Acceptance Speech ACB Personality of 2023

On Sunday, 16 April, the Association des Champagne Biologiques named me their “Personality of 2023”. This Bulle Bio en Champagne prize is very special to me, because just as the Terres et Vins prize I received 5 years ago, one cannot apply, enter or pay to receive it. It is an acknowledgement by these groups of producers for one’s contribution to champagne. are only 2 people with both these prizes, and I am so very humbled to share this honour with the great Pascaline Lepeltier, who was the Bulles Bio en Champagne Personality of the Year in 2019 and who received the Terres et Vins prize this year.

This year, both Bulles Bio en Champagne en Terres et Vins en Champagne had as theme “Stop Herbicides in Champagne.” This is also the topic of my acceptance speech which you can read here below. If this topic is something you would like to support, please take a minute to read the open letter published by a group of Champenois winemakers protesting the U-turn on the zero herbicide promise made in 2018. And if you would like to see change happen, please also sign in support for this cause. Thank you very much!

2500 years ago, in ancient Greece, Heraclytus famously pondered the question of impermanence. He argued that the fundamental essence of the universe lies in its ever-present change. And even if many philosophers have since tried to rebut him, today it is well accepted that we need to change to evolve. However, this does not mean that we readily or easily accept change. In fact, our brains do not like the unknown, and our natural, pre-historic reaction is to avoid or fight it. It takes conviction, determination and courage to overcome our aversion to change, which is maybe why pioneers do not come by the dozens.

They are different, because they are driven by what can be rather than what is. Pioneers are generally branded as dreamers, disconnected from reality, and are often shunned or ridiculed or both. However, without these visionaries, we would still believe the earth was flat, we would never have heard and even less travelled to other continents, and be blissfully digitally unconnected. Moreover, champagne would not have been a blended wine, it would have no bubbles, and industrial agriculture with chemically boosted yields would have remained a pipe dream. And whether the change viewed in hindsight was positive or negative, for it to happen at all, a few people had to dream big and be courageous enough to create this new reality.

In Champagne, change has always been driven by the underdog, and general adoption has been a slow, drawn-out process. But whether we talk about riddling, decreasing the dosage or blank spraying of herbicides, all of these ‘innovations’ have eventually been embraced by everyone and have become the new ‘normal’.

Today, in Champagne, the ACB is this pioneering underdog because they actively search alternatives to whatever dysfunctions the status quo has brought up. Moreover, they readily share this information, not only with their members and supporters, but with anyone who is considering a more environmentally friendly way of farming.

The most recent daring example of the ACB’s visionary role can be seen in their relentless fight against Champagne’s U-turn on its announced (and very well mediatized) zero herbicide promise. The 0-herbicide announcement, when it was first made by Jean-M arie Barillère and Maxime Toubart was a bold movement for a region firmly anchored in excessive herbicide usage. However, it proved to be very little more than an empty promise made from fear of legal enforcement and without a real implementation plan. It is therefore not surprising that once the legal pressure waned, Toubart was quick to announce that no ban on herbicide usage would be enforced via the cahier des charges. It is a well-known fact that in love and politics, all is fair as long as it serves a purpose. For Toubart this is hanging on to the presidency of the SGV and the lime-light that comes with it. It was therefore obvious that he was never going to put up a fight to ban herbicides against his administrators who had been lobbying to keep using them. It took the bold move of publishing a signed open letter denouncing the U-turn on the herbicide ban for him even to acknowledge the topic again, but bar condemning the illegal practice of mass nuking the vineyards (“bad for champagne’s image’) in Thursday’s SGV’s AGM, he continues to avoid the topic and refuses to take action to reinstate the 0-hericide promise.

It is therefore paramount, to keep up the fight, by maintaining pressure on the SGV, UMC and the CIVC. For those of you, that like me are members of the press, use your voice to remind the powers that be in Champagne, that breaking a promise for no other reason than greed, is not acceptable, especially not if this stimulates soil erosion and will further pollute the waterways. It is important to point out here as well that the French government has banned the use of glyphosate and other herbicides in all public spaces and for private usage and that blank spraying, which remains a common practice in the Champagne vineyards, is forbidden by the law. In a region where grape prices are at an all-time high, and yields are significantly higher than in other regions, there is no possible justification for continuing to hang on to herbicide usage. Moreover, as herbicides destroy the microbial soil life, they also negatively impact the soil nutrients for the vines, which in return may hamper phenolic ripeness and acidity levels in the grapes. Herbicides are also known to negatively impact natural yeast fermentation capacity, hence creating a need for more additives in the winemaking process. It is therefore difficult to argue that they improve or even maintain wine quality. Lastly, residues are found in the wines (and in the drink water) hence ultimately in our bodies with possible cancerogenic risks for wine consumers as well as the local population. All of this defies champagnes’ self-proclaimed image of being a superior high quality sparkling wine, symbolic of celebrating life.

While the ACB will maintain pressure on the SGV to try and persuade it to once again change tack on this issue, it is very unlikely they will act voluntarily on this. Toubart is no Frederic De Klerk or Mikhail Gorbachev, he is far too attached to his personal power to give it up for a rightful reason. It is therefore primordial that all of us become educators on how many herbicides most champagnes contain, and what the impact of continuing this practice has on the water ways, local population and workers and maybe most importantly, the wine quality and the consumer’s health. It is only by spreading awareness on this dirty secret the wider champagne profession would prefer to hide, that change will eventually come about. When the herbicide abuse becomes an on-going scandal, the Houses and the UMC will prefer to rock the herbicide boat rather than sink with it. After all, the impossible quickly turns into possible when one’s back is against the wall. So even if today not much has changed, I am positive that with continuous pressure, herbicides will eventually be banned in champagne. Change may take time, but to requote Heraclytis, change is the only constant in life.

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The ABC on Champagne’s appellation setting

Over the last few weeks I have read and heard so much misinformation, and bizarre interpretations about the upcoming Champagne harvest, and more specifically the still undecided yield. It is clear from the rumours running rife in the vineyard and the many articles clearly lacking research on the subject, that most people have forgotten the economic reasoning behind Champagne’s yield setting mechanism. Hence the below will dissect the Champenois appellation and co-dependent relationship between houses and growers, before touching on what numbers this could translate to in today’s economic and health crisis.

How is the Champagne appellation determined?

Champagne is unique among wine regions by setting it’s ‘appellation’ yield in function of projected sales. The appellation equals the sellable yield, and is in fact a minimum rather than a maximum. The number is calculated in kg/ha based on the region’s forecasted sales, and growers are expected to provide this. There is a system of ‘Reserve Individuelle’ (RI), which allows growers to subsidize their yields in case their agronomic yield (kgs of grapes actually out in the vineyard) do not meet the appellation requirement. Every year, growers can harvest an extra amount (often 3,000 kg/ha) on top of the official appellation to supplement their RI , which has been capped by the INAO at 8,000 kg/ha. And if the agronomic yield is particularly high, the remaining grapes when pressed become DPLC (dépassement du plafond limite de classement) also called VO (vin ordinaire), and regulations require this volume to be distilled before the end of the following year.

