Friday, November 29, 2013
by Paige Donner
All photos copyright Paige Donner 2013 All Rights Reserved
Paige is the host of World of Wine radio program on WorldRadioParis.
Planning a trip through Champagne during harvest time might at first feel like mission impossible, but if you use a few basic principles by which to plan your itinerary it can be more gratifying than imagined being at the center of all the harvest action. Certainly it's guaranteed to be visually and sensorially rewarding.
First thing to do is check to see when floraison, or flowering of the buds, were for the year. That information is easy to come by in any of the wine journals or online. From that reference point, count about 100 days out and these are your dates for harvest time, give or take a couple of days. So with a solid three months in advance to plan your exact days of arrival and departure to coincide with the actual 10 days to 2 weeks of harvest, plenty of options will still be available for you when it comes to booking hotels and harvest time excursions.
This year's Champagne harvest had a relatively late flowering, in parts it was the end of June, in others it was the beginning of July. Which putvendanges this year into the first two weeks of October. A remarkable contrast with, say, the harvest of 2011 one of the earliest Champagne harvests in recorded history. That year put harvest time, a date of official decree by the CIVC, Comité Interprofessionel du vin de Champagne, late August /early September.
In the strictly managed appellation of Champagne, the grapegrowers do not have the right to harvest when they will. "We are obliged to wait for the dates given to us by the official CIVC decree," explains Anouk Westeel, Champagne Bollinger's communications person. With 164 hectares owned by this venerable house, they wait with bated breath every harvest season for the CIVC announcement. Hence, the diverse region sees a staggered harvest with some areas beginning sooner than others.
"All the vineyards you see spread out before you, they're a patchwork of parcels owned by different houses; Not all of this belongs to Bollinger," further explains Westeel, looking out from atop her preferred vantage point, the pinnacle of the very select Côte des Enfants, a steeply perched plot of Pinot Noir just up and behind the village of Aÿ that is used for their prestige cuvées. "Other of our vineyards are in the Côte des Blancs, for example, which already started harvesting a few days ago" she points out.
With a bit of astute planning, then, a harvest time trip through Champagne can be timed to be at the center of the action for the duration.The key to getting the richest experiences out of harvest season in Champagne is to skirt the bigger cities of Reims and Épernay and hug the smaller towns and villages such as Avize, Aÿ, Hautvillers and Rilly-la-Montagne. To do this, your own transportation is essential.
From Paris there's a fast train to Reims (45 minutes) or a slow train to Épernay (1hour 15 minutes). Either are good starting off points and both cities offer car rental options. You can also hire a car and driver or take taxis to various destinations, options you can tailor to your budget and spirit for adventure.
If you hire your own rental car, the Route Touristique du Champagne offers marked roads through some of the prettiest of the Champagne countryside, such as the ambling hills covered with Pinot Noir vineyards extending between Reims and Épernay, the Montagne de Reims region; Another area, the famous Côte des Blancs, revered for its much-sought-after Chardonnay grapes, extends just south of Épernay and its relatively flat roads and expansive terrain through hectares upon hectares of vineyards are also marked by the Route Touristique du Champagne.
Montagne de Reims
In the Montagne de Reims, Rilly-la-Montagne offers a choice of restaurants from the Michelin-starred Le Grand Cerf to local favorites such as Le Mont Joly which serves big, thick steaks on cutting boards and at reasonable prices. The prestigious L'Assiette Champenoise (two Michelin stars) is in neighboring Tinquieux - reservations imperative - and Rilly-la-Montagne even has its own Châteaux et Hotels luxury accommodations, the Château de Rilly (lechateauderilly.com). This little enclave butts right up against theParc Naturel Régional de la Montagne de Reims, a designated national park reserve. In the early Autumn the Château in Rilly offers weekly jazzsoirées, well-attended by locals.
