quality. And this is something customers increasingly look for and are willing to pay extra for.

The sustainable farmer however, is not restricted by organic ruling but in return he has to work harder to get the same customer recognition. Even if AB theoretically only qualifies better environmental practices, customers often perceive it as a more generic quality label – probably because most organic products tend to taste better than more conventionally farmed ones. Consumers generally do not mind paying for ‘quality’ they often do not bat an eyelid at a higher organic price. They probably feel the same about a sustainable product if they see it as outstanding, but in my experience people too occupied with organic bashing lack the focus needed to make their product shine and stand out… After all it is hard to excel at multiple tasks – especially if these tasks take up a lot of ones time.

But lets go back to our Dutch grape grower and winemaker – to find the study he posted he probably spent a fair few hours trawling the internet. Once posted, it took most of his time for at least one day to keep the organic bashing debate alive and animated. All the time he spent glued to his computer he was not in the vineyard nor winery; and in my opinion that is where one needs to invest time if one wants to produce an outstanding product customers are willing to pay more for. After all there are plenty of awesome sustainable producers (I include several in my book); but all of them are focused on their vines and wine rather than on the organic competition.

I would like to conclude by saying that in my opinion, a positive happy story draws people in; it makes them want to understand and learn more about why the winemaker works the way he does. Once ignited by the winemaker’s passion, they will want their share of it, by buying the wine and talking about this winemaker to their friends and family. A negative story on the other hand drains people; it makes them want to run away to a more positive place. It doesn’t matter if the story teller is organic or not, what matters is if he believes enough in himself to be positive and passionate about his trade. If all those organic bashing winemakers and grape growers could only understand this they would not need to bash others anymore. Instead they would be too busy sharing their passion, telling their story and selling their wine.

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Charlie Hebdo and our Freedom of Speech

Last tweet by Charlie Hebdo

Freedom of speech is something we writers take for granted – it is a bit like oxygen, we need it to survive, but we never really think about it. That is until it is not readily available anymore, then it becomes the only thing on our mind…

Last Wednesday January 7th 2015, three heavily armed men gatecrashed the editorial meeting at Charlie Hebdo and killed 12 people; 9 of the victims were cartoonists and journalists. Charlie Hebdo is a weekly satirical magazine featuring critical non conformist cartoons and articles taking the mickey out of current affairs, religious zealots and politicians. The magazine has often been criticized for being too crude and disrespectful, but the editor and staff have always stood by the principle of free speech. The fact that they eventually paid for their believes with their lives send shock waves through France and way beyond it.

It is hard to be loved by idiots

The killers, Said and Chérif Kouachi, were French Jihadists claiming to avenge the prophet Mohammed – who had often been at the receiving end of Charlie Hebdo’s gags. When leaving the building they shouted ‘Allahu akbar – we killed Charlie Hebdo; We avenged the Prophet’. The killers remained on the run for another 2 days before they were caught and shot in self defense by the French special services yesterday afternoon.

So with this week’s event freedom of speech has suddenly become something very fragile. Even if the whole of the French Press closed ranks with the few surviving Charlie Hebdo writers and cartoonists to guarantee the magazine’s survival, most of them fell short from reprinting the ‘offensive’ cartoons, the one’s which were deemed worth killing for. Surely this would have been the best answer to the terrorist groups; by reprinting the images the message would be loud and clear:“you tried to shut them up, well you failed cause now these images are everywhere”. Besides anything else, for me this would have been the most adapt homage to the slayed cartoonists and journalists.

However, since Wednesday lunchtime I have realized that even though the nation is in mourning, not everybody sees this attack as a direct attack on the freedom of speech. Most of the nation condemn the murders, and most French see the attack as their 9/11. “Je suis Charlie” has become a slogan on social media (#jesuischarlie) and in the streets during silent vigils. Politicians seem to have closed ranks across parties and thousands of people are expected to join the European politicians at the national march in Paris tomorrow. However, why are most people marching? Is it for the freedom of speech, which the team of Charlie Hebdo saw sacred, or is it against the attacks?

