A Word from LME CBE – A label review

Many of you will remember that when we started out at Chollet, 10 years ago, the vineyard had not been making its own wine for many years, but was selling all its grapes to the local co-operative.  We always wanted to make our own wine, so that wasn’t an option for us.  But it meant that we had to do everything (and buy everything!) associated with wine making from scratch.

One of the most important things we had to do was to design our label.  Being a marketing man (or having been one, once) we did this by researching amongst our ‘target customers’ – many of you may remember this, because we had Mike Barlow, of Mi Creative, design 10 labels, all of a different nature, after careful study of different forms of labels, and ‘market tested them’ by e mailing them to everyone on our family and work contact lists to ask them to rate them.  We tried labels from the traditional to the contemporary.  (One was called ‘Fat Bird’ – not a sexist/sizest joke, but an acknowledgement of the success, believe it or not, of ‘Fat Bastard’ wines in the US and in Europe, and the fact that a fat pigeon (a ‘palombe’) is an emblem of our area in France and we have a ceramic ‘Fat Bird’ perched on the top of our tower.

‘Fat Bird’ didn’t make it through to the next stage, which was to ask a focus group (inevitably, and with better results than Mrs May’s, carried out by Kim and Teresa from B different, who Mrs May should have asked to do hers……….) to discuss the four labels which scored best and choose a ‘winner’ from them.  The clear view, as you can see from our label, was actually really quite obvious – if what people are looking for, when they buy wine, is classic Bordeaux, then when they open the case on arrival, it ought to look like classic Bordeaux. Hardly a shock, but the fact that we sell most of our wine directly to peoples’ homes, through specialist merchants, independent restaurants, or ‘at the Chai door’ means that there is not the need to try to catch the eye on a supermarket shelf.

We did do one or two things deemed ‘radical’ in Bordeaux, like putting the grape varieties on the labels (revolutionary!) and adding an informative ‘back label’ with details of the harvest, alcohol content, tasting notes etc.

90 x 120  Our existing label

So that is where we were, and still are.  It seems to have worked.  But 10 years in, is it still the right call?  To help us judge this, around 80 ‘friends of Chollet’ got together to try some of our latest wines at the Royal Over Seas League in St James’s, earlier in the year.  By way of a task, they had to go round the room and give a score to each of a dozen alternative label designs on display.  The labels were a selection from the specialist French printers who we use, of what they thought were the best of the latest designs they had been asked to print.

You can see the labels displayed below.  Numbered 1 -12.  We asked everyone to rate then from 1-10 and also to give a rating to our existing label. Not a process I would submit to the Royal Statistical Society, but the result was clear enough.  Of the ‘new’ designs, only two scored an average of over 6/10 – Number 8 (which scored highest with 6.2), and Number 5. Both quite traditional.

no-1  no-2

                                                        No.1                                                                                                      No.2


no-3       no-4

No.3                                                                                         No.4

no-5  no-6

                                         No.5                                                                                                     No.6

no-7  no-8

                                                    No.7                                                                                                     No.8


no-9     no-10

                           No.9                                                                No.10






By contrast, our label scored an average of not far off 8.  Of course, one has to account for a bias, everyone there being familiar with the label as it stands.  But there doesn’t seem to be a great reason to rush to radical change.

So over the winter, Kirstie and Paul will mull over the findings and think what, if anything, to do next.  The best brands – think of BP, Mars, Cadburys, Coca Cola – may evolve a bit over the years, but are still immediately recognisable from their first evocation.  So a bit of updating might be right – or maybe we could borrow something from one of the high scorers, for a ‘special cuvée’ one day.

Watch this space – or, rather, watch this label! If you have any views, we would be very happy to hear them.

Best wishes to you all, and thanks to Marie Williams (formerly Marie Belsham, whom many of you will know) for organising the evening and the analysis.  Marie is running her own ‘virtual PA’ and events management business now, so if anyone needs anything in that line……


How to Make Rosé

Rosé is made from red grapes, it is not a blend of red and white wine, as many people think (not in Bordeaux anyway – it can be a mix in some places).  Here, we can use one of two different methods, and sometimes both in the same year, depending on the harvest quantity and overall ripeness.

The first is called ‘saignée’ or ‘bled’. The principle is to ‘bleed’ a portion of a red wine off before it has turned red. Juice in a red grape is clear, and it needs contact with the skins to give colour and flavour, so at harvest time the juice, pips and skins all go into the tank, to make a red wine.  For the red, the skins stay in the tank for the full duration of the sugar to alcohol fermentation, about 2 weeks.