This system is completely quantity based without much regard for the quality, even if a lot of officials/houses and even growers will argue that the RI and the DPLC are tools to improve the quality. One could assert this is true in the case of the very abundant 2018 harvest, which allowed most of the rot infested 2017 juice to be replaced. But in my opinion the real question should be why houses accepted and paid a premium for rotten grapes in the first place…

Moreover, while there are certainly advantages to having a controlled supply to meet market needs, the system is based on a generic forecast rather than the sum of individual forecasts. However, Champagne (as the region) doesn’t ‘sell’ any wine, it’s the different producers – Houses, Independent Growers and Cooperatives – who do the actual selling. And not everyone has the same selling possibilities. As in every business, some people sell better than others, yet everyone is supposed to meet the appellation yield, even if it doesn’t meet its sales expectations. This has resulted in some producers adding to their stocks year after year, whilst others are running short.

The forecast metric is further flawed by Champagne’s comprehensive stock system, a precondition to meet the bottle aging requirements, which only really works well in relatively stable market conditions. Big sales fluctuations either create an acute shortage or a very expensive oversupply, weighing on the producer’s cash flow and profitability. The ‘ideal’ stock supply has been defined (again on general level) as being 3 to 3.5 years, even if this does not necessarily reflect individual producer’s needs. Some people prefer long aging, others prefer to sell their wines according to the minimum aging requirements.

Houses vs growers

A last factor we should acknowledge is the co-dependent relationship between the champagne houses and the region’s grape growers, as this is likely the main reason why the appellation maximum really is a minimum. The houses are the economic engine of the region, and are responsible for more than 70% of the total sales. However, they only own 10% of the land. This means, that bar a few exceptions, they are reliant on the grape growers to meet their sales demand. Grape growers, on the other hand, are dependent on the houses for their income, as very few farmers selling by the kg have other day jobs. The only ones outside this system are independent grape growers (RM) and co-operatives (CM) which produce and sell their own wines. It is, however, important to point out that over the last decade the RM’s have lost roughly a quarter of their bottle sales (just over 17 million bottles). The main reason behind this decline is that many RM have converted to selling grapes rather than making champagne, which has proved to be ‘easier’ cash, especially since grape prices per kg have increased from year to year. However, this has also made them more dependent on a big and stable appellation.

One should also note that the constantly increasing grape price, mainly pushed up by LVMH in their quest to expand their market share, has caused the profit margins of many a house to dwindle and put considerable stress on their cash flow situation. However, most of them have preferred to keep their contracts, as many feared giving them up would further bolster LVMH’s supremacy in the region. I elaborated on LVMH’s push for power in Champagne this piece on Wine-Searcher

Now that we have ‘remembered’ that the Champagne appellation is an economic decision, let’s have a closer look at today’s market conditions, as they are the reason why the appellation still has not been set, even though harvest has started already.

Declining sales since 2007

Analysing champagne sales figures of the 21st century, we can see the sales peaked in 2007, when just under 339 million bottles were sold. By 2019 sales had dropped by just over 12% to 297.5 million bottles. In short, Champagne never regained the market share it had before the 2008 financial crisis. In line with the appellation setting mechanism, this has translated in smaller yields. Hence., over the same period the appellation yields dropped by just short of 18% from 12,400 kg/ha in 2007 to 10,200 in 2019. Nevertheless, it’s important to record that in that same period, Champagne further increased its stock levels: overall the appellation was consistently set above the actual sales, indicating forecasts generally have been a little too optimistic.

At the beginning of April, in the middle of the Covid-19 lockdown, Jean-Marie Barillère, the president of the Union des Maisons de Champagne (UMC) and one of the two co-presidents of the Comité Champagne, predicted champagne sales would drop roughly by 33% in 2020. He estimated the pandemic induced health and economic crisis would see the regions sales decrease by 100 million bottles translating in a decline of total revenue of 1.7 billion Euro.

stock / sales ratio

Reading between the lines, this significant sales reduction also means that the region’s stock to sales ratio increased by 1/3, or in absolute numbers from 4.5 years to almost 7 years. (based on 2019’s 1.35 billion bottles of stock).

If we assume that the 200 million bottle sales forecast is in line with all other forecasts, it is likely that this figure is once again over-estimated. Especially if we take into consideration that the pandemic is far from being under control. Restrictions on restaurants and bars, on travel and large gatherings (e.g. weddings) continue to have a direct effect on champagne sales. Add to this the recession effect and the already declining popularity of champagne in the last decade (remember the 12% sales volume loss since 2007). All of this makes it very   unlikely (not to say impossible) that sales will bounce back to almost 300 million bottles any time soon. In other words: the 7(+) years stock to sales ratio is here to stay.

Champagne is lucky because the wine will improve with bottle age, however, sitting on 7 years of stock is not advisable for any business; it’s expensive and it seriously impacts the ROI. It is therefore important to start selling the excess stock but also to hold on to its value.

In concrete terms this means that the appellation figure needs to take into consideration clearing some of the excess the stock. It should therefore be lower than the forecasted 200 million bottles, which roughly translates to 7,000 kg/ha.

Without the co-dependent relationship between houses and growers, the soundest economic decision would be to harvest not more than is needed for special cuvees and vintage champagne (as 2020 is looking very promising). After all, there is plenty of stock to assure the forecasted sales. However, this is not possible for two reasons. Firstly, it would leave grape growers selling by the kilo without income and hence on a sure route to bankruptcy. Secondly, the RM, CM and houses who have not enough stock would be pushed out of the market. At the same time setting the appellation at 7,000 kg/ha would put too much pressure on many of the cash strapped houses (especially since grape prices are in most cases still linked to last year’s value), and could lead to bankruptcies here. This would translate in many contracts being cancelled and grape growers remaining without income in years to come. The obsolete stock would moreover be dumped in the market impacting and hampering the average value for other producers.

It’s obvious that a win-win situation is not on the books this year. No matter what figure is decided, there will be many losers and many businesses will go under. I therefore believe that the decision needs to be taken in light of what’s best for Champagne (as a whole) in the long term. The focus should be on preserving the value and the diversity of the appellation.  

A good, but nonetheless painful, compromise would be to set the appellation at 3/4’s of the forecasted sales – eg 150 million bottles, and use the stocks for the remaining 50 million bottles. In kg/ha this translates to roughly 5250 kg/ha, almost half of what the appellation was last year. Champagne already agreed on some compromises to help both independent producers and houses in their stock and cash flow management. The first one’s would be allowed to purchase more than the 5% authorised by the INAO and still keep their RM status. The latter can bottle and pay part of the appellation in 2022.

Questioning the validity of the current appellation setting mechanism

To conclude, it’s obvious from the above that today’s appellation system does not work in times of crisis. It also does not promote quality or innovation and has so far hampered Champagne’s ecological goals. I feel therefore the time has come to change the appellation system. Even if the INAO requires a maximum appellation, this maximum can, and most importantly should be set in function of the quality. It should be an absolute maximum just like it is in other appellations. And the grape supply should be negotiated by the tonne (kg) rather than by the hectare, and contracts should ideally include qualitative and ecological bonuses.