Personally I think that a lot of people want to march to show the terrorists that France stands united and is not afraid. Whilst freedom of speech is indeed one of the pillars of the French nation, the interpretation of this freedom is more than a little hazy. The Charlie Hebdo team always knew this yet always stood by this right. I admire their belief and struggle and that is why I will join the march tomorrow.

The Untouchable

But I feel that at part of the nation is not so sure about this absolute right to express oneself, at least looking from the reactions on Twitter and Facebook. I am pretty surprised to have read and heard several people say that “of course we condemn the attack, but in a way Charlie Hebdo asked for it”. In my book no drawn or written provocation, however profound or shocking, justifies the killings. Besides, freedom of speech means that one is allowed to express one’s opinion in writing, drawing, painting or music.

The reactions to the #jesuiskouachi campaign which was launched by other (French) Jihadists to praise the slayed gunmen as heroes is just as intolerant with people demanding Twitter and Facebook to shut down the accounts of people praising the killers. I would like to state here that I really do not appreciate the comments written by the Kaouchi fans, however, in my book, freedom of speech means that they also have a right to voice their opinion in writing or drawing. This is as far as I am concerned the same right Charlie Hebdo had. Trying to prevent them from communicating means that we are curbing their freedom of speech and doing this in the name of Charlie Hebdo feels very wrong to me.

Love stronger than hate © Charlie Hebdo

I am not sure what the answer is as I also do not like the hate messages against the extremist. Hate breeds more hatred and radicalization; revenge is generally more bitter than sweet…

It is not always easy to be tolerant and open minded, especially in the face of these horrible attacks, but I believe it is the only way we can truly embrace the freedom of speech. Or in a picture of Charlie Hebdo, a week after their premises were petrol bombed in 2011, “l’amour plus fort que la haine” (love is stronger than hate)

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#TerroirChampagne #thebook reached its target! Now what?

Terroir Champagne - The Book

On Tuesday afternoon around 6 pm my Terroir Champagne book campaign reached its €10,000 goal which means I can get it published!!! Whilst this made me mega happy – the ride to success after all had not been that smooth – quite a few people pointed out I should write a post explaining why I still need more funding.

And yes – I do need more funding because when one puts a crowd funding campaign together we focus on the bare minimum we need to realize our project. For #TerroirChampagne #thebook project this included the printing costs for a 2000 book run as well as a photography, editing and layout budget. This will be covered with the €9,150 I will receive after Indiegogo and Paypal fees have been deducted.

However, I will need more money to achieve everything I want to achieve. You can still pledge here

As I am talking about the real luxury I really would like to publish the book with a hard cover. I also would like to include illustrations to lighten up the reading. But maybe most importantly I want to market this book so it can reach the widest possible audience.

I know there is a demand for more environmentally produced Natural Wine, including Champagne especially in the North American, Antipodean and European markets (especially the Nordic countries). Isabelle Legeron’s excellent Natural Wine Book did not cover Champagne – because the strictly regulated second fermentation process is based around the addition of yeast and sugar. This means that to date there is no guide book published on more environmentally friendly Champagne and it is also one of the reason I am writing this book. However I need to find ways to get my book to the audiences looking for it, either through marketing or book tours. Both cost significant amounts of money.

I did not include these extra costs as I believe that I can still find ways to raise more money whilst I finish writing my book. One of the ways will be to continue to pre-sell my book, the t-shirt and tours online through from December onward. However, since I still have 4 days on Indiegogo I hope to raise more money there whilst the going is good. The #TerroirChampagne project is slowly getting more and more traction, and I want to use this to push the sales to 120-150% of the target. If I can reach 150%, I can also pay myself a little which means I can focus solemnly on getting this book out and promoted rather than having to take every teaching job that comes along. This is why I would like to ask you to keep the buzz going and keep spreading the word about this environmentally focused Terroir Champagne Book.
You can still buy it here

Thank you very much!!!

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Terroir Champagne: my book project through crowd funding

On October 20th I have launched a crowd funding campaign to try and raise €10,000 to self publish the first book on environmentally friendly Terroir Champagne. The tittle of the book says it all: Terroir Champagne: the Luxury of Sustainable, Organic and Biodynamic Cuvees. The aim is to have the book published and delivered by September 2015.