For the rosé, 8 to 24 hours after harvest, if you run some juice out of the red wine tank it will have started to pick up some pink colour.  The pink juice is then fermented separately, as if it were a white wine (ie juice only – no skins), then is fined, left to settle and bottled late winter or early spring.

The second method is called ‘rosé de presse’, where, instead of starting to make a red wine and taking part of the juice to make rosé, the batch of red grapes are used exclusively for rosé. The grapes are placed directly into a press, left an hour or two and then slowly pressed (a similar effect to treading by foot, incidentally). The action of pressing causes the clear juice to turn pink, and then the remaining skins are taken away. The juice from this method is often paler that from the ‘saignée’ method, and the wine more delicate. Fermentation progresses the same way as above.

The choice of method does depend on various technical aspects in each year – we simply try to choose the best for each year that will produce the fruitiest wine with no ‘hard edge’. So, if you see a Chollet rosé that is a bit darker (or paler) one year compared to another, now you know why!

Down at the Vineyard

May and June are our busiest times in the vineyard as the vines grow rapidly, they go from buds to small shoots to full size in a matter of weeks and to support all that growth there are a number of jobs to be done.  The mature vines need the wires raising to support the growth and then they need trimming.  We trim to prevent each each row overshadowing the rows next to it, and it also helps the vine to push more energy into the grapes instead of into the foliar growth –  you can see a before and after photo below.

before-raising-wires     after-raising-wires

The new vines we planted in April, fortunately weren’t damaged by the late frosts as they hadn’t yet sprouted.  Now they are growing well and have pushed out 3 or 4 shoots, this needs to be pruned back to 1 strong stem.  You can see in the photos below the same new vine before I removed 3 excess shoots and with then with just 1 strong shoot remaining.  This shoot then needs to be tied to the support post – then repeat 1,156 times!!

new-vine-2        new-vine

Another job at this time of year is protecting the vines against mildew.  As we are organic we can only use a copper/sulphur mixture.  This coats the leaf and will last for 10 days or 20 mm of rain.  Non-organic / systemic treatments will last for 14 days no matter the amount of rainfall.  We don’t spray pesticides but instead use pheromone diffusers which are attached every 5th vine throughout the vineyard, these encourage the pests (specifically the European Grape Vine Moth) to go somewhere else to lay its eggs.

The other non-stop job is the weeding, at this time of year when the ground is dry and hard we have one mechanical tool to use – the brush, this brushes any tall weeds away from underneath the vine.


When it rains again and the ground softens we will re-plough to keep the ground decompacted, aerated and grass free.

Frost Update – June

It seems incredible that less than 2 months ago we were looking at a wintry scene of frost, shortly followed by the severe damage to the young shoots and grapes, as reported in our Spring newsletter. We have had a pretty warm Spring since, and a heatwave early June with temperatures in the high 30’s. This means the vines have quickly re-grown new shoots to replace the frost-damaged ones, but not always grapes, unfortunately.

In the areas undamaged by the frost, the vines are growing well, business as usual, apart from a touch of mildew, but nothing sinister as yet. In the damaged areas, it is a mixed bag. Certain areas have grown new shoots and foliage but no grapes, some have grown new foliage and a few grapes, and some (the partially damaged ones) have developed straggly bunches of grapes, a phenomenon called millerandange which occurs when some grapes in a bunch fail to properly form. The new foliage is also growing extremely rapidly, causing a bit of extra work trimming and tidying up.

Where we do have new grapes, they are of course somewhat behind the grapes that were undamaged.  A first for us, we have some grapes at ‘petit pois’ stage (see below right), and others still flowering (below left), all within the same area of vines. That’s about 1 month difference, which if maintained until the harvest, will cause severe headaches – we cannot afford to throw under ripe grapes into the mix, neither can we leave grapes to over ripen whilst waiting for others to catch up.

cab-sauv-late-flowering-2                  cab-sauv-grapes-june

The vegetal cycle will be shorter for grapes that came later, as the days are longer and warmer by definition, so that one month gap between the maturity of original and re-grown grapes will narrow. However, we still need a good, hot summer to narrow that gap to around one week, which can be managed.

Vegetarian and Vegan Wine

You may be forgiven for thinking that wine is automatically vegetarian – after all it’s just fermented grape juice. However, it is not as simple as that, as there are a number of animal-based products that are permitted for use in winemaking, including gelatin (from boiled animal bones), isinglass (fish bladders) and other milk and egg-based products. These products are used for fining, a process which traps heavy organic particles that are suspended in the wine, which then sink to the bottom of the tank. After fining, the wine is pumped out of the tank, leaving the suspension behind. This process clears the wine and stabilises it to a degree.