This will allow champagne to really improve on its quality, be more attractive to the ecologically minded millennials who are tomorrows customers, and it will help Champagne producers to better control their stock rotations. It will also prevent today’s situation where harvest has already started without the yields being known. As in Chinese, crisis indeed means danger but also an opportunity to change.

All figures used have been provided or calculated on figures by the CIVC

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Champagne Harvest 2018: Marie-Noelle Ledru and Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy

picking in Ambonnoy with Marie Noelle

picking in Ambonnoy with Marie Noelle

Harvest started early in 2018, officially opening on August 20th, yet the official dates showed big differences, with some villages only opening early September. Derogations are possible and even if a few people began picking earlier, so far  the harvest has been slow to start, wit many people waiting till next week to bring the troops in. There are several reasons for the delays, which definitely are more widespread than in previous years/. Firstly, the weather is holding up, so there is no real risk for spoilage. Secondly, the overall grape load on the vines is very heavy – many people say these are the biggest yields they have ever seen, and there have been BIG yields in the past…. And even if this has been one of the sunniest and hottest summers on record, the grapes are struggling to ripen (evenly). Lastly, the complicated seasonal employment regulations are making weekend work more cumbersome and a whole lot more expensive. The result is that even if the harvest has officially opened in many villages,  many producers are will only start in the following week and it will probably be a drawn out experience.

The good point about this is that it allows me to visit a few friends to tell their story here as I will write a more generic report for Wine-Searcher anyway. I have been thinking which angle I should use here, and since I won the very coveted Terres et Vins de Champagne prize in April, I decided to focus on the 22 Terres et Vins vigneron(ne)s. It actually a real privilege to highlight these amazing wine makers as they were my initial inspiration to dig deeper into the Champagne Terroir which eventually led to my Terroir Champagne book. Furthermore, after all the sad bad practice stories I have written about the region lately, its a real pleasure to focus on quality for a change!

So my post today is about two great vignerons, Marie-Noelle Ledru and Jean-Baptiste Geofrroy.

The wonderful Marie-Noelle

The wonderful Marie-Noelle

On Thursday I had the great pleasure to join Marie-Noelle’s picking team on their first day of harvest. Hot weather had been forecasted so we left for the vines early to start picking Pinot Noir in La Chatelaine around 7,15 AM. Picking grapes is something I cannot seem to stay away from, even if my dear friend Onne and I often said we would never pick grapes again while we did harvest at Jacquesson in 2012. I kept my promise in 2013, but since then I have always picked at least a day every harvest I love the joyful atmosphere, the happy banter, the teasing, the nonsense and the occasional spontaneous singing. Its also one of the best ways to quickly get a feel for the year, as the vines hide nothing: its among the vines I first realized how bad the rot problem really was last year… But on Thursday, 2017 seemed a very faded nightmare as the grapes are in great health, sweet, evenly ripened and a real pleasure to pick (and eat)! I would like to stress that even if all Marie-Noelle grapes were ripe – the press load came in at 12% potential alcohol – this is not necessarily the case for the whole region. In fact I have heard several stories of presses at 9 and 8.5 degrees potential alcohol in the last few days…

The main reason for the extreme beauty of Marie-Noelle’s grapes is without a doubt a direct result of her viticiulture practices. She has long worked the soil, and has limited the yields – even in this abundant year, her total yield is not likely to exceed 13,000 kg/hectares – hence a long way off the 16,000 to 19,000 kg/hectares the CIVC has given as average yield for the region…

Alice Cailleux, the 5th generation to join Team Ledru in the vines

Alice Cailleux, the 5th generation to join Team Ledru in the vines

Her team of pickers mostly come from the Ardennes and are more or less all related. They have been picking for Marie-Noelle’s family for generations: Alice, a young girl who joined us in the vines in the morning, is the 5th generation harvester at Champagne Ledru. Her father Laurent carried the baskets and later helped out to load the press (with her uncle Mario), while her grandfather Remy is in charge of the press and winery. They all bring regional specialities to share during the morning casse-croute, which is still washed down with Ambonnay rouge and champagne in real glasses. Personally  preferred to stick to coffee seeing that at 10 AM the temperatures were already hovering around 28 degrees Celcius :-) But I enjoyed the traditional meal again accompanied of happy banter and lots of teasing. Marie-Noelle was with us in the vines, picking, laughing and making sure the cases were not filled to the brim. Even if she now barely produces any more wine (last year just 1,000 bottles), she is as meticulous as she has always been.

Marie-Noelle still houses, feeds and wines her harvesters and back at the homestead Bernadette overlooks and helps the two cooks turn out delicious and nutritious meals. The team eats at two long tables and wine, champagne and ratafia flow freely during the meals. According to Remy very little has changed over the 30 odd years he’s been coming, only maybe that the ties between the families seem to have become even more emeshed. Laurent even jokes that the champagne be will soon be renamed Ledru-Chailleux ;-)

Picking Chardonnay in Cumières with Champagne Geoffroy

Picking Chardonnay in Cumières with Champagne Geoffroy

Saturday morning, temperatures were significantly cooler (barely 12 degrees) when I went to join Jean-Baptiste’s team of pickers in les Chênes Montagne. The 30 ares plot planted in Chardonnay is part of the 3 hectare biodynamic trails Jean-Baptiste engaged in this year. Again the grapes were gorgeous, golden and very sweet, and the yields averaged around 12,000 kg/hectare. Eduard Cattet, Jean-Baptiste’s vineyard manager was pretty excited about the biodynamic trial and he was very happy with the results. He told me even though the season had been relatively straight forward, the heavy rain in June had caused a mildew outbreak, as the soil had been too wet to treat in between the showers. Jean-Baptiste explained later that they managed to dry out the mildew with an essential oil treatment of oregano and cloves, with both men being very happy with the results of this alternative treatment.

Its Jean-Baptiste’s first year of biodynamic trialling and he prefers to go slowly while being guided by Jacques Mell, one of France’s biodynamic icon’s. He decided to experiment on 1/5th of his total surface across the 3 main grape varieties yet opted to include the most complicated vines. He explains that if it works there, he knows it will work everywhere. Both Jean-Baptiste and Eduard told me they have seen changes, and sometimes even things they do not understand. They are both very happy that the whole team is on board still they want a little more experience before they expand the experiment any further. This is mainly because of the restrictions in labour and material needed to treat effectively using only contact products allowed in organic viticulture. This is also the reason team Geoffroy is in no rush to certify. They have however been exchanging extensively with Team Roederer, who this year added another 105 hectares to organic conversion on top of the 10 hectares already certified. Both Eduard and Jean-Baptiste feel that having Roederer’s biodynamic vineyards just around the corner really help them, especially since Roederer has almost 20 years of biodynamic experience.