The great advantage to travel in Champagne during harvest time is not just the spectacular visual backdrop of ripe bunches of grapes hanging from exquisitely tended vineyards that surround quaint little historical French villages, but also the wave of high-energy and activity that is evident everywhere you look when you are in the smaller villages. Even if you are not a Champenois, it's unavoidable not to get caught up in the activity, the high spirits, the frenetic enthusiasm that is vendanges.
A Champagne village that can offer these rich experiences is Aÿ, home to Bollinger Champagne and one of the original historical Pinot Noir growing villages of Champagne. Wine enthusiasts will particularly appreciate Aÿ with its champagne houses, such as Ayala, Deutz and Collet, seemingly on every corner, punctuated only by the requisite boulangeries, crêperies and pharmacies.
One of the loveliest and least known hotels of the region is to be found here in Aÿ. Hotel Castel Jeanson (casteljeanson.fr) is the lovingly restored work of Madame and Monsieur Goutorbe whose champagne house is just a few doors down from the hotel. Deceptively simple when seen from its exterior, the hotel offers a large enclosed courtyard graced with stained glass windows on the buildings that surround the spacious courtyard which house its 17 rooms and indoor swimming pool.
When I casually commented to Madame Goutorbe that one would never expect such exquisite luxury from her modest website, her response was that she prefers not to boast about her hotel's charms, either in picture or in word, "I'd rather that my guests be delightfully surprised when they discover it for themselves," she confided. I told her that in English we have a phrase for this: "Underpromise and overdeliver."
For the Goutorbes, who are originally nursery managers and vine cultivators and now vineyard owners themselves, the 5 year restoration process for the dilapidated and abandoned building that their gorgeous hotel once was, was a much bigger labor of love than they had ever anticipated. And it shows. Busy seasons are May, June and September, October.
Of particular interest to the wine geek will be the discovery of the Villa Bissinger, the Institut International des Vins de Champagne. With a name like that it's easy to imagine that this is a year-round school for serious sommeliers studying for their Master of Wine certification. In fact, it is a facility, unique of its kind in Champagne, where champagnes in all their diversity and all their terroirs are presented, tasted, explained and discussed.
It welcomes groups of, "A minimum of 6-8 people, and up to 50," says Villa Director Etienne Monet. The modern classroom interiors and theater-like seating are in sharp contrast to the 19th c. mansion in which it is housed. Groups traveling to the region can enjoy participating in a morning or afternoon or even full day of "courses" about champagne at Villa Bissinger and you needn't be professional or in the trade to qualify, but advance booking is required (villabissinger.com).
Another excursion Aÿ offers is a guided pedestrian trail that leads you past historical and cultural landmarks in the village. One thing you'll find about the tourist offices in the region is that when you know what to ask for, they will provide the information. It all hangs on knowing what to ask for. So if you ask for Les Musardises Agéennes, you will be given a brochure that marks a trail to follow through the village where plaques and signposts mark your way. The starting point is at Villa Bissinger. From there the footpath follows the small streets up along the vineyards which are just behind the village and eventually down past the former ancestral home of Jacques and Lily Bollinger at 16 rue Jules Lobet. The whole walking excursion lasts no more than an hour, not counting bakery stops and café pauses along the way.
Just a few kilometers past Aÿ is the celebrated and touristy Hautvillers. Famous as the village of Dom Perignon, the 17th c; monk and "inventor" of champagne, this charming little hilltop village gets its fair share of tour buses. But this hasn't diminished its charm and the church, L'Eglise Abbatiale d'Hautvillers, is a breathtaking gem which houses the grave of Dom Pierre Perignon marked by an inscripted stone. The Abbey where the monk lived is just behind but is not open to the public, only to guests of the private corporation which owns it.
A local favorite hang in Hautvillers is Le 36 which offers a solid selection of grower champagnes by the flute with small-plate snacks to accompany. (Le 36 is not to be confused with Épernay's Le 26, hands down theCapitale du Champagne's friendliest place to order pizza and a bottle of champagne while you kick back and watch the rugby match on the big-screen TV with local vineyard managers and workers).