It is no secret that I have long been drawn to Terroir Champagne – in fact it was my love for these wines full of character and soul that drew me to the region almost 3 years ago. Living here I quickly realized that Terroir Champagne’s identity was created in the vineyard. After all if we want to talk terroir, we need to have a living soil. Whilst this seems quite logical I found out rather quickly it is also quite rare in Champagne. This is why I feel that these environmentally friendly produced Terroir Champagnes are the real luxury cuvees of the region, in the sense the word was originally defined: rare, hand made and authentic.

As I visited more terroir producers, many of whom work organically and biodynamically, the idea came to share my experiences and out this often closed world of small producers so others could more easily discover these often generally limited production Champagne cuvees. I first wanted to put all of the info I had online, so I registered the domain – but something seemed to stop me… As the summer turned cold and grey in August, so did my mood; I got more and more frustrated as to what I needed to do with all the Terroir Champagne information I had gathered… The answer finally came when the sunshine returned in September: the fact that I believed these Champagnes are the real luxury required my findings to be presented in a luxury package. And however great my love for the internet, yet another (paid) site would not do justice… Instead I had started to dream of a hardcover book, with beautiful pictures and illustrations…. I knew however, that if I wanted to stay neutral, I would have to find a way to control the publishing process which brought me to the self-publishing idea.

Earlier this year, in the middle of spring I had received Wink Lorch’s Jura Wine Book. Wink’s remarkable Kickstarter Campaign in March/April 2013 had allowed her to raise around £14,000 to self publish the first English book on Jura wine. Knowing how small the production of Jura wine is and how few bottles are exported inspired me to go down the same route. After all, even if I only talk about a fraction of the total Champagne sales, a big chunk of these wines are exported so we are still looking at a considerably larger amount of bottles that the Jura wine exports.

Having an example of how it could be done worked both in favour and disfavour of my campaign. Positives were that I had a proven model to follow, and I did take inspiration from Wink’s campaign on several levels. Whilst I had to choose a different crowd funding platform (Kickstarter is not available in France) I was greatly inspired by her reward system and video; so much that I decided to include other speakers in the video, just as she had. I am eternally grateful that Australian Fine Wine Importer Ian Westcott, Natural Wine guru Isabelle Legeron MW, Swiss Champagne Ambassador Kat Morse and Author and Philosopher Cain Todd agreed to share their passion for Terroir Champagnes in my video, made by the very talented Onneca Guelbenzu

However, I found out that following a very successful example is also quite nerve racking… Ever since I put my Terroir Champagne – THE BOOK campaign life on Indiegogo my life has been an emotional roller coaster, going up with every pledge only to fall down again as the campaign was quite slow to start. Luckily last week the pace picked up and I am happy to report to be just over the half way mark with 21 days to go!!! Having said this I do realize that I will have to hand sell many more books in the next 3 weeks to make the target and hopefully make a little more so I can be paid too. The target only covers all the costs surrounding the print run of 2000 hardcover books, the editing and illustrations as well as professional photographs. On this last topic I am very proud to announce that Mick Rock from Cephas, the same photographer who took Wink’s pictures; offered to collaborate on my Terroir Champagne Book Project just a few hours after I put the campaign live!!

That is why I have and continue to ask people who are interested in these more natural Champagnes to get behind my campaign and help me realize this project. The campaign will end on 30th November and I really need to collect the target of €10,000 (about US$12,500 or £7,800) within this time frame or I will receive no funds at all and will NOT be able to publish this book… In the case that the campaign would fail (god forbids), everybody who has pledged and supported the project will be refunded.

The video and text on the Indiegogo Terrior Champagne campaign page aims to explain the project and the book content. All donors will have their name included in the acknowledgements of the book. As well as an e-book and hard cover version which you can pre-purchase here for €20 and €25 respectively, I have also put together a selection of exciting perks, which will give you your own inside view into the exciting luxury world of Terroir Champagne!! So please if you can, get behind this project and help me publish the first ever book on environmentally friendly produced Champagne cuvees!! THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!!!!

