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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Champagne Harvest 2015 – harvesting the bioenergetic Clos de Cumières with Hervé Jestin

Hervé Jestin in the Clos de Cumières

Hervé Jestin in the Clos de Cumières

The Clos de Cumieres is a 0,5 organic vineyard owned by biodynamic wine guru Hervé Jestin. He bought the land and big farmhouse bordering the Clos from the Leclerc family in 2009 and has been vinifying the parcel since 2010. “Whilst working for Leclerc Briant I realized the fruit from the Clos was very very special. It is a place with an enormous energy”,  explains Hervé

The Clos is planted with 50% Chardonnay and 50 % Pinot Noir. Since Hervé consults to many sparkling wine domains all over the world, as well as being the cellar master for Leclerc Briant, the day to day vineyard tasks are looked after by organic grower Vincent Laval; however Hervé applies all biodynamic applications and treatments. Vincent’s harvest team also picked and pressed the fruit: On the 5th of September the Chardonnay was picked, and the Pinot followed on the 10th. The total yields this year were about 4000 kg (so 8000 kg per hectare) which is enough for just over 3300 bottles. 


Hervé filling up the barrels with the last of the Pinot Noir Taille

Hervé transferred the must directly into barrel to transport the wine to the Chateau d’Avize where the wine will be made. Next year he hopes to vinify in the Clos’s farmhouse. “We have started work to install a winery in the old farmhouse. It is here that I want to make the wine on the future”, explains Hervé.

Overall he is very happy with this years harvest in general and particularly with the quality of the grapes in the Clos. “The energy in the must is 10,000 times greater than the energy in most wines. This is because we really focus to increase the vibrations in the vineyard. Having such great energy as well as a great density of the must will allow us to protect the juice without having to use sulfur as well as making a high energy wine”, elaborates Hervé. 
Very few people work in this way and up to date there are only 3 other bioenergetic cuvees beside the Clos de Cumières: Sérenité by Franck Pascal, Jestin and Sapience. The last two wines are more or less the same cuvée made by Hervé and Benoit Marguet from 2006 till 2013. Benoit continued the Sapience project alone after that. 

The first Clos de Cumières (2010 vintage) will be released at the end of the year.

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Champagne Harvest 2015 –  harvesting la Rue des Noyers at Benoit Dehu


Benoit in his brand new barel hall

 On Friday, a biodynamic fruit day, Benoit started harvesting his Rue des Noyers vineyard. Well, since his wee accident it is not actually him going into the vineyard but he is very much in charge in the winey. Benoit fell 5 meters to the ground when helping with the finishing touches of his new barrel hall. Luckily he only hurt his leg, but even if he is healing he cannot walk just now. “It definitely required some changes, but with the help of a walkie talkie, my phone, crutches and 2 wheelchairs I am managing just fine” , says Benoit.


meunier running from the press

 Overall he is very happy with the quality of the harvest. “The Meunier s this year is concentrated, healthy and full of flavour; I am sure we will be able to make some great wines this year”, says Benoit. He feels it I the tight year to double his production, keeping all of the organic Rue des Noyers parcel as well as an old vine Meunier plot from which he will make a single vineyard cuvée as well. He is also adding a rosé de saignée in Meunier from la Rue des Noyers and is continuing his different rootstock project. “I realized that different rootstock gives different flavour to the grapes juice and wine; this is why we are making 4 white Meuniers from la rue des Noyers”, explains Benoit. The Meunier itself is clone massale for the whole Rue des Noyer parcel.


Meunier for Rosé de Saignée

Whilst we were there, the Meunier for the rosé de saignée arrived. “I will let the grapes cool down overnight and start the mace ration process in the morning”, says Benoit. He is the only one to make 4 white champagnes and one rosé as well as a red and white coteau from the same parcel – a daring and very innovative take on champagne making!!! 