Since last year, the Geoffroy’s also changed back to hiring pickers by the hour, whom they house and feed in Cumières. Jean-Baptiste’s father René, is really happy with this change of policy as it reminds him of the good old times. He is actively involved with the pickers, looking after the casse-croute and eating with them at lunchtime together with Eduard.Most of the harvesters are foreign, and the current team consists of 8 Polish people, an Italian couple, a German lady who’s mum harvested for René 25 years ago and a Spanish lady. as well as a few locals. The atmosphere was just as warm as at Marie-Noelle’s and people join the team more for the experience as for the money.

Pressing Chardonnay at Champagne Geoffroy

Pressing Chardonnay at Champagne Geoffroy

As the press and winery are located in Ay, Jean-Baptiste and his winery team are physically removed from the harvesters for their meals. Yet Karine, Jean-Baptiste’s wife, is always looking for opportunities to bring the teams closer together. Jean-Baptiste’s daughters also participate in the harvest. His youngest daughter Azalée can often be found picking but on Saturday she was at her grandfathers baking cakes for the teams. Her sisters Rosalie and Colombine were at the winery and looked after clients with previous tasting appointments. Just like his father he feels that harvesting remains very much a family affair and everyone participates in their own way.



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Sans prétension ou avec glaçons: different takes on champagne’s desacralization

AFFICHAGE_ABRIBUS_SGV_CHAMPAGNE_V2_f3For the last fortnight, Facebook has been alight with everyone and anyone in the champagne world (yours truly included) voicing their opinion on the new communication campaign of the Syndicat des Vignerons de Champagne (SGV). A few months ago, the SGV decided to launch its first ever big communication campaign with the aim to reconquer some of its French market share. Over the last decade growers have seen their sales decline by 27%, from 78,464 000 bottles in 2008 to 57,380 000 in 2017. This decline is closely linked to the sharp fall in French sales which dropped from 181,388 000 bottles (2008) to 153,842 000 bottles in 2017. In 2008 92% of the Champagne growers sales were attributed to the French market. Still, when comparing figures, it seems that the vignerons were not only hit by a declining French market, they also lost market share in this market. In 2008, just under 40% (39.9% to be precise) of the French champagne sales were bottles sold by growers. By 2017, this share had been reduced to 32.5% to the advantage of the Champagne Houses (+6.3% in the last decade) and Cooperatives (+1.1%). And even if the growers average bottle price has increased from €10.73 in 2008 to €12.6 in 2017, it remains the lowest compared to the Cooperative (€13.7) and Champagne House (€13.6) average bottle price.

AFFICHAGE_ABRIBUS_SGV_CHAMPAGNE_V2_f4Nevertheless, it is possible that the growers’ market share decline is linked to their lower pricing and hence to a perceived lower quality. The French market analysis of the yearly sales report by the Comité Champagne says: “More generally, in a growing economic context, demanding French consumers are consuming less but better quality, particularly when it comes to alcoholic drinks.”. Proof of this can be found in the sales price (in France) of the so called star-growers, who sell their bottles at a significantly higher price then the growers’ average quoted here above.
Moreover, it is important to point out that during the last decade the growers export sales increased from just under 8% (6,163 million bottles) in 2008 to 13% (7,434 million bottles) in 2017 and that in the same period the export sales price increased from €11.33 (2008) to €14.84 (2017) in Europe, and from €11.42 in 2008 to €16.43 in 2017 in the rest of the world. This clearly shows that growers’ export sales are by far more beneficial both in volume and value.

Yet, still the SGV decided to target the French market, which to be fair remains the single largest champagne market with 50% of the total sales. AFFICHAGE_ABRIBUS_SGV_CHAMPAGNE_V2_f2They allocated a 12 million Euro budget to the communication campaign and requested M&C SAATCHI LITTLE STORIES to come up with a design to attract millennials to the champagne market. The idea behind the campaign is to free champagne from its festive image, and instead promote it as a beverage which can be consumed anytime and everywhere, paired with anything. And while the press release talks about spontaneous champagne consumption and discovering and sharing different pairings at after-works or dinner with friends, the visuals tell a different story. After all how often does one share an egg, an artichoke, or 1 sardine sandwich? Then again when was the last time yuppie millennials bought 1 glass to share in a group… And who (especially in a bar or restaurant) still serves champagne in 80’s glasses??

According to the press release, the images refer to Flemish still lifes and enhance the enchanting character of champagne. Personally I doubt that millennials are very familiar with the Flemish Masters, and the enchanting character of champagne in the chosen imagery is way too subdued – not to say nonexistent – to make anyone dream…Lastly still lifes are not really known for their conviviality and spontaneity.

AFFICHAGE_ABRIBUS_SGV_CHAMPAGNE_V2_f I am sure you have guessed by now that I am not a fan of this campaign. In fact I believe it’s “much ado about nothing”, to quote Shakespeare. I question very much that this campaign will have a positive effect in the sales figures in years to come and therefore I feel strongly that the 12 million Euros would be much better invested in more sustainable viticulture practices and picking rot out of the grapes to produce a higher quality wine sold at a higher price. (for more details see my article on wine-searcher) In other words, it would have been better to give the French consumers what they are looking for, and potentially making a further dent into the growing export market.

However, I would not go as far as to say that this campaign desacralizes champagne – a comment I have read many times these last few weeks. This may be because I do not believe champagne is by definition sacred. Indeed, it was the beverage of choice (generally without the bubbles though) at the coronation of the kings of France (or le sacre du roi in French), but that was only because the kings were coronated in Reims.

Champagne built its reputation and renown on being the best sparkling wine out there, something which today is not necessarily a given anymore. Quality means one continues to question oneself to push the boundaries to produce the most authentic product in any given circumstances. While there are many Champenois who are indeed committed to this (see producers in Terroir Champagne: the luxury of sustainable, organic and biodynamic cuvees), the majority still believes that the word “champagne’ is indeed sacred; for them it implies the quality is by default superior to any other sparkling wine, because champagne is more expensive than the other wines. This for them justifies champagne’s luxury image. Many people with these believes are hence upset with the SGV communication campaign, especially professionals with close links to the Champagne Houses tend to frown upon the campaign’s intent to free champagne from its gold plated image.

Moet-Ice-ImperialThis is probably why these same people were a lot less critical when several big brands began to promote demi-sec champagne cocktails on ice as a food pairing. An example here can be found on the official Moët & Chandon website, which suggests the following “food pairing’ for Moët Ice Imperial: “served with 3 ice cubes in a large Cabernet-style glass and mixed with any of the following ingredients (mint leaves, lime or white grapefruit zest, cucumber peel, a very thin slice of ginger, cardamom seeds or raspberries and strawberries) to heighten its freshness and aromatic intensity.”.

One could easily argue, that champagne cocktails equally desacralize champagne. Remember the wine world’s outrage at the Chinese habit of diluting their Grand Cru Bordeaux’ with coke. It is generally accepted that one does not add ice or anything else to a glass of “quality’ wine. After all, if one wants to make wine cocktails, a bland non expensive wine is most often used for the base. The rest would be considered a sign of bad taste. While there have been a few fervent opposers of the ‘champagne on ice’ promotion – eg the 2017 Terres et Vins de Champagne ‘Sans Glaçons’ campaign – most of the champagne world has been remarkably forgiving of this trend. In fact many of SGV campaign’s most fervent critics have even defended it, saying it was Champagne’s answer to Prosecco Aperol Spritz or that champagne cocktails have always existed. Doing so they conveniently forget that both Spritz and Champagne cocktails are mixed drinks – as in another (generally alcoholic) drink is added to the glass. Champagne on ice is 100% champagne, with cocktail decorations….