We at Chollet don’t always fine the wine, as in certain years the wine will settle naturally, and in those years where it does not, we use a clay-based fining agent for the white, and a pea-protein for the red. Therefore, no animal nor dairy-based products are used in the making of our wine, meaning it is vegetarian and vegan friendly. Being certified organic is not enough – it is down to the approach of each winemaker (organic and non-organic). Not always easy to know therefore – although an increasing number of supermarkets and other suppliers are including this info for their range of wines.

As there is no official certification for vegetarian or vegan wine, however, there are still open points of debate. For example; if an animal based product is used, but is not (in theory) in the final, bottled wine, is that OK (for vegetarians)? Most people would say no in my experience, as the product was used to make the wine, and also there may well be trace elements left over, but some would be OK with that risk.

Also, what about the use of egg and milk-based products in fining? In theory, OK for vegetarians but not for vegans. But, still debatable for some.

Finally; what about the use of animal-based fertiliser out in the vineyard (meaning the waste products of animals). It is for sure a natural and environmentally friendly way to use manure from chicken, cows or horses, particularly sourced locally – but some ‘hard’ vegans would object. That one, I am afraid, we are guilty of in some years, as we use guano as a fertiliser. In other years, we use a ‘green fertiliser’ such as leguminous vegetable planted between the vines to replace nutrients taken by the vine.

Given all that, we can comfortably say our wine is vegetarian and vegan friendly. We are listed on Barnivore, which is ‘the’ list of vegan wines, and the wine is served in vegetarian restaurants.

We are always happy to receive feedback on subjects such as this, or anything else we raise in our newsletters, so don’t hesitate to drop us a mail or leave a comment. We’d love to hear from you!

vegetarian-symbol       vegan-symbol

Frost Update

Many of you will have heard about the damage to Bordeaux vineyards (and quite a few other areas including Burgundy, the Loire and Champagne) caused by late frosts this year.

In Bordeaux, we have had two late frosts; 20/21st and 27/28th April, with temperatures of -3 to -4°C overnight and early in the morning. This is the first late April frost of this magnitude since 1991, and before that (I believe from talking to neighbours) April 1977 was particularly bad, when it snowed heavily at the end of April. Therefore, this is a once every 25-year event, more or less.

The impact this year is severe in most areas of Bordeaux, with near 100% losses reported for around a fifth of estates, a fifth unscathed (either by suitable local topography or where the property could take measures to protect the vines, for example lighting fires or lanterns in the vineyard), and the remaining 60% of properties (including us at Chollet) somewhere in between.

The vines can recover to a certain extent, as there is a secondary shoot that may appear after the main one has withered and fallen off, but this shoot can only produce smaller bunches of grapes which may not even ripen (we are already a month into the season). We will have more of an idea at flowering time in a month or so.

There are also knock on effects beyond 2017; next year’s crop will be affected, as the shoots that are left may not leave enough mature wood to prune properly for 2018, reducing the size of that crop too.

For us here at Chollet, we estimate that we have lost 40 – 50% of the production this year. The Cabernet Sauvignon is 80 – 90% gone or damaged, Merlot about 30% and Cabernet Franc 50 – 60%. The whites seem OK as they are planted at the higher parts of the vineyard. We are lucky in that we will be able to produce red, white and rosé this year – albeit in much smaller quantities than usual. Compare that with one of our neighbours who has lost 10 out of 12 hectares, including all their whites. With many of their vines located just a few metres away from ours, it is just a slightly different lie of the land that meant the frost affected them worse than us. To illustrate, see the rough sketch below which approximates how the land lies from N – S (right – left), with a ditch at the lowest point. On the left of that are vines belonging to our neighbour, on the right are ours.

Below the red dotted line is a frost pocket where damage occurred to the vines – starting from partial to full damage (see photos).


See below for a view of the vines themselves at the moment (our neighbours vines taken with my back to ours) – this block of vines should be a sea of green, but the majority is brown where the shoots have shrivelled, with just the vines in the background being green (meaning OK or partially damaged).


This is what a healthy block of vines (our Sauvignon Blanc which emerged unscathed) should look like at the moment;


Below is a partly damaged vine; note the shoots in the middle and right have drooped and will fall off, whereas the shoot on the lower left will be OK – just the odd bunch or two of grapes will be picked from this vine, versus the normal 8 – 10 bunches.


