Champagne harvest – the bioenergetic cuvée Liberance en primeur at Franck Pascal

The amazing bioenergetic rosé de maceration in the making

The amazing bioenergetic rosé de maceration in the making

My last visit this harvest season was at Franck and Isabelle Pascalle in Baslieux-sous-Chatillon. I arrived at the same time as the last grapes for the day.

Franck and Isabelle have been farming biodynamically since 2002 and for the last 5 years they have taken things another step forward by applying bioenergy in the winery and in the vineyard. “We aim to raise the vibrations in the vineyard and in the winery. Bioenergy heals blockages and bring extra life to the vine and later the wine”, explains Franck.

Working with energy also allows him to not add any sulphur when pressing, which is a really great thing as it allowed me to taste all the juice from the beginning of harvest! Tasting the different juices I immediately knew that the intensity and vibrancy of the juice is something which is rarely experienced in Champagne. The Meunier tasted like freshly pressed peach juice and showed no signs of imbalance or oxidation. The only thing I can maybe compare it with is the juice from the Clos de Cumières I tasted with Hervé Jestin; probably because Hervé and the Pascals have worked closely together for the last 5 years to further explore this way of working.

The grapes arriving on the truck were from the 3 hectares Franck and Isabelle took over from Franck’s father in November last year. They immediately converted the new vineyard to organic and biodynamic farming, in line with the 4 hectares they have been farming this way for over 10 years. From past experience Franck has learned that it is a lot better to work the soil by horse so this is what he chose to do for the 3 hectares in conversion.

Whilst in conversion they want to keep the grapes separately and thus have created a new cuvee, Liberance. Liberance will be 3 way blend of Meunier, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, made according to the principles of bio-energy. The cuvee will be the little brother of the Sérénité, Franck’s top cuvée, as both chamapgnes are elaborated according to the same principles. The only difference is that Liberance is,not certified yet and that it will only be on sale en Primeur.

Whilst en primeur is a very well established system in the Bordelais, it is a first for the Champagne region. Franck chose to go down the en primeur route to be able to reinvest the sales profits back into the vineyard. “The biodymic conversion is expensive, especially when one wants to work the soil by horse. However, it was the only way for us to take over my fathers land. It really did not make sense to convert bit by bit. Selling en primeur willhelp pay for the investments we have been making. At the same time the customer will be able to buy a top cuvee at a fraction of the price”, elaborates Franck

The cuvée is called Liberance, because it allows Franck and Isabelle to stay true to themselves by converting the new vineyards all at once whilst at the same time providing champagne lovers with an affordable unique bioenergetic cuvée. Total production for Liberance will be around 25,000 bottles.

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Champagne Harvest 2015 – tasting Meunier on the vines and straight out of the press at Champagne Loriot

La retrousse

La retrousse

I love visiting the Loriots in harvest, I love eating their delicious Meunier grapes whilst listening to all the banter, laughing! This year I took Jess, a friend from New York whom I had spend a day with working selling wine more than 7 years ago; almost another lifetime if you want. But Facebook has ways to keep us connected and as destiny had it Jess was in Champagne to enjoy a few hours of Meunier immersion at Champagne Loriot :-)

Michel Loriot has Meunier vineyards on the steep hills of Festignty and the neighboring village of Nesle-le-Repons, where the pickers where on Thursday when we visited.

We arrived just before lunch, in time to see the second retrousse of a press load of Meunier and taste the juice, before joining the family, winery workers and drivers for a spaghetti harvest meal, prepared by Michel’s mother.

Harvesting Meunier in Nesle-le Repons

Harvesting Meunier in Nesle-le Repons

AAlban Petit, Michel’s son in law, is in charge of the pressing of the grapes in the traditional coquard press. He is very happy with the grapes he has received so far: “We started on Monday (7 September), and the grapes have just been beautiful! Up till now we have predominantly pressed Meunier and we are all very happy with the quality”, he says. Michel adds: “The grapes are being picked at perfect maturity, our average press load has a potential alcohol degree of 10.5%, which is great for Meunier; 2015 is looking to be a fantastic year for Meunier.”

fter lunch Martine took us to visit the vineyards and see the harvesters. The Loriots have 16 harvesters which they pay by the kilo. The vines were very green as Michel had left the grass grow in between the vines, never cutting it during the very dry summer, resulting in it turning into straw. The September rain brought life back to the grass just in time for the harvest.