Moreover, it is a well known fact (at least in Champagne) that the marketing push for these types of cuvees was at least partially driven by the dubious 2011 vintage, and the trend is set to continue if the region wants to get rid of the 30% rot-infected 2017 wines in tank. The good news for the ‘champagne on ice’ producers is that their marketing push (which undoubtedly by far exceeded the SGV’s 12 million Euro budget) seems to work. For the last 5 years demi-sec export sales have increased by an average of 7.3% year on year. In 2017, demi-sec export sales made up 3.1% of the total volume exported et 2.9% of the total export value. The growth in demi sec sales was driven by Japan (+18.5%), the UK (up 40.3% year on year), the US (up 18.8% year on year) and Australia (up 39%), in other words all markets where Houses have the biggest share of the sales (averaging around 90%). No French market figures were available in the report.

Personally, I believe that both the SGV campaign and the “champagne on ice” promotion are equally distasteful in their “food pairing” choices. They both try to focus on anything but the quality of the wine in the glass. The SGV campaign masks the taste by using a glass that prevents us from truly tasting the wine, while the “demi-sec cocktails” use sugar and ice to numb the flavours. Furthermore both add ‘pairings’ which will completely take over the original taste of the wine. Yet many people feel safer with the cocktail option; for them the bling bling marketing and high price pardons the fact that ‘champagne on ice’ equally butchers the image of champagne as a quality wine. But no matter how beautiful a mirage is, its essence is optical delusion, and delusion always leads to disappointment. Or in the words of Neelam Saxena Chandra ; “In the mirage of mirror, difficult it is to distinguish between truth and fake; remove that layer of lens on your eyes, and the fake shall rattle like a snake”.

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My first impressions of the 2017 Champagne Harvest

On August 26th the CIVC published the official starting dates for the 2017 harvest, and decided that a minimum potential alcohol percentage of 9.5% was required. Since then the region has suffered several severe downpours and even a few hail storms, all ideal conditions for the development of rot.

In the last week, the % of botrytis has shot up to 38% across all grape varieties across the whole region. However, even if this is the figure communicated in the réseau matu (CIVC reports on the generic ripeness), it all depends on the samples provided by the growers. In other words it may be less dramatic. Nevertheless, no-one can deny that rot is omni present. In the last few days I have encountered several cases of grey and sour rot, as it seems that in some areas the Suziki infestations are back. The grey rot is often developed inside the grape bunch and not always easy to spot. Up till now Meunier and Pinot Noir were the most affected, but rot is starting to show in the Chardonnay as well… All of this means that cutting out rot become a priority if one wants to make a quality wine.

And this is where the problems start. The majority of grape growers in champagne do not produce their own wine;
they also are paid by the kilo, and they often pay their pickers by the kilo. There is thus little incentive to spent time in cutting out the rot as this basically means a significant reduction in income… Furthermore, as there is a significant shortage of workers, it is hard to impose conditions as teams can easily leave to pick elsewhere.

However, everything is not really doom and gloom. At the moment the weather seems to hold out, and the nights are cold; this means its harder for the rot to further develop. Furthermore, the average potential alcohol percentage is quite high (9.9% average for the region across all varieties). And many wine producers have imposed rigorous measures and they are paying their pickers more to follow them. I have tasted plenty of clean and sweet juice running of the press, and seen several press loads come in around 10.8 % potential alcohol from Montgeux to Crouttes-sur-Marne, Mareuil-sur-Ay and Cumières. But I probably have to add a footnote here that I tasted this at quality producers who have always worked more rigorous than the region average. Many of them are also working organic or biodynamic, and all of have a natural grass cover in between the rows. The grass works as a sponge, absorbing most of the excessive moisture, which seems to significantly reduce the rot effect compared to more conventional vineyards. In fact it seems to be more effective that the anti-botrytis sprays applied…
I know that I am biased but it seems once again that real sustainable grape growing pays off, even in the most difficult years…

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Rest in Peace Charles Doyard

The moon had only just began to wane and still looked full over the Mediterranean sea, and the night was balmy and star lit. We were eating a pizza paired with champagne in the sheltered garden of our cute B and B. Just when I thought everything was oh so perfect, I read on Facebook that Charles Doyard had passed away earlier that day. I shivered as a chill went through me and my mind went blank. I rubbed my eyes as I could not believe what I had just read, surely something was not right. Charles was still so very young. I continued to check FB till late into the night and by 5 AM I was wide awake again thinking about the Doyard family.

It was not that I knew Charles well, or that I had been a huge fan of his wines; yet I felt the loss profoundly. As outbreaks poured out on social media and I got up to see the sun rise over the sea, it slowly dawned on me that I was mourning the loss of life itself. Charles was so young, only 31; it really did not seem fair. I remembered the one day I had spent with him and his family, one faithful Vendredi Gras party during the 2014 harvest. I had heard about the party before, yet I had forgotten about it when I contacted Charles to ask if I could stop by to ask some questions on the harvest. He told me to come around noon and stay for lunch; I still did not click. In fact I only realized once we had arrived. I came with a NZ winemaker/lover, who was in France to help me mend my broken heart from a recent break up. Thinking back about it all now, it really was too surreal for words.

As everybody got stuck into the champagne, I asked Charles my regular harvest questions, watched the press being loaded and went to taste the grapes. In fact we were still at the press talking about the harvest – a difficult one because of the abundance of Drosophila (fruit flies) – when we were called to take our place at the table. Charles was opposite us and often disappeared when more grapes came in and press loads needed organizing. He was the only one working. I remember his eyes lit up when his wife and daughters came in, he simply was besotted. As we moved down to the cellar where rare magnums were opened, Charles only made a fleeting appearance; after desert he had gone back to work. As we all became more and more inebriated, things became really crazy when we took a last magnum to drink in the vaults of the church of Vertus. Charles was not with us…

Today I stood outside of that same church in Vertus, and once again Charles was not with us. We had come in droves to pay our last respect to this quiet, talented and humble young man. A man, like his father Yanick said so beautiful, who had been in love with life itself. As Yanick spoke about Charles’ love for his family, I remembered his eyes sparkle as he cuddled his little girls. My heart went out to those little girls, who would have to forgo that special daddy’s girl bond, which allowed me to become the person I am today. I made a mental note to ring my dad again, being overwhelmed with gratitude that I still have him in my life… I remembered seeing that same love my dad has for me in Charles’ eyes, and I prayed that there were pictures showing just that for his little girls to treasure.