Just past Hautvillers is Fleury-la-Riviere, what many say is one of the prettiest little villages in Champagne. La Cave Aux Coquillages is the must-see here. It is a cellar-museum housing fossilized seashells from Champagne's Kimmeridgean soils. Champagne connoisseurs will appreciate this as it's these seashells and the ancient seabed that the region of Champagne once was, that lends itself to the particular evolution and finesse of its chalky soils and elegant terroir.
The Côte des Blancs
Switching directions now and heading into Chardonnay territory still requires a vehicle. The Côte des Blancs boasts the most expensive grapes in Champagne. Its Chardonnay vineyards yield the grapes that give the most celebrated champagnes their elegance and finesse, say the experts. The majority of champagnes are a blend of the three AOC approved grape varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier. The exception to this are the Blanc de Blancs, blended completely from Chardonnay grapes and the Blanc de Noirs, blended from either or both of the red varietals.
Among the many, many excellent producers to be found in the Côte des Blancs, in the celebrated villages of Oger, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, and Vertus to name several, few enjoy the cult status of Anselme Selosse and his Selosse champagnes. Champagne connoisseurs travel to the region just to find some of this sought-after champagne which sells out in Japanese, English and Belgian markets in record time after its release.
Even if you're not on a mission to buy rare champagnes, you can still enjoy a bit of this rarefied air by stopping in at the hotel and restaurant opened by Corinne and Anselme Selosse a few seasons ago. The Hôtel Les Avisésis in Avize, one of the bigger little villages in the Côte des Blancs, home to the viticultural trade school of the region and also to the champagne house Selosse. The refined luxury of the hotel is the fruit of a meticulous restoration process of a building dating to the 1820's that "always had its history steeped in wine production." It's best to call to make reservations for one of the ten rooms as you may send 3 or even 4 emails to the contact address on the website before getting a response, or not (selosse-lesavises.com).
Other than this emphasis on the need for your own transportation, things don't have to be difficult when touring the charming Champagne countryside. Hautvillers and the Côte des Blancs require a vehicle. But if you're without one, Rilly-la-Montagne and Aÿ can be accessed by the little commuter train that runs between Reims and Épernay every few hours from morning until early evening and makes stops in both villages. Roundtrip ticket fare is under 20 euros.
Monday, November 18, 2013
Sunday, November 10, 2013
(translated from French)
Roland : « For both reds and the whites, the balance between sugar/acid is excellent. There's a relative consistency among the whites, with good maturity and an aromatic freshness thanks to the natural acid. The reds are less consistent, and some suffered from the grail storm in July. We have, nonetheless, great hope for the quality of our from Côte de , the Colline de and also , all of which are exhibiting a marked potential for aging. »
- Press Conference, Hospices de Beaune, Christie's Auction House, Paris Oct. 29th 2013
Burgundy Wines 2013 – In The Eyes of Roland, Director of the Hospices de Beaune Vineyards and Cellars
Burgundy's 2013 will have the distinction of a rare wine. The Autumn-like we had in the Spring and the grail we saw in July served to ravage many of the vineyards in the Côte de Beaune.
The Côte de Bourgogne Grand Crus even in difficult years. and the Colline de escaped much of this climactic perturbation and will offer us their elegant ruby gems this year as is customary for
The late harvest, started at the beginning of October, will give us reds that are both tannic and « tonic ». In general, 2013 is a year that varied significantly throughout Burgundy, weather-wise and this will be evidenced in the respective harvests from each of the .
For the whites, the harvest was still a light one (/ha) even though these vineyards were less affected by the capriciousness of the weather.
The one constant for the 2013 whites is their freshness, a taste profile that is associated with a solid maturity for .
In : 2013 is a rare and precious vintage.
