Discours Viticulture Champagne 2011 ? The Chiquet-Brothers from Champagne Jacquesson are talking about time, change and the future

Jean-Hervé (left, Photo: Oliver Rüther) und Laurent Chiquet are one of the trendsetters in the Champagne region. They both answered some questions on the Champagne Appellation in March 2011.

ASSEMBLAGE: What is the biggest challenge working on the assemblage?
To have good wines to blend! The earlier you work in the process, the easier it becomes. We have a sort of "Vintage approach" for the non-vintage as we don't try to make it consistent every year. We instead favour to make the best blend possible because we use only the first press of 1er Crus and Grands Crus vineyards, most of them being organically or almost organically farmed. Assemblage is difficult when you have to hide second press or wines coming from fruits being insufficiently ripe or attacked by the botrytis. We simply sell those juices, even when they come from our own vines.

VINEYARD: In the discourse on champagne the assemblage is always located in the centre of the discussion. But one says that 90 per cent of a wine originates in the vineyard. How is this possible in Champagne with a crop of 14,000 kilogram per hectare?
This is the most controversial subject. 14,000 kg/ha is a legal yield (maximum appellation can go up to 15,500) not the real agronomic yield, which can be significantly higher. Our yields are lower of course, averaging 11,000 in a normal year. The truth is that you can make good wines with such a yield, but not great wines I believe. And it's also true that our single vineyards benefit from lower yields, due, partly to the age of the vines. The problem in Champagne is that most winemakers have no control of the viticulture and have to work with what they get. The best vintages of the past 20 years have been relatively low yield harvests: 1996, 2002 & 2008. On the other sides, no top sparkling wines, even those being made from a proper viticulture can reach the level of a top champagne. I have to conclude that even with a high yield, the terroir speaks, but he speaks even better with a reasonable yield.

THE CHANGE: If you think how your predecessors have worked - what are the significant changes in the past 30 years?
We have changed everything, except the name, the location and the size of Jacquesson. Vineyards holding, viticulture, buying contracts, pressing, use of juice, wine making, aging and philosophy, everything is different.

TIME: What does the concept of time means for you and your work?
It means that I will barely have time to enjoy the final result of what we have achieved :
1978 : Jean-Hervé joint Jacquesson
1988 : end of 10 years of negotiations with our father (my Laurent joined the company in 1986). We then begin to change all the structures of Jacquesson.
2000 : we begin to change the range of wines being produced to reflect all the changes having taken place in the past 12 years.
2003 : release of the Cuvée n° 728
2011 : release of the 2002 single vineyards
2014 : release of the Late Disgorged Cuvée n° 733 to replace the Vintage
2018 : release of the Late Disgorged 2002 single vineyards
Conclusion : it's only in 2018 that the range of wines being proposed to our customers will be entirely "new Jacquesson". Do the maths, that's forty years!!!

PRO AND CONS I. WOOD: What is your opinion about the vinification or the storage of the reserve wines in wooden barrels or casks - yes or no?
Yes for vinification, no for reserve wines storage, but that's subjective. Vinification in wood gives the wines the benefit of that very slow oxidation process (oxydation ménagée) which adds structure and complexity (and no oak taste as we don't use new oak). We think that serious wines deserve wood for vinification as long as their structure is serious enough and the use of wood careful. Wood has to help the wine to express its qualities, not to mask them.
Storing our wines in wood for a longer period than the 8 to 9 months between harvest and bottling has transformed the "oxydation ménagée" in a simple oxidation that we don't like. But, again, that's subjective.

PRO AND CONS II. MALOLACTIC FERMENTATION: Fermentation malolactique - yes or no? What does the malolactic fermentation really do?
In principle yes ( a couple of exceptions to come with vintages 2008 & 2009...). I suppose your question is not about the chemical transformation of some acids but about its influence on the characteristics of the wines. Blocking the malo means keeping more acidity, so a different tasting balance but not necessarily a better aging potential : most of the best vintages of the past 100 years have been relatively low acidity vintages (except 1996, 1988 & 1928). This is because a low acidity in Champagne is a high acidity for anybody else. So, it's more a matter of taste than anything else. Another problem is that blocking the malo and keeping it blocked forever is a heavy process: significant sulphite addition at the beginning and severe (or several!) filtration before bottling, except in some circumstances where you are ready to take some risks (Ay Vauzelle Terme 2008).

PRO AND CONS III. VINTAGES: The vintages in Champagne -What is your personal evaluation? A short guide for the consumer: Potential, surprises, disappointments.
We should not consider vintages as something special : it is the non-vintage or multi-vintage concept which is special, in fact unique in the world of wine. Now, because we have that possibility to blend, we have the luxury to make a vintage only when we want. After that, it becomes a very personal choice. As you know, Jacquesson does not make a classic vintage anymore. Jacquesson makes single vineyards single vintage when the year is good enough to allow those wines to be of a high standard AND not needed in the Cuvée 700 blend.

PRO AND CONS IV. THE FUTURE. Climate change, extension of the appellation - How do you see the future of Champagne?
We see it brilliant, if we can improve the viticulture. This is generally the most neglected part of Champagne making and I'm afraid that, one day, the region may pay a heavy toll for its bad practices.
Climate change: at that stage, almost 100% positive (except the heat wave in 2003). The milder climate has considerably diminished the risk of winter frosts, spring frosts, very late harvests when the fruits are not ripe and don't ripe anymore because it's too late in the season. In fact, the climate change has diminished the number of really poor vintages. And the hotter temperatures made people thirstier (that one is NOT serious).
Extension of the appellation: We have no problem with it. Everybody knows that some locations outside of the current appellation zones have the perfect characteristics to produce champagne (even great ones as some of those locations are in Premiers and Grands Crus villages) and have not been classified in 1927 because some of the criteria used to determine the appellation area were not all linked to the quality of the place.
But this is a very long term subject and we don't understand why the profession links it closely to how the business is going. It was an urgent matter three years ago because sales were booming; nobody talks about it today because the business has slowed down a little bit. Stupid attitude as the first bottles issued from those new zones are at least 15 years away. We should rather examine the subject right now, when it's not urgent, so we can think and act calmly and diminish the tension that such a subject will inevitably arise. But the main point is to make sure that the average potential quality of what would be re-classified is at least equal to the average quality of what was classified in 1927.


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