Yanick also talked about Charles’ love for his work, saying how he would stay next to the fermenting barrels till deep into the night. It was so easy to visualize after having seen Charles’ commitment that sunny harvest day… I remember him showing me the enclosed vineyard at the back of the press centre; it was teeming with life. I told him I would come back to ask questions for my book, as I had been very taken with his passion for the vines and the wines. Yet I never returned… I never returned because I had seen some of the other family vineyards, soil destroyed by herbicides… As I listened to Yanick talk, it dawned on me that I stood next to a winemaker whom I had included in my book, even though he only worked the soil in parts of his property, as his family did not agree. Changing old habits is often the hardest part of the domain transmission… I remembered those sparkling eyes, and his enthusiasm and passion for his vines, and realized I had denied Charles the chance of telling me his story; even though he had shown me nothing but kindness…

I felt a deep regret, mostly for having denied those two little girls, who had lost so much already, a story of their father’s humble desire to improve the family’s viticultural practices. And as sadness washed over me, I realized that even in death, this ever humble man had shown being humble is just as important as loving life…

Thank you for all your kindness Charles, may you rest in peace…

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Kindness = Keys to the World

worldkindnessweekToday is world kindness day and God knows we really can do with more kindness in our world…

What a year it has been. This time last year, almost at the exact time I am writing this, hundreds of people were mowed down in central Paris. It came less than a year after the Charlie Hebdo attacks which had shocked the nation to its core. Four month later, it was Brussels’ turn, and on Bastille Day, France experienced its third deadly terrorist attack. This came exactly 3 weeks after the UK voted to leave the EU in the (in)famous Brexit vote, which caused a surge in racial hate crimes. Today similar hate crimes are mushrooming in the US after Donald Trump’s (‘rigged’?) election win on Tuesday. In between all of this there have been many terrorists attacks, unfortunately often under- or unreported, a humongous refugee crisis instigated by civil wars, often exasperated by western (non)intervention, and the rise of totalitarian systems dissolving the freedom of the press in Russia and Turkey. When summed up like this, it would be easy to assume that last year has been a year of doom and gloom, and things are only going to get worse… Yet, as I wrote a year ago, we should never give up on our dreams for a better world. Difficult times like these are the best opportunities to be resilient and reinforce our efforts to bring kindness to the world. Change comes from within, and every time we opt to do an act of kindness rather than to be negative, we win – even if all we did was just opening a door for another person or let someone merge in front of us in busy traffic.

Earlier this year, I stumbled upon this amazing TED talk by Orly Wahba on the power of kindness. It really inspired me and I signed up for the Live Vest Inside Daily Kind newsletter. For months I have been experiencing the contagious character of kindness, reading their energizing and stimulating messages first thing in the morning. In turn, I have noticed how this has triggered me to include more random acts of kindness into my life. And just as with my gratitude bowl, I experienced that kindness applied, just as gratitude, multiplies the acts of kindness received (and hence even more to be grateful for!!). This is why I signed up to host the Dance for Kindness event here in Champagne in August. In the end ‘my event’ did not pan out in any way I had envisaged it; in fact just as I got a little momentum going the event was cancelled by the Reims town hall for security reasons. Upon reading the news I went through the 5 stages of grief, luckily rather quickly, before I looked for a way to circumvent the system. After all the city had only prohibited me to organise a public event; this did not mean I could not still participate in the world wide Dance for Kindness event in private :-) And as you can see from the video here above, with the help of friends, I danced!!

I wanted to share this, for since Wednesday, or in fact since the end of June, I have been seeing two very different attitudes in my FB feed. There are the people who are disappointed with the way the Brexit and US presidential elections went, and who are sharing all all the negatives attached to the results; often times they wish to overturn the democratic process and somehow undo the results. In the UK people argue the referendum is not legally binding whilst in the US people feel hard done by the electoral college rules which meant that the candidate who lost the public vote, still won the presidency.


Whilst I can see the validity of these points, I much prefer the other attitude which consists of people looking for ways to change things from within; generally by fighting even harder to look out for one another and by many different acts of kindness. I love this way as it is within our reach and control and more importantly it comes from a place of love. As many people have said in the past, hatred cannot be eliminated by more hatred; only love can defeat hatred. And every act of kindness is a small battle won, and eventually will us help to win the war. We should realize that neither Brexit or Trump are the underlying problem. The real problem is FEAR, fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of differences. It is here that I feel we should focus our attention and break down this fear with acts of kindness, rather than feed it by finger pointing. By actively fighting for a more integrated world, where we reach out to everybody, including the people we most disagree with (or even blame right now), we will enable change and eventually create a better world. It really is very easy, all we need is caring more about everything in our world (the rights of people, of animals, the environment, sustainability…) and blanketing it in kindness and love! Like the title of the DFK song for this year, we really hold the keys to the world :-)

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Kick off of the 2016 Champagne Harvest in Cumières

Pinot Noir in les Hautes Chèvres

Pinot Noir in les Hautes Chèvres

It is hard to believe harvest is upon us once again. This year marks my fifth Champagne harvest, five years living in the same place really is something of a personal victory! Especially when you consider that I stil am as excited as I was in 2012 when Onne and I picked at Jacquesson! Like 2012, 2016 has turned out to be a ‘difficult’ year: after a mild winter, the Aube was hit badly by late spring frosts, and on average lost 2/3’s of their crop. The wet growing season brought more losses, as mildew thrived among the champenois vines. The hail storm of the 14th of July made for more losses in some areas, and the heatwave at the end of august caused heat damage. Needless to say there will be less grapes than other years, a lot less… Yields are estimated at 7,000 kg/ha, well under the appellation maximum, which was set at 9,500 kg/ha in July, and a long way away from last years average of 12,000 kg/ha. But even if the season has been hard, it looks that the result will be beautiful. The August sunshine worked its magic and the grapes and juices I tasted so far are very promising. Well at least the dark grape varieties; the Meuniers and Pinot Noirs ripened in a record time of 80 days, but the Chardonnays need still more time.

Meunier from Les Longues Viols  at Vincent Laval

Meunier from Les Longues Viols at Vincent Laval

So even if I started my harvest campaign once again at Vincent Laval in Cumières, this time it was not the tropical Chardonnays from Les Chênes in the press, but the very elegant old vine Meuniers from Les Longues Viols, a vineyard which never has been treated with synthetic products… It was the second marc for Vincent; he had started on Thursday with the old Meuniers from Les Hautes Chèvres. The grapes at les Hautes Chèvres were picked at 11% potential alcohol and the average yield was 6,000 kg/ha, and Les Longues Viols were slightly less ripe at 10.7% potential alcohol. Vincent had decided to pick them because the hot temperatures at the beginning of the week had caused more heat damage. In the end the yield averaged 7,000 kg/ha, and it shows that organic farming still is economically viable, even in this difficult season. Vincent explained:”We worked with 4 and sometimes 5 people in the vines all the time; we stayed on top of the grass, sometimes hoeing manually and managed the leaves with vineyard shears. I treated 18 times, alternatively with the tractor and the chenillard, using very small doses of copper and stayed well within authorised limits.”
I tasted both juices, Les Longues Viols as it ran off the press and Les Hautes Chèvres as they were being racked and love the precision and tension the juice has this year. I feel the balance between the sugars and acidity is extremely harmonious; in fact both juices were very morish, and that means a lot from a person who has never been too crazy of grape juice ;-)