Burgundy Wines 2013
As Seen By Anthony Hanson, Master of Wine, Senior Consultant to Christie's
2013 is as promising a vintage for the Burgundy reds as for the whites.
The growing season for the vines this year played out delicately, as if in a stage play, but the vineyard managers and masters of the des Hospices de Beaune superbly defied the forces of nature.
April and May were wet months with little sun which put late into the end of June. Great care was taken to prevent the setting in of mildew. In July, the sun appeared unabashedly, bringing with it warm temperatures and hours of sunlight that exceeded averages in recent years. Rain was limited to four storms, one of which, that of July 23rd, when it hailed, damaged some of the vines. Vineyards that were affected were those of Beaune and as well as some of the neighboring villages to the north and south. By July, the vines had recovered to their normal growing cycles. In August and September the sun exposure stayed average and rain was only occasional which allowed for favorable maturation of the grapes.
For 2013, 43 will be sold at the Hospices de Beaune auction. 30 of red and 13 of white wines. Of the 443 items for auction, 333 are of red wines and 110 are of white wines.
About 85% of the Hospices vineyards are classed as Premier and Grand which is an exceptionally high proportion. At the time of this writing, fermentation is still underway and so it is too early to comment on the style of the 2013 vintage. Nonetheless, after seeing the quality of the harvest on the sorting tables, it is sure that we will have excellent wines this year, intensely fresh and fruity, and a silky texture.
- Christie's Auction House, Beverly , Communications Attaché
Friday, September 20, 2013
Napa, California, (September 18, 2013) – Napa Valley Film Festival (NVFF) Co-Founders and Directors Brenda and Marc Lhormer are proud to announce several of the festival's star-studded headlining films, as well as the first set of honorees to be feted at the Celebrity Tribute Program, hosted by Access Hollywood's Billy Bush.
NVFF returns in full force with a five-day Festival
spanning Napa Valley's four postcard-perfect towns
of Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga,
November 13 – 17.
Two-time Academy Award®–winner Emma Thompson and fellow double Oscar®-winner Tom Hanks will "wow" audiences with a Gala Presentation, on Thursday, November 14, of Saving Mr. Banks, directed by John Lee Hancock and inspired by the extraordinary, untold backstory of the long road Disney's classic Mary Poppins took to make it to the big screen. The terrific supporting cast includes Colin Farrell, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Rachel Griffith, Kathy Baker and Paul Giamatti. Courtesy of Walt Disney Studios.
More Films and Festivities HERE
The ultimate celebration of film, food and wine, NVFF, November 13-17, lights up the picturesque towns of Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga at the most colorful time of year. NVFF features over 100 new independent films and studio sneak previews screening in 12 beautiful venues throughout the 4 walkable villages, as 300 visiting filmmakers interact with audiences at screenings and intimate events. Attendees enjoy film panels & culinary demonstrations, wine tasting pavilions, the spectacular Festival Gala, Celebrity Tributes, Awards Ceremony, and an array of parties, VIP receptions and winemaker dinners and more. For information or to buy passes, visit NapaValleyFilmFest.org
#LocalFoodAndWine♥Chérie Du Vin
Sunday, July 14, 2013
As France celebrates Bastille Day today - 14 Juillet - we thought it amusing to post these interesting Wine Stats.
When you're ready to book your next Wine Vacation and/or Buying Trip to Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Languedoc, Loire or Provence - Contact Us
Tuesday, July 9, 2013
Like any good California girl, I love me some Sangiovese. So when I was able to get my hands recently on a bottle of the stuff from the Old World, my lips were smacking and my fingers trembling as we uncorked the bottle.
Garnet Hued * Vanilla * Spice * Red Berries
Hint of Earthiness
Balanced power between Tannins and Acidity
Wine Spectator's Notes On Vintages
- 2008 91 A cool growing season with rain at harvest; those who waited produced aromatic, balances and elegant wines. Drink or Hold.