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Champagne harvest 2015 – enjoying a sunny Friday at Champagne Tarlant en Vendanges

the core harvest team at Tarlant

As the sun climbed higher in the sky it became t-shirt weather as I pulled up to Champagne Tarlant. It seems it’s always sunny when I visit the Tarlants during harvest; maybe because Benoit, Melanie, Micheline and Jean-Marie are always full of love and light! Or maybe because I know I will drink a little biberon ;-) whatever the reason I knew Friday was going to be great when I gave Melanie a big hug whilst tasting a few delicious Meunier grapes of les Echaudées.

The Tarlants waited for optimum ripeness and started harvest on Wednesday with the Meuniers in Oeuilly. “The Meuniers are small and concentrated this year, full of flavour and will make wines with great potential”, says Benoit.  He adds“it is one of the best harvests we have had in a long time. We have a lot less stress in the winery than last year, the fruit is ripe and healthy and the pH’s are low.”


loading tbe press with Meunier of Les Echaudées in Celles les Condés

On Friday the Tarlant family also started harvesting in Celles les Condés on the Aisne, and we were there as the first grapes came in.  All in all they employ a little more than 40 harvesters, mainly of two families of travelers who have been picking for the Tarlants for over 20 years. Besides the family, there are another 6 people employed in the cellar as well as one tractor driver. The family has two 6000 kg Coquard à met incliné presses and every press cycle (sert) is kept separately in small tanks.  This year Benoit bought more settling tanks to be able to vinify in an even more precise way. 

small volume settling tanks at Tarlant

We joined the Tarlant family and the cellar staff for a delicious rabbit lunch, which gave me the opportunity to ask Benoit a few more questions about the growing season and novelties for this years vinification. “We mainly treated with plant teas such as chamomile against oidium and there were times I was worried about the oidium pressure. However as we kept up the treatments we did not get hit by the disease. We also have very little rot, a sign that alternative treatments do work”, explains Benoit.

There are two big novelties this year in the vinification. First of all the new cellar engineered by Jean Marie was just finished in time for harvest, which means Benoit has a lot more space in the winery. 


round Silice and Quartz amphorae

The second novelty are 5 round Silice and Quartz  amphorae. “The Silice and Quartz mix is finer than cement and has the advantage of less loss than clay”, explains Benoit. He already trialed one Silice and Quartz amphora since 2013 with Chardonnay and was really happy with the result. Now that he has 6 in total he will be able to vinify the 3 varieties and maybe make another special cuvée. Watch this space!!! 

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Champagne Harvest 2015 – honey and grape juice from Chouilly at Champagne Lenoble


meunier in Lenoble’s vineyard in Damery

 On Friday morning I visited Christian Holthausen and Antoine Massagne at Champagne Lenoble. Their harvest started a few months before the official starting date when the collected the honey from the beehives they keep in the vineyards in Chouilly. “we feel it is important for the biodiversity to reintroduce bees in the vines. We picked a vineyard with some trees around it as the bees connotnlive of the vines alone”, explains Antoine. 

The grape harvest started on Monday in Bisseuil and Damery and Wednesday in Chouilly. Lenoble owns 10 hectares in Chouilly planted with Chardonnay , 6 in Bisseuil in Pinot Noir  and 2,5 hectares of Meunier in Damery. They purchase another 1,5 hectares of Meunier of 2 growers in Damery.


the 3 traditional presses at Lenoble

When I arrived they were pressing Chardonnay from Chouilly which we tasted. The potential alcohol degree was 10,5% and the juice had a great freshness. “We are very happy with the quality of the fruit coming in. We have had no problems at all with oidium on the whites and the reds also have good sanity”, says Christian. Antoine agrees, but he would have preferred a bit more quantity. He explains; ” Our vines have grass in between the roes and with this heat they really suffered which is resulting in a smaller quantity, especially for the Pinot  and the Meunier. ” Anyoine hoped that the Chouilly vineyards will be able to make up the difference but he is not sure. 

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