A Word from LME

A Christmas Charity Challenge

Since the last newsletter, Linda and I have been lucky enough to spend nearly three weeks in India.  So my head is not quite as full as usual with matters vinous!  What it is full of is the extraordinary sensation of how lucky I am to have, by chance, been born in a country like the UK, and just what a disparity between there is between what I take for granted and what billions of people regard as their usual lot in life.  So the thought has struck, especially as this is the Christmas edition, to issue a bit of a challenge to see if our readers will help a little. The challenge is to commit as much as I can by pledging that (personally, not from Chollet’s margins) I will pay 25p for every bottle sold from this newsletter to the charity which supports people in the Dharavi Slum in Mumbai – ‘Reality Gives’ www.realitygives.org.

With one of their guides – and with considerable reservations, but every Indian friend of mine said ‘you must do it – people need to know’ – we visited Dharavi – the setting for ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ -where 1.2 million people are packed into 1 square mile. Chastening – totally. Harrowing, even. But uplifting to see the attitude and endeavour of the people living there.  Our guide, who lives there, said, ‘They call it a slum.  We call it a community’. It has been called ‘a veritable entrepreneurial hotspot’ – and it’s true. I have rarely seen such industry in the UK. Or such a commitment to education as the way out – which is where ‘Reality Gives’ concentrates its efforts.

I am not suggesting that Bob Geldof need worry about the competition, or that what might be given will be even a drop in the ocean.  But 100 cases sold would yield £300 – which, astonishingly, would pay the rent for a family there (which averages 500 rupees – not much more than £5 – a month) for five years.

So if you needed an incentive to decide to take that extra case, or to buy prize winning organic wine from us, rather than boost the supermarkets’ profits………….

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Appellation Sainte-Foy Bordeaux

We have always been pleased and proud to be part of the Sainte Foy Bordeaux appellation – a couple of rungs up the ladder from generic Bordeaux in quality (and price) terms.  The problem has been, as Sainte Foy is such a small appellation, with only around 20,000 hectolitres of wine produced (there’s around 2.5m in Bordeaux overall) and 35 or so producers, we never had the size nor money required to effectively compete for recognition in the marketplace.  Now, however, after about 3 years of work, we are officially part of the family of ‘Cotes de Bordeaux’ which has pulled together the appellations of Cadillac, Castillon, Francs, Blaye and now Sainte-Foy into one sizeable, efficient and quality minded appellation with around 1,000 producers, about 15% of Bordeaux.



This is great news, and opens more doors for us.  The rules have been tightened too, meaning better quality overall, but a bit of work (and, as ever, investment) on our side.  Keep an eye out for this family of appellations under the Cotes de Bordeaux umbrella – it is where the real value is going to be found in Bordeaux, between the more basic generic Bordeaux and fine (but expensive) high end appellations.

2016 Harvest

A bountiful harvest

In Bordeaux, 2016 has been a year of quantity and quality. We finally finished picking Friday 21st October – almost the latest ever (we somehow stretched it to the 30th October in the difficult 2008 vintage). The late harvest this year was not actually due to a difficult year, more an idiosyncratic one, as reported in our previous newsletter. As a result, we did need an Indian summer to get the optimum ripeness, and indeed the weather was as warm and benign as could be, right through the harvest period, and also during the early part of winemaking, which helps when wine is fermenting in outdoor tanks, benefiting from the warm, but not too hot, temperatures.


Harvest dates – we picked the whites on 17th September, a few days later than the 10-year average, but the reds needed longer; Merlot was 6th October (two weeks later than average), Cabernet Franc the same day (about a week), and the Cabernet Sauvignon, as said, 21st October (10 days or so later than normal).

As I write, the heavy work in the chai has calmed down, as all the reds have finished their malolactic fermentations, and all wines are run off their lees and stable, ready for the next major action which will be after Christmas when we get the white and rosé ready for bottling, and blend the reds.

One noteworthy change this year – no sulphur was added at harvest time, which should reduce still further the total quantity in our wines. Typically, sulphur is added three times; at harvest, stabilisation, and bottling. We have now cut the first one out altogether. Our wines were already quite low in terms of sulphur content, well within the organic certification rules, but we want to reduce its use as much as possible (whilst maintaining, crucially, the stability of the wine in bottle). Relying more on natural processes and less on additives as time goes on is an essential part of what we do here at Chollet, however it takes time to develop the techniques and experience.

Quantity and quality – the importance of the right yield

We have mentioned before the importance of a good yield when aiming for quality – which we would define as good, ripe fruit with depth of flavour – meaning about 1 bottle of wine per vine, more or less. That equates to a pretty low yield, compared to the maximum permitted, hence the truism that ‘low yield is good for quality’. However, even with that approach, yields on a larger scale can vary a lot, depending on various things, including the percentage of the vines performing at their optimum level, how many are missing/diseased, and how densely they are planted. To illustrate, imagine one hectare (10,000 sq metres) of vines, planted at 3,000 vines/hectare. That would make about 3,000 bottles of wine, assuming all are in good condition. Take out 20% poor or missing vines, you have 2,400 bottles from that same area. Same yield per vine, same quality, but less yield per hectare.  Now, if the same hectare was planted with 5,000 vines, all in good condition, you can make 5,000 good bottles from that area. Much better. Beyond that, the 1 bottle/vine ratio falls down a bit – but the point is, a well planted and maintained hectare with good soil can make more wine of the same (or better) quality than a poorly planted and maintained one.  Also, the cost of maintaining that one hectare is about the same in each scenario. The commercial arguments are obvious, although there is more technical work in a densely planted vineyard, whereas less dense means bigger machines can access the vines, increasing speed.