Here we have a completely damaged vine (a bit hard to tell where the shoots were – therefore indicated with arrows), and everything behind also 100% gone – this is typical for a patch of vines lying in a hollow or valley;


We will update you further in our summer newsletter.


March News

merlot-budburst-31-march A cold January, a mild February and a warm and wet March have resulted in earlier than usual bud burst.  The photo on the right shows the merlot on 31st March.  The concern now is late frosts which could damage the delicate new leaves, however the forecast is good for the next 10 days so fingers crossed!

We’ve been busy weeding and mowing the vineyard, it’s not only the vines that have been enjoying the warm weather!  Our mechanical weeder – the blade – is spring loaded and the leading arm enables it to spring between the individual vines turning the soil directly underneath the vine.  After the blading we use the weeding wheel to removes any weeds left behind.

The Blade       Weeding Wheel

The photo below left shows the results of our ‘blading’ and the 2nd photo the results of chemical weedkiller.  You can see our blade doesn’t remove all of the weeds, it is impossible to get right to the very base of the vine but the soil remains healthy and full of life, unlike the soil of a chemically weedkilled vineyard.

weeding      weedkiller

In wine news we have confirmed the bottling of the 2015 Prestige and 2016 Rose for 19th May.  This later than usual date gives the ’15 Prestige an extra 3 months in barrel, but will still enable us to get the ’16 rose to you in time for the summer!

If you are interested in the goings on in the vineyard and chai (winery) why not come and visit us so we can show you around, we’re just 35 minutes from Bergerac Airport (Ryan Air & Flybe) and 1 1/2 hours from Bordeaux (BA & Easy Jet).  We’ve still got some availability in our B&B apartment (sleeps 6), with it’s 2 air conditioned bedrooms,  a bathroom, living room, kitchen and dining room.  Also there are large gardens and solar heated pool.  Have a look at our B&B pages for details and availability.

The Evolving Vineyard

Driving past a vineyard in summer, one could be forgiven for thinking that not much goes on. A sea of vines gently fluttering in the breeze, maybe a person or two tending them, the odd tractor, and not much else. As we have often written in this newsletter, however, there’s plenty to do – but as most of the manual work is done vine by vine, and tractors can cover a few hectares in a day, there’s not much apparent activity at any one time, in any one patch of vines. But it’s clear enough that, somehow, the vines must be tended and trained in order to have good quality grapes at the end of the season.

One thing that is not often thought of, though, is how the vines get there in the first place, or how vines are replaced. Visitors to the vineyard here at Chollet often ask about this; for example, how long do vines last, and what happens when they are too old? Also, what if you need to change things – can they be moved from one place to another? Can you take cuttings?

The answer, of course, starts with ‘it depends what you want to do’. First of all, it’s best to picture a vineyard not as one large field of vines going on seemingly forever, but as a patchwork of separate small fields, called ‘parcelles’ in France. These parcelles are normally different grape varieties, of different ages, and often planted in different orientations or densities. This, of course, is strictly controlled and administered via what’s called a ‘plan cadastral’, where a vineyard (indeed pretty much all of France) is divided into small, numbered, patches of land.

In the picture below left, it is possible to make out the ‘patchwork’ of vines to one side of Chollet. The two by the house are running north – south and the other one west – east. Pathways separate the parcelles.

parcelles     plan-cadastral

The picture on the right shows all of Chollet’s vineyard, with the parcelles of vines outlined. Each of these has a reference number (not shown) and each is treated as its own separate entity when it comes to planting and maintaining the vines within. To give you an idea of scale, the largest parcelle (on the right side of the picture) is around 2 hectares (5 acres) in size, and contains around 11,000 vines.

Back to the questions; vines typically last anything between 30 and 60 years in Bordeaux (there are older ones, but not many). As they get older, they generally produce better quality fruit, but there comes a time where quantity and quality fades and in that case, the whole parcelle is grubbed up and replanted. During the life of a parcelle, vines are also replanted but to fill in gaps where vines have died, become diseased, or been damaged.