Martine expected harvest to finish on the 12th.

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Champagne harvest 2015 – the end of harvest at Champagne de Sousa and Champagne Moussé

Eric de Sousa filling up barrels

Eric de Sousa filling up barrels

On Thursday I visited Champagne de Sousa, getting ready for the end of harvest. I had wanted to visit a few times before but somehow always something came up preventing me. Charlotte told me they started harvest on the 8th of September and they are expected to finish today. The de Sousa family have 10 hectares of own vineyards which they farm biodynamically and they also buy grapes of a further 2.5 hectares. All grapes are pressed in the 2 press centers in Avize. 70% of their grapes are Chardonnay, 20 % Pibnot Noir and 10 Meunier.
Charlotte is very happy with the quality of the harvest:” All the marcs have been between 10.6 and 11.5% potential alcohol. We harvested most of the grapes before the rain, but the rain did not really have an impact as we had a lot of wind as well. We have seen very little disease, barely any oidium, and no grey rot since the rains either. We have sped up the tempo since the rain, but up till now everything is really looking very beautiful; I don’t believe things will change in the next few days”

Wooden egg at Champagne de Sousa

Wooden egg at Champagne de Sousa

De Sousa have 2 4000 kg presses, one Coquard à met incliné and one pneumatic press. Charlotte feels the Coquard presses more precise and gives clearer juice.

Just before harvest, the de Sousa’s received a wooden egg, made by Taransaud. The egg is semi flat at the bottom and top, and is held together by metal wire in between the wood. It is a first in the region and will be used for this years vinification of the cuvee 3A. Eric explains: “The currents in the egg will cause natural movement of the wine, just as in the cement Nomblot eggs; however, we will have the added benefit of micro oxygenation associated to vinifying in barrel. We are very excited to see the results in a few months time.”

The rest of the must is either fermented in enamel or stainless steel tanks or more often in barrel. “I really like to vinify in wood, I believe it adds more complexity to the wines”, explains Eric. The barrels are generally several wines old as the idea is not to oak the wine, rather to add complexity through micro oxygenation and lees steering.

The wines will remain on their lees till early spring.

groups photo at Champagne Moussé

groups photo at Champagne Moussé

Later in the afternoon we stopped off at Cédric Moussé just as his harvesters pulled in hooting and cheering to celebrate the end of harvest. Céderic is very happy with this harvest, both in terms of quality and quantity. ” I had a few parcels of old Meunier with really low yields but overall I was surprised by the abundance of grapes”, says Cédric. He adds: “This is amazing especially as it is the second year we have worked completely without using chemical products and the year has been very dry.”

He believes that working of the soil made a huge difference this year, especially for the quality of the grapes. ” We have not had to sort the grapes, we had no rot or other diseases, the grapes were very ripe, coming in at average around 10.5 to 10.8% potential alcohol, which is unheard of for Cuisle!”

Cedric with his Rosde maceration de Meunier

Cedric with his Rosé maceration de Meunier

With such beautiful grapes, Cédric decided to make two rosé de maceration, one of which he will bleed off to make some red wine for his regular rosé.

Just before harvest Cédric invested in smaller tanks, which allows him to vinify per press load and vineyard. “With our new tanks we can keep the different vineyards separately all the way, allowing us to decide at the last moment to blend them or to make a single vineyard cuvee”, elaborates Cédric. Just before harvest I tasted Cédric’s first single vineyard Meunier which blew me away, so I am very excited about this new development!!

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Champagne harvest 2015 – choucroute at the Boulards to lift the mood on this rainy last day of harvest.

lady bird hiding from the rain in between the chardonnay

In between class preparations I managed to visit the Boulards on this wet Wednesday. It rained cats and dogs when Delphine Richard took me out to the winery to talk about this years harvest. It was her first of being totally in charge now that Francis Boulard retired in July. 

Delphine started harvest on the 9th of September with the old Meunier vines which came in at around 10,5%  potential alcohol. “I am very happy with the quality of the Meunier, even if the quantity was a little less than expected”, says Delphine. She adds:“the yields were higher in the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, so we made the appellation with a little left for the reserve inviduelle.”

Delphine is all smiles as the old vine chardonnay runs out of the press

The last vineyard to be harvested were the old vine Chardonnay in Courcy. It was coming in around 10,8% potential alcohol despite the heavy rain. “We had 80 mm of rain between the 25th August and today, yet it did not dilute the grapes. Instead we have plenty of flavor, good acidity and low pH’s”, explains Delphine. 