 Here at Chollet, we have been working hard to achieve a better yield, through improving soil quality, replanting poorer sections of the vineyard, and simply keeping up with the work, although of course the weather plays a huge part year on year. Looking over a longer term, the graphic below shows how our average yield per hectare has changed since we started 10 years ago.

Our previous example of a well-maintained hectare planted with 5,000 vines producing 1 bottle per vine equals a yield of 37.5 hectolitres per hectare (shortened to hl/ha, and equivalent to litres of wine per 100 sq metres of area. This is how it is measured in France – another way of thinking about it is weight of grapes per acre, 37.5hl/ha equates to around 2.8 tons per acre).

See below how at Chollet we have gone from approx. 25 – 35 hl/ha over the 10 years, with a dip in the (very) poor weather years of 2012 and 2013.


Below is a quick illustration of yield (ie, amount of wine) from a given area of vineyard – from the left, if it were planted at 3,000 vines per hectare, not in great nick; 3,000 vines well maintained, and 5,000 well maintained. More wine, same quality, less relative cost. Only problem is, in order to achieve the magic 5,000 per hectare, there’s always a cost, up to about 15,000 Euros per hectare if all the vines need replacing. Once up and running, though, we can look forward to our happy right hand barrel – nice and full.


One more item regarding yield – if low yields are good, high yields can be bad for quality. For this reason, maximum yields are restricted, with variations between appellations. This table shows a comparison of yields versus maximum permitted – for example, in our appellation of Sainte Foy Cotes de Bordeaux, red is restricted to 52hl/ha (around 7,000 bottles), but for organic growers that is not achievable. Our aim is for between 35 and 40hl/ha. Some other examples are; St Emilion Grand Cru is capped at 50 hl/ha, champagne is 65hl/ha, Alsace around 80hl/ha, on the other hand Chateauneuf-du-pape is restricted to 35hl/ha.


Down at the Vineyard – winter jobs

We’ve had a good autumn here, nice and warm through September, turning chiller in the mornings and evenings in October, but mild and dry into November, all of which helped the harvest and wine making.  It has also given us some wonderful colours out in the vines and in the garden as you can see below.

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We’ve made a start on our winter jobs, in the photos below you can see we have already started on the weeding.  Being organic, weeding is a critical but time consuming job and it is necessary to get the timing right.  At this time of year we heap the the soil up beneath the vines, using the plough tine attached to the side of the tractor, when the weeds grow through in the spring, we use a blade which takes away the heap of soil and after that, when the ground is too hard we use a brush to remove any remaining weeds.

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Other winter jobs which need to be done as a matter of urgency are the ploughing, this decompacts the soil and breaks up any surface roots.  Another job is the fertilising and last year we also put down a cover crop of barley and broad beans which helped get the vines in tip top condition which in turn helped us get good quality and good yields this year.  Cover cropping with broad beans helps to fix nitrogen in the roots and the barley helps with soil structure.  Ideally this will be planted out before the first frosts.

The other big winter job is the pruning, we like to wait until after the first hard frost before starting so that the sap has retreated into the roots which helps to protect from any potential infection in the pruning wound.  After pruning we pull the pruned wood off of the wires, then there is the the removing and replacing broken posts and wires, the wires also need tightening, then we need to attach the new cane to the wire.

In other words, plenty to keep us busy!!

A Sparkling Winter Mix

Back again by popular demand is our Sparkling Winter Mix Case and again it includes 2 bottles of the fabulous Herbert Hall Brut, English sparkling wine.

Herbert Hall is a ‘Traditional Method’ (as champagne is made) sparkling wine. It is made from low-yield chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier grown organically at the Marden Vineyard in Kent.

On release Herbert Hall was described by the leading wine writer Matthew Jukes as “the finest debut English Sparkling Wine I have ever tasted“.

Herbert Hall Brut is a Chardonnay dominated blend. It is pale straw in colour and has a light floral nose with the slightest hint of autolytic (creamy) character. On the palate it shows great intensity of pure fruit.

Also included in the Sparkling Winter Mix Case, are 4 bottles of our award winning 2011 Cuvee Prestige, 3 bottles of our neignhours winning 2014 Sablonnet and 3 bottles of our 2014 Blanc Sec Exceptionnel.

This combination of wines is designed to cover all your Christmas needs, and we can recommend the following wine / food matching combinations.  Sparkling wines always work very nicely as an aperitif, and in France they are often drunk as a digestif as well.  Our Prestige will be perfect with your Christmas turkey and all the trimmings, the Sablonnet will be wonderful for boxing day cold meats and curries, and the Blanc Sec  Exceptionnel will be great with starters and any fish, and in particular those difficult  creamy dishes.