For anybody who hasn’t purchased it yet, you can still buy Wink’s Jura Wine Book here

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Natural Wine by Isabelle Legeron

Isabelle Legeron Natural Wine

I very rarely publish a book review here, in fact I believe this is the first time ever that I want to share a book on this blog… The reason is very simple, Isabelle Legeron‘s Natural Wine book completely blew me away. The main reason for this is that Natural Wine gives a very clear overview of natural wine, tackling each and every (mis)conception regarding this often highly volatile subject one at the time. The introduction gives a clear overview of grape farming and wine today – our dependence on additives in the vineyard and winery means that in most of today’s wines the focus is on standardization. But there is another way, and this is the main topic of the book.

The book is split up in 3 parts. The first part talks about what natural wine is, and looks at how it exists and expresses itself today in the vineyard and cellar. After this Legeron touches on how an open mind allows one to taste natural wine and immediately be drawn by its vibrancy and soul – even if these wines can be very different to our preconceptions of what wine should be – before touching on several misconceptions regarding wine faults. The first part ends on the question of health – is natural wine better for us than regular wine…

Part two talks about the Who, Where and When of natural wine. The who are the producers, which Legeron refers to as artisans: they carefully craft their wines. Just about all of them are driven by their love of the land as well as a holistic approach to life itself. A lot of natural wine producers have lost faith in the industrialized ways of farming and standardized manners of wine making and feel they have gone back to the more natural ways previous generations worked in the vineyard as well as in the cellar. However, this does not mean the road to market is as natural. As most natural wines are very individual and unique, the artisans are often treated as outsiders; in other words their wine does not fit in the standardized preconceived box and this means they often have to struggle against their regulatory bodies to be able to sell their wines.
The where and when is all about the different natural wine organisations, natural wine fairs, and shops and restaurants who are vivid supporters of the movement.

In the last part Legeron gives an overview per wine style/colour of some icon natural wine cuvees. For each of the wines she touches on the main wine making principles as well as giving three flavour descriptors. I especially like the last part as it allows us to first pick wines with flavours we like before adventuring ourselves in complete discovery.

It is not only the content of the book which really spoke to me – the layout and the beautiful yet discrete illustrations make Natural Wine very easy to read and very hard to put down :-) It is not often that a non fiction book tells so many stories in such a beautiful way. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you will know that natural wine and terroir wines are very close to my heart, so it is not haphazardly that I came to this book. However, I have been pleasantly surprised by what I got out of it – both in terms of scientific knowledge and inspiration. And that is why I highly recommend it for the Holidays/Christmas Season. The recommended retail price is €22.99, £16.99 or $24.99 and the book is available from Amazon.

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One Step Beyond – Franck Pascal’s Bio-energetic Champagne

Franck Pascal's amazing wine journey

At the beginning of June I spent my birthday learning all about bio-energetic Champagne at Franck Pascal‘s. Franck and Isabelle had invited me together with the staff of La Truffiere, a Michelin starred Parisian restaurant, to share their 20 year wine making journey with all its ups and downs.

I had first tasted Pascal’s's wines 3 years ago at the Terres et Vins de Champagne event and I was especially blown away by the vins clairs Pascal presented. As mentioned in earlier posts, vins clairs – or the wine before the bubbles – are not the easiest wines to taste; they are often highly acidic, lacking in fruit intensity and generally a bit thin. However, Franck Pascal’s still wines had body and a vibrant character – and bizarrely enough they spoke to me even more than his Champagnes.

Year upon year it seemed this vibrancy in his still wines increased, and with every visit I understood a little more. And then this sunny day in June when Franck and Isabelle shared their full story all the pieces of the puzzle just fell into place and I saw the full holographic picture :-)

Franck and Isabelle Pascal

It all began in 1994; Franck Pascal decided to give up his career as a chemical engineer in the printing industry to take on the family vineyards. Several reasons had contributed to this sudden change of heart at the end of his studies. When the bright business intern proposed an innovative printing concept he quickly found out that in a corporate environment long term gain was a long way behind short term benefits and that if he would continue a career in engineering this would lead to many a frustration. A second reason was the pull of the family history: a few years earlier Pascal’s younger brother had died which meant the family’s wine making tradition would live or die with him.