We flee the rain to eat the delicious choucroute prepared by Jeanne Boulard ( or dame Jeanne as Francis likes to refer to his lovely wife). Nicolas, Delphine’s brother joined us at the table whilst telling us how wet it was in the vineyard.: “Water is running down the hill, like small streams, we will he happy up finish later today.”

We time traveled from the Chardonnay juice to the Blanc de Blanc Vieilles Vignes champagne which was delicious with the meal! 

Francis arrived later; the good grandfather had picked up Delphines kids from school. 

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Champagne harvest 2015 – a day in the vineyard and winery with the Lahaye family

Benoit and Etienne Lahaye in Le Jardin de la Grosse Pierre

On Wednesday I spent the day with the Lahaye family. After lunch Benoit first took me to the Argentière vineyard where we checked on the ripeness, before joining his pickers in the youngest part of the Jardin de la Grosse Pierre.
For the last 10 years, Benoit has employed a Turkish family paid by the kilo to pick. “We really struggled to find good pickers by the hour. So we started to work with Ismael, and have not looked back since”, says Benoit. The family works autonomously and after 10 years really knows the vineyards and the way of working Benoit requires.
They also like the fact the vineyards are biodynamic. “We work in a healthy environment; we can take some of the leaves to make dolmades”, explains Ismael.

This year there are plenty of grapes, and the bunches are big and heavy as well as healthy. Benoit did a Silice treatment a week before harvest which had a big impact on the development in the last week.

Ismael and his family in the vineyard

“The quality is awesome, all the potential alcohol degrees have been between 10,2 and 11%. The pH’s are just under 3 and the acidity levels are good. It is hard to believe there is such an abundance of grapes at this quality”, elaborates Benoit. The plentiful harvest makes for long days at the press; on top of this Benoit also presses the grapes of Stephane Hardy, a fellow organic grower based in Tour sur Marne. He has a 2000 kg pneumatic press, which allows him to press plot by plot, and does about 4 press loads a day. His sons Etienne and Valentin are very much involved in the harvest. Etienne is in charge of dropping off and collecting the cases of grapes, whilst Valentin is in charge of the running of the winery.

Tamise, Baltasar and Balsamine

Benoit lahaye uses natural yeasts for his first fermentation and this year he strted a unique project with two other Bouzy growers.“Valentin checks the yeast quality before we male the pieds de cuve by examining the form of the yeast cells under a microscope. This allows us to discard faulty strains and select healthy ones3, explains Benoit.
The Lahayes expect the harvest to finish early next week; Tamise, Baltasar and Balsamine are looking forward to bring the center of attention again at that time! 

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Champagne harvest 2015 – social gatherings at the Pressoir Rodez


visitors around the pressoir at Eric Rodez.

Harvest is a festive time in Champagne, and many people from young to old like to sample the atmosphere.  Especially the traditional presses speak to the imagination. This is why Eric and Mica Rodez often welcome visitors in their press center. When I visited on Monday afternoon, there was a group of students from  Chalons-en-Champagne as well as a group of pensioners from the local retirement home. “When people ask to visit. my always try to accommodate and welcome them, even if it s not always easy. But I feel it’s important to share this part of our work with the local community”, says Eric. 
The two groups gathered around the press just in time to see the retrouse whilst Eric and Mica explained the process. 


one of the two tradional presses

Eric has two tradional presses and is an official press centre for Veuve Cliquot growers. They started harvest last week.  Eric began to pick on Monday (14 September). He started with the Chardonnay and expected to only tackle the Pinot noir toward the end of the week. “The fruit is very healthy so I decided to wait for the optimum ripeness”,explains Eric. 


chardonnay about to be picked

 When I asked his opinion about the harvest he tentatively said he believed it would be a great harvest: “We only started to pick today. Everything looks great so far, but as last year was my very best harvest ever I have great expectations. We will see how things measure up in a few days.” However like many others he believed that the working of the foil and the biodynamic way of working will make a big difference this year.  “When you create a good energy in the vine, the balance is easier foubd. When a plant is healthy on top, it will also be healthy under ground and this shows especially in s dry year like 2015”, elaborates Eric. He adds: “We really can see the difference in material, minerality and length present in the juice.”