- 2007 93 Hotter and riper than 2006; fruit-forward, rich and elegant, offering immediate charm and softer textures. Drink or Hold.
- 2006 95 Complex powerful wines that impress with ripe yet fresh fruit, firm, dense structures and fine balance. Hold.
Excerpt from Wine Spectator June 30, 2013
Sangiovese is virtually synonymous with Tuscany and is the most widely planted grape variety in Italy. Brunello, a synonym for Sangiovese Grosso, or "fat Sangiovese," gets its name from the big ripe grapes that are produced from these vines in the prestige appellation (Brunello di Montalcino DOCG) of Montalcino, a classic hilltop village surrounded by slopes just 30km. south of Siena in Tuscany, Italy.
Mocali is owned by the Ciacci family and overseen by enologist Tiziano Ciacci. Their soils are mostly Galestro and Alberese that enrich the ground with mineral salts. Their Brunello di Montalcino wine - in fact all Brunello di Montalicino wines - are made exclusively with Sangiovese Grosso grapes.
This DOCG shares the top spot only with Vino Nobile de Montepulciano. Though winemaking in the region is recorded from as far back as the 14th century, the wines we associate today with this very first Italian DOCG emerged in the 1870s. It's largely credited to the efforts of the esteemed winemaking family of Biondi-Santi, namely Ferruccio,who decided to implement a revolutionary technique (for his day) of making his Montalcino wines - vinify his Sangiovese grapes separately from the other varieties. (At the time in Tuscany all grapes were fermented together - even the reds with the whites.) As he implemented this and a few other techniques, the resulting wines gained a reputation of being livelier and fruitier than other wines.
In July 1980 the appellation was formalized as Italy's first DOCG alongside Piedmont's Barolo. It is mostly small farmers and family estates who produce this exquisite red wine today and number approximately 200, up from just 11 producers in the 60's. One of the DOCG requirements is that vineyards are not planted above 600m sea level. Brunello must be aged at least 4 years and for the riserva distinction, a minimum of 5 years aging is required. More INFO at Tuscany Taste.
Saturday, June 29, 2013
Château Mouton Rothschild, June 16, 2013
All photos by Anonymous Pirate Photographer c. Paige Donner 2013
L'Art et L'Etiquette
This is the title of the current exhibit at the new Château Mouton Rothschild Museum and Cellars in Pauillac. On display are the famous wine labels dating back to the very first one created in 1924. Below here is an excerpt from the official Château book explaining the new museum and cellars, translated from the French (to the best of my ability):
The call to great artists to illustrate each year the Mouton wine labels was a genius idea; but one that required time to be understood and accepted.
After an initial try, perhaps a bit too early with the label designer Jean Carlu in 1924, at the very first occasion of "bottled at the chateau," Baron Philippe waited until 1945 to definitively establish this practice of adding this artistic flair to his Mouton wine labels which would eventually constitute the visual signature of Mouton - and each one of its vintages.
From that moment until today a passionate collection is enriched each year by a new piece of artwork, which reunites, through the wine's labels, the most famous and celebrated contemporary artists of their day, and the most diverse: from Miró to Chagall, from Braque to Picasso, from Tapies to Francis Bacon, from Dali to Balthus, and even Prince Charles of England!
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
Monday, June 24, 2013
"The building does not resemble any known shape because it's an evocation. Not of wine itself, but of the soul of wine," explain architects Anouk Legendre and Nicolas Desmazieres from French firm X-TU.
When fully unveiled in 2016, the eco-building that will be the Cité des Civilisations du Vin nestled on the shores of the Garonne will offer a total surface area of 14,000 m2 including 750 m2 for temporary exhibits and 3500 m2 of permanent exhibit space.
The laying of the first stone was celebrated on June 19, 2013 during Vinexpo Bordeaux. Slideshow Below.
All photos c. Paige Donner