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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Champagne Harvest 2015 – talking biodynamics with Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon and Johann Merle of champagne Roederer


Jean Baptiste Lecaillon in the biodynamic vineyard Les Chèvres in. Cumière

 On Thursday I had lunch with Jean-Baptiste Lecaillion and Johann Merle at the Roederer press center at Aÿ. As always we exchanged a lot on biodynamic and organic farming and how it helped Roederer this growing season. 
“This year we farmed 75 hectares of the 240 hectares of Roederer’s own vineyards biodynamical. We really see the difference in the way the vines coped with the heat this summer. Our fruit is ripe, flavorsome with a great freshness”, explains Jean-Baptiste, chef de Cave  at Roederer.  Johann the vineyard manager adds “this year was an excellent year to use contact products rather than synthetic ones. This is what we did in 98% of our vineyards. We treated only with copper and sulphur. And since we have not used herbicides for several years this means we just about farmed 240 hectares organically.”


Pinot Noir at les Chèvres

In the biodynamic vineyards Roederer likes to work according to the Maria Thun calendar. This is why they chose to harvest les Chèvres (for the Brut Nature) and the Domaine Cristal Rosé on Friday and Saturday – both fruit days. “On fruit days the energy is different which makes that the fruit flavors are more concentrated; this is excellent for the Rosé and the Brut Nature”, explains Jean-Baptiste. 

On Friday we met at les Chèvres to see the harvest. The vineyard used to belong to Pascal Leclerc till 2010 but Roederer has been purchasing the juice since 2002. The vineyard is split in 3 parts, and planted with Chardonnay, Meunier and Ponot Noir in equal parts. The 3 grape varieties are harvested the same day and are pressed together in tradional Coquard presses in the press centre of Aÿ.  This is very unusual as the different grapes varieties have different ripening cycles. 

Roederer press centre in Aÿ

 The Aÿ press centre has 5 tradional 4000 kg Coquard Presses. It is one of 3 press centers Roederer owns. In Verzennay they have a centre with second generation Coquard presses (pressoir à met tournante) whilst in Avize they press with pneumatic presses. 
All in all Jean-Baptiste is very happy with the harvest up till now. “2015 will be a great year, we have a lot of dry material, and low pH’s, so we have lots of terroir specific flavors and a great freshness. This year it really paid to be very present in the vineyard during the growing season as it is this which guarantees the beautiful result we see”, concludes Jean-Baptiste. 

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Champagne Harvest 2015 – portrait of 2 harvesters: Daniel and Carl


Daniel and Carl

On Wesnesday I spoke to Daniel and Carl who were picking Pinot Noir in la Bien Aimée for Jérôme Bourgeois. Daniel and Carl met Jérôme when he worked with them in Niort. Carl elaborate: “we took Jérôme under our wing when he came to the company to do his stage and we always stayed in contact.”
Both men are now retired, but worked in sales before. It is the first time they come and work harvest and will have cut grapes for 3 days. “We started on Monday and today is our last day”, says Carl. Daniel adds: ” we really enjoyed picking even if the work is quite physical. We can feel it in our back!” 

Daniel is also a distributor for Jérôme in in Niort and sold about 2000 bottles of his champagne mainly to private clients. He really enjoyed learning more about the champagne making process. “It’s been really good to see how everything is done. We pick the grapes, have had a look at the press, and Jérôme explained us the winemaking process. I feel I understand the champagne making process a lot better now”, explains Daniel. 

Carl really enjoyed the experience s well. “We work with people of all ages, the atmosphere is fantastic, the work is hard but we laugh a lot and get to enjoy the sunshine” , he concludes. 

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Champagne harvest 2015 – tasting juice from Vitry at Champagne Legras et Haas 


chardonnay from Vitry

Last night we visited Jérôme Legras, one of the 3 brothers at Legras et Haas. Legras et Haas press 35 hectares during the harvest: 23 hectares from Chouilly – of which 18 hectares are family owned and 12 hectares from Vitry. They vinify a further 25 hectares. 

When we arrived in Chouilly, a few trucks of Chardonnay of Vitry came in. The grapes were looking very healthy and ripe and there was no sign of oidium. Jerome says “We have never had such ripe grapes. Our average potential alcohol potential is around 10.8. We have become so used to the ripe grapes that we were really disappointed to have a marc at 10,2% this morning; other years we would be really happy with 10,2%. “

Jérôme in one of his vines at Chouilly


After having tasted some juice, including some amazing Meunier from Vitry, we joined Jérôme yo take an alcohol sample in one of his vibes. He  has 4 hectares at Chouilly of which 2 hectares are farmed organically. We visited one of these vines. Jérôme would like to make some coteau de blanc from this vineyard, and expects to pick the grapes toward the end of next week. 

The press centre has 2 8000 kg pneumatic presses that turn around 16-18 hours a day. Legras et Haas started harvest on Monday and expect to continue till the end of next week. “If everything continues like this we will have a fantastic year” , concludes Jérôme. 

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Champagne Harvest 2015 – Mineral in the making at Pascal Agrapart 


Chardonnay ready to be pressed

 This morning I visited the Côtes des Blancs for the first time this harvest. 
There has been a lot of talk of oidium problems however the grapes looked gorgeous at Pascdl Agrapart. “I am really happy, we are receiving ripe, healthy grows with lots of flavours”, says Pascal

When we arrived Chardonnay from Les Biones in Cramant were in the press. les Bio de saignée s one of the vineyards which is used for Mineral, my favorite wine of Pascal. The juice was sweet and almost dky with a lovely mineralogy and freshness to it. Pascal told me the grapes had come in at 11,5% potential alcohol.


pressing chardonnay for mineral

 Pascal picks with 4 teams of 7 people all paid by the kilo. Nathalie, his wife is happy they changed the system as it makes the cooking a lot easier. “We used to have 50 to 55 people here every meal,now it’s s lot easier; we are 15 at lunch time and 25 at night”, says Nathalie. Agrapart a employees check the cases once picked to make sure the quality is up to standard. It’s important this year with oidium issues even if Pascal is not effected.he continued to treat with small doses of sulfur all summer long so the disease never developed in his vineyard. 

Pascal has two tradional Coquard 4000 kg presses, that way he can press the grapes as soon as they come in. 

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