I also spoke to Vincent’s uncle François, who has vineyards worked organically by Vincent and conventional vineyards worked by another service provider. According to François there is a difference in quantity, with conventional vineyards averaging about 30% higher yields. This was echoed the next day by Johann Merle and Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon of team Roederer, though it seems that Roederer has suffered bigger losses in Cumières. “We average around 5,500 kg/ha in Cumières and Aÿ; but these are our oldest vines so the quantities will go up when we harvest younger vines”, says Johann. Jean-Baptiste added: “After a lot of internal discussion we decided to apply a (chemical) antibiotic at time of flowering for all our vineyards bar the 10 hectares which are certified organic. A second dose was applied just after flowering, and afterwards the teams went back to treating with copper and sulphur. As soon as we applied the product, the situation stabilized, whilst we had around 20% more loss around flowering in our organic vineyards.” As Roederer had not begun to harvest the organic vineyards on Saturday, they could not give exact yield numbers. The vineyards will be harvested tomorrow and Tuesday – both flower days and I will go and have a look and taste at that time :-)

Pinot Noir waiting to be pressed at Champagne Roederer

Pinot Noir waiting to be pressed at Champagne Roederer

Roederer started the harvest in Cumières and Aÿ on Thursday and in Verzennay on Friday. They will not open their press centre in Avize till the 22 or 23rd, a few days after the official starting dates. Apparently many growers are not very happy about his decision, but they will have to wait till Jean-Baptiste and Johann feel the time is right to pick. Jean-Baptiste elaborates: “Normally we need to be very careful and precise with the Pinot’s from the Montagne de Reims. This time we will have to pick the right dates for the Chardonnay. I prefer to wait and pick the fruit ripe. In another week we will be closer to that time.” It is the first time since the forties that Roederer opens its press centre in Verzennay before Avize; in fact, in 2014, they had closed Avize before they started in Verzennay :-) Both Jean-Baptiste and Johann are very happy about the quality as well, and especially about the balance in the juice and the potential alcohol levels, which average between 10.5 and 11.5%. I tasted some Pinot Noir which ran off the press, one lot from young vines replanted from clone massale in Aÿ and another glass from older vines in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. The Aÿ juice was amazing with a beautiful finesse! I also tasted many Pinot Noir grapes both at the press centre (grapes were waiting to be loaded in the press) and in the vines in Hautvillers and Aÿ and again there was a lovely balance and plenty of sugars. Jean-Baptiste explained: “It is amazing but after only 80 days the grapes have reached full maturity, the skin is crunchy, the pips are ripe and there is no bitterness left. The fruit is ripe and will not change in sugar levels anymore; if we do not pick now we will just loose acidity.”

Loading the press at  Champagne Geoffroy

Loading the press at Champagne Geoffroy

His namesake Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy said the same thing almost word for word later on Saturday afternoon when speaking about his Meuniers and Pinot’s. As I arrived the press was just being loaded with Meunier and I tasted the free-flow running off the press. The juice came in at 10.7% potential alcohol and again it had a great freshness. I should note here that acidity levels in Meunier are generally lower than the other two grape varieties, but according to Jean-Baptiste they are in line with the Pinots up till now. The Geoffroys began to pick in Cumières on Thursday as well, and the press loads has come in between 10.3% and 11.8% potential alcohol, with an average yield of 8,000 kg/ha. All grapes come from Cumières bar 2 plots which were picked in Hautvillers on Friday to make the Blanc de Rose. Jean-Baptiste fears that the vineyards in Fleury-la Rivières will be more complicated as they were particularly hard hit with mildew in June, but all in all he is quite happy.”I cannot complain, the quantity is a little less but we are harvesting some exceptionally beautiful grapes!”, exclaims Jean-Baptiste. I am very happy he decided to make a little amount of Coteau Champenois Rouge for we both agreed that this year would be excellent for still wines. But as Jean-Baptiste explains:”If I make a lot of red wine I will not be able to make enough champagne…” The Pinot for the red came in at 11.8% potential alcohol and I was blown away when I tasted the macerating grapes in the cask: amazing freshness, rosewater and hibiscus notes with tart red fruit. This is a Coteau Champenois I will stock up on in a few years time!
Whilst I was there team Geoffroy destemmed some more Pinot to make the Rosé de Saignée, and once again I had no problem drinking several sips, pulp, skins and all!! So after two days tasting different Meuniers and reds from Cumières and Aÿ, I can but say 2016 is very quickly getting under my skin.

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The Bioenergetic movement in Champagne

Marc Augustin at Dvine Cellars introducing his bioenergetic Champagnes to UK press

Marc Augustin at Dvine Cellars introducing his bioenergetic Champagnes to UK press

Last week I was in London helping Marc Augustin to introduce his bioenergetic Champagnes into the UK market. In order to gather a bit of interest for his wines we had invited a handful of writers and Champagne aficionados to come and taste his Champagnes and talk about bioenergy over an apero at Dvine Cellars. We were both surprised to find out that bioenergetics is still very much uncharted territory for most of the wine world as nobody seemed to have heard of it. Strange as it may be, especially if we look at the organic and biodynamic numbers of the region, it looks that Champagne is actually at the forefront of this movement with 5 producers working according to the bioenergetic principles.

So what is Bioenerergetics? According to the free dictionary Bioenergetics is “the study of the flow and transformation of energy in and between living organisms and between living organisms and their environment. Translated in vineyard/winemaking terms this means the energy from the soil, vine and fruit is conserved during the pressing and winemaking process, so we find it back into the glass. The idea is to capture all the goodness of the terroir and mutate this into a pure terroir wine which infuses us with the same goodness coming from nature; a wine with an almost healing energy.

If we look at a bigger picture, we know that everything consists of energy, and that we are effected by whatever energy we mix with. In more scientific terms, according to the laws of quantum physics everything is energy in motion; all material can be broken down to quarks and gluons which are probably easiest described as waves or vibration. Everything in this universe has its own unique vibrational frequency and the law of vibration teaches us that we attract what we are sending out. In other words, positive vibrations attract positive vibrations.

Franck and Isabelle Pascal explaining their bioenergetic winemaking techniques

Franck and Isabelle Pascal explaining their bioenergetic winemaking techniques

The practice of bioenergetics aims to re-balance the energy body to remove disease and heal the physical body, by redirecting the excess energy to places where it is needed. It has been primarily developed in the world of alternative medicine in the last 15 years, even if it has been around for thousands of years in eastern cultures (think Quigong). In wine, the redirecting happens in the vineyard and in the winery. In Champagne, the forefathers are without a doubt Franck Pascal and Hervé Jestin, who have been working together since 2005, to develop a protocol for bioenergetic winemaking. Franck and Isabelle Pascal as well as Herve have trained in bioenergetic healing and are qualified practitioners. Applying the energy redistribution procedure at different moments in the transformation process from grape to must and from must to wine has allowed them to make very stable wines without the use of sulfites. Franck Pascal’s resulting Pacifience and Sérénité cuvees, both released in 2014, are mind blowing. This has probably a lot to do with the fact that Franck converted his whole domain to biodynamic farming in 2004 as well as the bioenergetic work. In 2013 Franck and Isabelle took the bioenergy method one step further by using the same principles in the vineyard. The result has been the purest, richest, most energy filled Champagne must and vins clairs I have ever tasted.