Going out on his own initially proved easier than Pascal had anticipated. His university degree opened all kinds of unexpected doors and he breezed through the paper work. However he struggled a bit more when it came to working the vines – with hardly any experience he quickly found out the vigneron trade needed a bit more to master than simple bloodline… Eager to learn more, he embarked on a vine growing and wine making course in 1996 and paid close attention to every little detail – going as far as reading the fine print on all of the products he used. This is how he one day stumbled upon a familiar name on a pesticide; with a little research he discovered it was a very toxic product used by the army to produce chemical weapons. Though he realized the quantities of the poison were significantly lower in the treatment as in the weapons, he could not shake the feeling that continuous exposure would eventually poison him. He thus decided to stop using pesticides and synthetic fertilizers in 1998 and looked for alternatives in organic viticulture. From 2001 he also started to experience with indigenous yeasts.

Franck Pascal in his vineyard

A year later, looking to find ways to further improve the life in his vineyards he tentatively started to experiment with biodynamic farming, going about it very empirically: he divided up a vineyard in three – farmed one part conventionally, one part organically and one part biodynamically. Very quickly the noticed a big difference in the soil (and other) life in the biodynamic part. The wines from this part also showed more complexity and tension. The move toward biodynamic farming had been spurred by Pascal’s meeting with François Bouchet, a guru on the subject. Bouchet had adopted biodynamic farming in 1961 and became a real mentor for Pascal. In the very hot summer of 2003 his vines were turning yellow in a vineyard planted on a hard chalk soil. Pascal had treated the vineyard with a nettle mixture to resolve the issue, but it was not working. He explained the situation to Bouchet, who advised him to treat the plot with a chamomile solution, told him where to find the flowers and how to mix up the solution. Pascal converted completely to biodynamic farming when he saw his vines turn green whilst he was still treating them – it took just 10 minutes to restore the vineyards health. The chamomile mixture had resolved the heat stress the vines had been suffering.

Bio-energy in the vineyard and winery

The last step – conversion to bio-energy started with Isabelle being diagnosed with cancer at the beginning of 2006. Even though she trained as a micro-biologists and was very aware of the dangers of cancer, she could not come to terms with having to go for chemotherapy. In fact she was convinced that chemo would kill her rather than cure her. In her search for alternative therapies she stumbled upon a bio-energetic treatment offered in Paris and convinced Franck to let her try it. Almost immediately her blood levels improved and the couple actively looked to embrace the bio-energy principles deeper. They enrolled in a course and when the time had come to do the 2005 blends they decided to test the bio-energy principles on their wines. In September, they continued the experience on the juice of the new harvest.

Whilst most of us are familiar with organic and biodynamic farming, bio-energy is a bit of a black hole – at least it was for me… So what exactly is this bio-energy??

Sérénité - the perfect name for this bio-energetic cuvee

Bio-energy is all around us and it guides our natural way of living.The universe is made up of atoms in motion; it is a big energetic field that vibrates. Everything, including vines has their own bio-energetic fields; in the case of the vines the earth’s energy – the energy in the centre of our planet – is responsible for rooting the plants whilst the sun’s energy allows them to grow upward. Grapes, as fruit of the vines, are influenced by both energies. Before harvest, Franck and Isabelle go out in the vineyard to prepare the grapes for the harvest. They inform the vines about the upcoming harvest and the change of energy and form it will bring. When the grapes come in they receive another information session to prepare them for their imminent changing status (from grape to juice). After this, the juice and later the wine also undergoes regular information sessions till bottling.

The ‘information’ session consists of an exchange of vibrations – and vibrations are waves. So if by know you are thinking that bio-energy sounds a lot like some esoteric hocus pocus, it really is not some etheric bullshit reserved for a few ultra greenies or weirdo’s. Instead these exchanges of waves are scientifically proven in the study of quantum physics.