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Champagne Harvest 2015 – Portrait of a harvester: Renaud Hans

Renaud Hans

Renaud Hans

Renaud Hans has been working harvest at david Léclapart for the last 5 years. He started of as picker, but has been a débardeur – emptying buckets and moving cases in and out of the rows – for the last 2 years. Before working for David he had already 5 harvests under his belt in Verzenay. When asked why he chose to change he explains:” I wanted to work for an organic grower; I am a keen gardener and I wanted to learn more about organic and biodynamic farming.”

He had heard about David and contacted him in September, which is pretty late. But as destiny wanted it, someone had just pulled out of the harvest at David and Renaud was hired. Over the years Renaud says he has learned a lot from David, and he feels he learns something new every time he comes back. He changed careers a few years ago and exchanged the world of IT to the one of sustainable energy for the region of Reims. Like many locals, Renaud takes holidays to work harvest. He lives in Reims and goes home every day. He really likes the atmosphere of harvest- and feels its fun to catch up with old friends. Even if this is his 5th year at David, he is very aware he is not part of the ‘anciens’ yet.

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Champagne harvest 2015 – a morning in the vines with David Léclapart

David working with his pickers

David working with his pickers

On Monday morning I spent a few hours with David Léclapart in his Cote des Prés vineyard. He was one of the 3 débardeurs for his pickers, emptying buckets of grapes and bringing the full cases to the end of the row for pick up. He really enjoyed being out in the vineyard and participating in the picking: “This is the best time of the year, it is now that we see the results of all our work. I feel it is important to be out in the vineyard now, to lead by example and cheer everybody on, or make sure no grapes are forgotten”, he says.

David has a team of 16 harvesters, most of them – bar a few locals – are fed, watered and housed by him and his mother who is in charge in the kitchen. Most people come year after year but there always are a few new people, this year a sommelier from Barcelona, another one from Holland and a third one from Germany. The atmosphere is warm and a lot of banter and laughs can be heard in between the vines.

Juice from La Cote des Prés straight out of the press

Juice from La Cote des Prés straight out of the press

All in all David is very happy about the quality of the harvest, even if he is not really sure what his exact quantity will be. “I have some vines with lots of grapes, yet other vines are less loaded; we will see what the average quantity will be at the end of harvest”, says David. He adds: “But whatever the quantity, my grapes are beautiful and healthy which is the most important!”/em>
David started harvest on the 13 September and should be finished by the 21st. He was not really worried about the rain which has been forecasted as he feels it will not impact on the quality. ” Biodynamic grapes have thicker skins so are generally more protected”, says David.

David does not have a press instead; he presses at a childhood friend Fabrice Bertemes. Fabrice has a square traditional Coquard press.When I visted the press after lunch David’s grapes were being pressed so I got to taste the juice, wxhich was very ripe, with great flavors and good acid profile. La Cote des Prés is on of the parcels used to make l’Artiste.

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Champagne harvest 2015 – portrait of a harvester: Jacques Bony and Alexandre Budan

Jacques Bony in front of a Tarlant vine in Oeuilly

Jacques Bony in front of a Tarlant vine in Oeuilly

Last week I interviewed two different harvesters at Champagne Tarlant. Jacques Bony, a traveller, has been working harvest for the Tarlant family for at least 20 years. “I first came when I was still very young, and ever since we have come back year in year out”, Jacques explains. When asked what he likes the most about the harvest he answers the work, and indeed Jacques seems a lot more at ease carrying cases and emptying buckets in the vines than talking to me.

His family are travelers and seasonal workers, criss crossing the whole of France working several seasonal agricultural jobs. Even though they all have houses in Clermont Ferrand, Jacques and his family prefer the camping life in the open air. “I really like going from place to place seeing different pats of France and catching up with old friends”, Jacques explains. It is the lifestyle he has always known and he loves the freedom it brings. Since Jacques and his family know the different Tarlant vines really well they generally cut the single vineyards and are paid by the kilo. The are proud of their work and are meticulous in sorting and avoiding grapes.

Alexandre Budan loading the press

Alexandre Budan loading the press

Alexandre Budan on the other hand is only working his first harvest at Tarlant even if he is no novice to picking grapes in Chamapgne. He explains: “I am from this village and I have picked grapes and worked as a debardeur all through my teens. Now that I live in Perpignon I felt harvest was a great opportunity to come back and spend some time with my family.”
Alexandre’s mother works in the office at Tarlant that is why he chose to work harvest here. He spends half his time in the vines as a debardeur (emptying baskets of grapes and moving the cases in and out of the rows) and the rest of the time he helps out at the press and in the cellar. He prefers working at the press as he feels the work is less physical. “At the press we have peak periods when we have to load the press, but the rest of the time the work is easier on the body; when you are in the vines as debardeur or picker the work is a lot harder on the body”, explains Alexandre.