In 2013, Marc Augustin also decided to work according to the bioenergetic principles. Marc had converted to organic growing in 2012 and like Franck found his way to bioenergetics via the medical path his wife chose in 2012. However Marc opted to work according to the rules of Homsham (a sensitivity driven way of homeopathy, practiced in a bio-modular way, without chemicals or machines) with the help of geobiologist Alan Gauda in the vineyard and Hervé in the winery. More info can be found in this preview of Marc’s profile for my terroir champagne book,which will come out next month.

Hervé Jestin filling up barrels and informing the must

Hervé Jestin filling up barrels and informing the must

Hervé Jestin also has been making bioenergetic cuvees from 2006 onward. From 2006 till 2012 he produced the cuvee Jestin, a blend of organic and biodynamic grapes purchased from Vincent Laval and David Léclapart and from 2007 onward also some grapes from Benoit Lahaye. He made the wine together with Benoit Marguet, who is selling the same cuvee under the Sapience name after the partnership broke up in 2013. In the light of this brief bioenergetic champagne history, I have always very much seen this wine as one of Hervé’s creations, especially since I have not resonated with the 2014 or 2015 vins clairs. This is maybe because Benoit Marguet has been applying Hervé’s formula without the help from a person qualified in energy channeling and the energy has not quite balanced the way we would expect it.

Two other producers have also been experimenting with bioenergetic grape growing and winemaking: Stephane Hardy, who is bottling his first bioenergetic cuvees later this year, and Eric Schreiber, one of the three biodynamic pioneers of the Champagne region. Both Eric and Stephane have worked with geobiologists in the vineyard; Since 2008 Eric has also been working closely with Hervé in bioenergetic winemaking whilst developing his cuvee Astral (the same cuvee as Fleury’s Sonate but with a dosage of 3.5 g/l), without added sulphur. Stephane has been advised by his uncle, the original organic oenologist and Quigong trainer Georges Hardy.

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No I am not at war…. I continue to have a dream!

power-of-the-heart_web__largeTwo nights ago 129 people, most of them youngsters, were mowed down in the horrendous terrorists attacks in Paris. Whilst all the drama was going on, I was blissfully unaware. I had lost the internet earlier that day, and I was a bit lost so I decided to watch a movie friends had lent me the night before. The film I saw was “The Power of the Heart”, and I feel so blessed I did. I went to bed feeling very grateful for all the goodness and abundance in my life. I fell asleep thanking the Divine for all the opportunities I have had; for all the wonderful experiences I have lived; for all the beauty and love around me; for all the self love I have, which allows me to see the good in almost anything.

On Saturday I woke up early, still feeling great and was pleasantly surprised to receive a FB call from one of my oldest and dearest friends. As I answered I was extra happy as I realuized that getting a web call meant that the internet had been restored overnight. My friend seemed very happy to hear my voice, and kept on asking me if I was ok, so I asked him what was happening. He told me about the shooting and the line went dead. As I could not get through again I googled “Paris shootings” and read what was happening. The more I read the colder I got; I was cold because the crimes committed were unjust and incomprehensible; the chill became even worse when I saw the reactions and realized what was going to happen next. I showered and under the hot water, I remembered the movie I watched the night before and the power of the heart. I felt blessed again and returned to being mindful. Most of the day I was fine, no I was happy, I spent time with friends, we talked about our blessings in life. At lunch time I saw another friend, he shouted me lunch and later that afternoon I got to share my passion for biodynamic champagne with the group he had traveled to Champagne with. On my way home I started to think of the shootings again and from there things went pear shaped…

12238237_1187809517926202_8003789413844687420_oI watched a bit of the news at my neighbor’s and found out our President had declared WAR and a National State of Emergency. To be honest I was a bit confused, for doesn’t the fact that we talk about war mean that we tacitly accept that Friday nights shootings are just one battle among many to come??? When I came home I was overwhelmed by the international support and union on my FB timeline and again I felt blessed; blessed for the love that was sent my way and blessed for being able to express my views, for being able to say that I do not want to be part of this ‘eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth’ business. Blessed for the message a friend posted saying eye for an eye would only make the whole world blind; blessed for another friend posting we, each and everyone of us, can take responsibility by choosing love over fear. Another friend posted an article about why changing our profile picture on social media was not enough which which made a lot of sense. It pinpoints the cause of why people go off the rail and dramas occur. The reason is not, like so many would like us to believe, radical Muslim beliefs; no the reason is loneliness, isolation, a feeling of not belonging, feeling unloved and hurting badly. If we look a little closer we see that the same reasons lay behind the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012… In fact the same reason is behind most domestic homicides and suicides…

Yet we prefer to ignore this; ignoring means we have no responsibility and we can point the finger at someone or something else and by doing so create more divisions and more outcasts… Ignoring helps us to react from a position of of fear which is a lot easier than respond from a position of love. But ignoring also means the problem continues to fester and other eruptions will happen… How many more more people will have to die before we finally get it? How much more blood do we want on our hands?? Because as long as we avoid responsibility and continue to actively sow division things will not improve. All the States of Emergencies in the world will not be able to protect us from people who have been pushed so far outside of society that they feel they have nothing left to lose…

It will only push them further into the arms of whatever extremist association which promises inclusion, a sense of belonging or a better life after death. And these associations, just like most of our governments, are run by egotistical narcissists; people who are just as lost, but believe the answer to their problems lies in the control of others. They are most often not willing to sacrifice their own lives; instead they brainwash vulnerable outcasts into becoming martyrs for the ‘good’ cause. And by declaring war on them, we only give them more ammunition for we widen the divisions by creating even bigger outcasts.

© Spirit Science

© Spirit Science

Not much good has ever come from war; we may proclaim victory, yet no-one really wins in a war situation. We only have to listen to the atrocities committed under the banner of war in Rwanda, the old Yugoslavia, Afghanistan or Irak. Many people on both sides of the fence are still paying the price, even though the wars have been officially won a while ago…

This is why I feel the French President should maybe deploy more means to integrate the French society, invest more in stimulating a sense of community and belonging rather than scaremongering the people with talk of war and take their freedom away. War can only mean more battles, more retaliations and more innocent victims…

This is why I am not at war and put my energy in doing whatever I can to bring hope, bring light, bring love… Instead I dream of a better world where we chose to live in peace from a place of love rather than wage war out of fear; a world, where we give a helping hand to those in despair; a world where we focus on the good and beauty all around us, and create an environment for it to flourish; a world where we are grateful for what we have and who we are; a world run by the power of the heart…

“I have a dream” Martin Luther King famously shouted on August 28th 1963 at Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. Today, 52 years later his words ring truer than ever. He was right when he said: “Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends. And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.”

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