Pascal believes that the use of bio-energy allows his wines to show the true characteristics of his terroir. He sees his vineyards like children from the same family; they have similar characteristics – traits from the area and the winemaker. However just like every child is different from its brother or sister, so are his vineyards – they each have unique and individual characteristics. Pascal further compares the informing of the vines, juice and wines with the individual care parents take for each of their offspring; they care differently according to the child’s needs and by doing so they allow their child to grow up into a wholesome, healthy and happy individual. The same principle can be applied to vines and wines – they all have slightly different needs. When these are taken into consideration the result is a wholesome, unique and vibrating Champagne – with very little additives using very low or no sulfur and indigenous yeasts.

Pascal’s two first bio-energetic cuvees will hit the shelves next month. Pacifiance is Non-Vintage solera blend from the 2006 and 2007 Quentaissance – Pascal’s vintage Champagne. It is a super fresh champagne, characterized by its mineral flinty notes and its amazing texture reminiscent of raw silk.

Sérénité 2010 is blend of Chardonnay and Meunier, vinified bio-energetically without the addition of sulfur – the energy, elegance and depth of this wine completely blew me away. No other wine I have ever tasted has left as deep an impression on me. Only 600 bottles are made so do try not to miss out!

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M is for more meunier and miammiam

Meunier vines in Festigny

Meunier has often been considered the week little brother of the more powerful and structured Pinot Noir, or the ugly wee sister of the elegant Chardonnay. Instead of bringing structure or elegance, it only adds fruitiness to the blend…

When the Champagne appellation was defined in 1927 (and formalized in 1936) – the powers who were at the time decided Meunier was not noble enough to be granted Grand Cru status; this exceptional status was reserved for the noble Burgundian Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. When the Grand Cru status was revised in 1988 and a few villages were upgraded to one hundred percent on the Cru scale, Meunier once again was left behind; after all the grape variety is too fickle to guarantee quality when the desired quantity becomes too high. And with quantities increasing in Champagne to meet market demand, it was obvious that Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were safer choices.

However the grape variety started to make a slow comeback toward the end of the nineties, when several visionary vignerons saw the true potential of pure Meunier cuvees.

La Closerie by Prevost

In 1987 Jérome Prévost inherited two hectares of vineyard in Geux from his grandmother. The Beguines vineyard had been planted with Meunier (massale selection) in the fifties and the vines had been rented out previously, but Jérome decided to give grape growing a go. He wanted to make a terroir Meunier and went to work for Selosse for a while to learn the finer details of the trade. He made his first Champagne in 1998 under the name La Closerie – Les Beguines. It was one of the first single vineyard, single vintage Meuniers of the region. More importantly it was delicious and it very quickly became a cult wine when it was first released a few years later.

A sample of Sparnacien soil at Champagne Tarlant

Around the same time, Benoit Tarlant also decided to make a single vineyard single vintage Meunier. La Vigne d’Or (meaning the golden vine) comes from an old plot of Meunier in the village of Oeilly, where the Meunier vines – again by massale selection – had been planted on Sparnacien soil by his grandfather in the forties. Only 1000 to 1200 bottles are produced in the years the family decides to make the wine. Unlike Prévost, Tarlant ages the cuvee extensively (ten years); by doing so Tarlant furthermore shatters the myth that Meunier does not age. La Vigne d’Or is a rich and layered Champagne with an amazing salinity and freshness.

1975 Meunier by Loriot

A few villages further down the Marne river in Festigny Michel Loriot has been making pure Meunier for quite a long time. Festigny is considered by many as one of the best terroirs to grow Meunier. Loriot makes two pure Meunier cuvees today: Authentic Meunier, which is a fresh and fruit forward easy drinking Champagne and the more complex and round Monodie en Meunier Majeur, a vintage champagne made from seventy years old vines of the very steep south-west facing slopes of the village. I was lucky enough to taste a bottle of freshly disgorged 1975 Loriot pure Meunier about 3 weeks ago and rather than being old or over the top this Champagne was very vinous, layered and complex with a very fresh finish – proving once again that Meunier can age very well.