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Champagne harvest 2015 – organic and biodynamic grape syncronicities at Aurélien Lurquin, Emilien Feneuil and Leclerc Briant

Aurelien's Meunier caviar!

Aurelien’s Meunier caviar!

This weekend it seemed my visits were very interlinked in more ways than one. Synchronicities had started to happen in a big way already on Friday, when I bumped into Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon and later saw my beloved pick grapes in the biodynamic Chèvres vineyard in Cumières. Later in the evening when I stopped off at Vincent Laval, I bumped into Hervé Jestin, who spoke about Aurlién Lurquin’s excellent juice he bought this year for Hervé Jestin.

I thus decided to visit both Aurélien and Leclerc Briant on Saturday. Aurélien was pretty happy about the harvest up till now even if he felt he was not completely ready before he started. I had expected to start around the 20th of September, but when I returned from holidays I saw the sugar levels were pretty high already in the grapes.In the end we started on the 9th, explains Aurelien. Most of his grapes are sold to Leclerc Briant, but he will keep a little less than 2000 kg of the grapes to make a Meunier and Chardonnay cuvee, as well as 450 kg of old vine Pinot Noir (planted by his grandfather) to make some coteau rouge.

Aurélien and Emilien discussing grape and wine deliveries

Aurélien and Emilien discussing grape and wine deliveries

Whilst I joined Aurélien in the cellar to taste some of the must, we spoke about different things: Hervé, different ways to suphite wine – Aurélien was particularly interested in the natural sulfur system Jérome Bourgeois uses – and the possibilities for him to make more wine himself in the future. I then all at once saw the tank with Emilien Feneuil’s organic juice. I had heard about Emilien at Aurélien Laherte earlier in the year and was very happy to hear he will start top make his own wines this year. He is keeping just over 4000 kg of fruit – half Chardonnay and half Pinot Noir – and his fruit is pressed in Aurélien’s 2000 kg traditional Coquard press. Even if did cause some practical tank issues it shows how the organic/biodynamic community is all linked cause just at that time Emilien arrived with more grapes and I got to meet him!
The syncronicity is also very meaningful on a personal level because of how I met Aurélien. More coincidences occured as just when I was about to leave, Frédéric Zeimett froim Leclmerc Briant called Aurélien to organize the next juice delivery, so I could tell him I was on my way:-)

WI in the Leclerc Briant's new press center and winery

WIP in the Leclerc Briant’s new press center and winery

In Epernay Frédéric Zeimett is very happy with his first harvest in the new winery, even if the winery and press center are far from finished. The tanks have not arrived in time so we are camping out a bit, but it is amazing to be able to press and receive juice here, he says. Leclerc Briant received their first juice on Monday the 7th September from Montgueux; at that time their press was still awaiting official approval from the CIVC which came later that day. They pressed their first grapes in Epernay in their 4000 kg Coquard press à met incliné on Thursday the 10th.

Frédéric explained that only certified organic or biodynaic grapes are kept, and the grapes from the vineyards in conversion are sold off in juice. At the moment about 4 hectares of their 8 hectares are certified, they purchase certified grapes from another 12 hectares. Frédéric is very pleased with this years quality and yield/ “The average yields are between 8000-11000 kg/hectare, which is what we expected. The potential alcohol percentage averages around 10,8% which is perfect, the grapes and musts have fabulous flavor profiles, a good density and low pH. Everything is here for an excellent vintage”, elaborates Frederic.

Leclerc Briant 's lying egg amphora

Leclerc Briant ‘s lying egg amphora

Besides investing in a new winery, Leclerc Briant also bought two lying egg amphora. When I visited one of them was filled with fermenting Chardonnay from Montgueux whilst the other contained Meunier from Hautvillers’ Basse Prière vineyard. I was just listening to the ferments when Hervé Jestin came in (yet another syncronicity!) to explain that the laying egg is actually a lot more natural form, as this is how the eggs are when they are in a chicken’s nest. I am interested to taste the wines from amphora in a few months time!!

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