As for whether vines can be moved; no, the roots are way too deep. Also, taking cuttings is forbidden – only vines purchased from a specialist nursery, certified free of disease and with the correct rootstock, can be used. A vine costs just over a euro ex VAT, and costs of digging up and replanting run to another three euros or so. So, to maintain a parcelle like our large one, there’s not a huge amount of time or cost in keeping on top of things; say about 1%, or approximately 100 vines per year, to replace. However – and this is what we have done quite a bit of here at Chollet over the decade or so we have been here – when a parcelle is end-of-life, no longer meets the ever-changing Bordeaux appellation rules, or is no longer wanted (for example, the wrong grape variety for your needs, planted at the wrong density, or of poor quality generally), it needs completely replanting.

vine-graft-copy      potted-vines





Each replantation is quite a project. Firstly, we remove all posts and wires that hold the old vines up, then prune each vine to a stump, grub them up using a deep plough, clear the patch of vines and roots, cultivate the soil, then leave for a fallow period – during which we plant nitrogen-fixing plants like broad beans over winter and prairie flowers for the insects in the summer – then, when ready to replant, cultivate the soil again, work in some compost, and finally plant the new junior vines in a precise grid pattern. See the two photos above to see vines ready to plant – either bare-rooted or in biodegradable pots. Once planted, each vine needs its own little post to cling on to early in life, and watering during dry weather (5 litres per vine per week). Weeds are a huge problem at this stage – we do not use weedkillers here, so it is a manual job – but it is crucial to keep the weeds down to allow the new vines to grow. Next – install new posts and wires, and over a 3-year period maintain, prune and train the vines to the correct shape such that, when they officially enter production at the end of the 3 years, they are strong, already producing grapes and no longer need watering (which is forbidden from this stage on). We shouldn’t (as if we could) forget the formidable administration that comes with replanting a parcelle either. Phew!

See below on the left for a newly planted patch, a few weeks after planting. Already needs some weeding!

young-vines        plan-cadastral-2

Since 2006, when we arrived here at Chollet, we have replanted several parcelles. In the picture above right, the area outlined in red was all one grape variety – sémillon – and pretty ancient at that. This was OK for the previous owners who sold the grapes to a cooperative, but for us, it was too much of one variety, limiting production of others.

We kept the best, smaller parcelles of Semillon and replanted some others as below left, which shows the configuration at the end of 2011 – replacing Semillon with Cabernet Sauvignon (outlined in blue), Sauvignon Blanc (green) and Muscadelle (gold).

plan-cadastral-3       plan-cadastral-4

This year, we will continue by planting some more merlot (shown in purple above right). We’ll also grub up the areas outlined in light blue, and replant those in a couple of years, when the soil has recovered and we have paid off the last lot!

As you can see, quite a different mix of grape varieties from 10 years ago. Lots of work and expense – but necessary, and as a result the vineyard will be producing what we need, very efficiently, hopefully for many years to come.

2015 Blanc Sec Exceptionnel

Blend: 75% sémillon, 25% sauvignon blanc

Average vine age: 50 years

Harvest size and plantation density: 35 hl / ha and 4,500 vines / ha

Terroir: Soil is clay / sand over limestone. Location slightly elevated (80m above sea level) on gentle south facing slopes.

Vineyard methodology: certified organic (ECOCERT).

Winemaking: direct pressing after harvest (no skin maceration), fermentation at 16 – 18°C, regular lees stirring over a 3 month period.

Maturation: 6 months in stainless steel tank before bottling.

Tasting notes: The 2015 ‘Blanc Sec’ is clear and pale gold, with an intense nose of citrus and tropical fruits. Balanced and good weight of fruit on the palate, with a long finish.

Serve with: shellfish, fish, grilled chicken, mature hard cheese

Ideal time to drink: now to 2019

Serving temperature:  8 to 12°C

Medals: Decanter & IWC « commended »

2014 Cuvee Classique

Technical Specification

Blend: 65% merlot, 20% cabernet sauvignon, 15% cabernet franc

Average vine age: 30 years

Harvest size and plantation density: 35 hl / ha and 4,500 vines / ha

Terroir: Soil is clay / sand over limestone. Location slightly elevated (80m above sea level) on gentle south facing slopes

Vineyard methodology: certified organic (ECOCERT).

Winemaking: cold maceration for several days followed by fermentation in stainless steel at a temperature of 25-30 °C. Reduced sulphur.

Maturation: 9 months in stainless steel tank before bottling.

Tasting notes: A rich, garnet colour, full on the nose with mature red fruit aromas, alongside hints of pepper and tobacco leaf. Soft, round and full on the palate with good depth, black cherry and ripe plum flavours, smooth tannins, and a long finish.

Serve with: red meat, grilled or roasted poultry, hard cheese

Ideal time to drink: now to 2020

Serving temperature:  14 to 16°C

Medals: Decanter « commended »