What all three growers have in common is that they work well in the vineyard. Furthermore they work at the rhythm of the Meunier rather than at the appellation rhythm. By this I mean they produce less quantity of better quality, harvesting the grapes when they are at their optimum.
This makes for richer, silkier wines – with a texture and structure which often reminds me of crushed velvet. The ripe fruit characteristics and sweet pastry notes Meunier can develop when it is grown and harvested this way are very seductive and pleasurable: personally I find them very miammiam and morish!!

A press load of Meunier at Champage Dehours

A person which has been following this Meunier movement in Champagne closely is Oenologist Anne-Marie Chabbert. She has long been interested in how these rich often vinous characteristics of Meunier will pair with food. This is why she regularly chooses Meunier cuvees for her Champagne a Table project where she works with Michelin Star chefs to create a tailor made menu to accompany the cuvees. I attended a Meunier press lunch at the end of May last year hosted in Le Grand Cerf in Monchenot where Dominique Giraudeau had created a menu around 4 Meunier cuvees picked by Anne Marie. Three cuvees of two vignerons really made an impact on me – so much in fact that I since have visited them on multiple occasions. One of the winemakers I already knew, but having the chance to talk to him in more detail over lunch made me take the initiative to visit him a few weeks later. I have visited Jérome Dehours in Cerseuil several times since as I really like his way of working and his wines.

Dehours makes two single vineyard, single vintage Meunier cuvees: La Croix Jolie and Les Genevreaux. La Croix Jolie is only bottled in Magnum and comes from a very low yielding old vine Meunier vineyard. Most of the vineyard is used to produce Jerome’s Coteau Rouge (Still red wine). The fruit is left to ripen fully – Jerome is always one of the last one to harvest in the Valley – making for an intense, complex Champagne. Les Genevreaux comes from an adjacent vineyard planted in 1979. Both vineyards have poor decarbonized clay soils, which accounts for the rich texture of both Meuniers.

David Bourdaire next to his Meunier Vines

A new and happy discovery for me at the Champagne a Table event was David Bourdaire. We tried two of his Meuniers – one white and one rosé. Champagne Bourdaire-Gallois is based in Pouillon in the Massif de St Thierry, at the very north of the Champagne appellation. His soils are a combination of sand, clay and limestone and Meunier is thriving in his vineyard. His entry level Non Vintage Champagne (Brut Sans Année) is made exclusively from Meunier and it is a very easy drinking fruit forward Champagne. The Meunier in Pouillon has characteristics of rich stewed stone fruit and naturally tastes sweet. David does two versions of this wine – the younger one has a dosage of around 6 grams, whilst the older one has no added sugar added at all. The Rosé is bursting with sweet red fruit flavours and pairs beautiful with red fruit deserts. It really is a very seductive Champagne – and it sets an example of how Meunier can shine as a Rosé as well!

There are a few other excellent Meunier cuvees that I briefly want to mention here. Cedric Moussé Special Club is a mouth watering pure Meunier from Cuisle (Vallée de la Marne). In 2012 he also made a Special Club rosé and I can hardly wait to taste the finished product especially since I was lucky enough to taste the vin claire.
Nathalie Falmet very recently released an exclusive single vineyard Meunier cuvee called ZH302. Only a thousand bottles have been made, and pure Meunier from the Aube is really pretty rare. The packaging is gorgeous and the Champagne is simply delicious.
Benoit Dehu has pioneered one of the most fascinating Meunier projects I know of – he makes a white Coteau Champenois, a red Coteau Champenois and a Champagne all from the same vineyard exclusively planted with Meunier in Fossoy (in the Aisne – Grande Vallée de la Marne). I have tasted all three recently at Origine Champagne, and even if the three wines are still a little too young right now, they are very promising. Again I am impatient to revisit these cuvees in a few years time!
A last Meunier I want to mention here is the very morish Rosé de Saignée by Cyril Jeaunaux. Jeaunaux is based in Talus-St-Prix, at the beginning of the Vallée du Petit Morin. About half way between the Cotes des Blancs and the Sézannais, it is a little haven for Meunier in a sea of Chardonnay.

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