Le Clos Saint-Hilaire: a single hectare at the forefront of winegrowing

Behind a patchwork of buildings in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, a so-called 'commune déléguée' in the Vallée de la Marne, a single hectare of south-southeast facing Pinot Noir vines produce arguably one of the world's most vinous and critically-acclaimed Champagnes. Le Clos Saint-Hilaire, its name lent from the local church of Église Saint-Hilaire, belongs to 'super grower' Billecart-Salmon. Though the commune itself is classified premier cru, albeit amongst only two villages to have scored 99% in the Échelle des Crus classification framework, seventh-generation CEO, Mathieu Roland-Bilecart has his own views on the cru framework. Views which are certainly emboldened by this tiny parcel off the Boulevard du N. Having produced only five vintages since it's first as a standalone bottling in 1995, you'd be forgiven for underestimating the extent to which this outwardly humble site continues to shape the houses persistent and determined evolution. Pointing toward the vineyards scattering of pumpkins and wool-laden residents, Mathieu describes the site as his research and development facility. Shortly after this years harvest, Mathieu and I wondered the site discussing in more detail its extended importance.

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In pursuit of excellence: 130 years of La Rioja Alta

Since the first Phoenician settlers arrived in 11th century BC, Rioja has had a long and colourful winemaking tradition. As early as the late 13th century there is evidence of Rioja's wine being exported into other regions and from the 15th century on, the Rioja Alta was particularly well-known for wine growing. As is the case across most of Europe, viticulture in Rioja can be traced back to the Roman empire and continued there even during Moorish occupation. As a result of the phylloxera epidemic, during which the French were the first and hardest hit, immediate and insatiable demand for all the wine Rioja could produce swept across France. By 1890, the influx of French négociant and winemakers, who had brought with them extensive knowledge, techniques and experience, had brought about a period of unprecedented growth for the region's industry. That same year, five Riojan and Basque families founded the 'Sociedad Vinicola de La Rioja Alta' which would later, after merging with the Ardanza winery, become La Rioja Alta S.A. 130 years later, La Rioja Alta, as well as being the only winery in Rioja to make 3 Gran Reserva, is globally recognised for its age-worthy, quality-driven, and consistently overperforming wines. To celebrate this laudable anniversary, and to mark the release of the 2014 Viña Arana, I discussed some of the estate's most impactful changes in recent decades with La Rioja Alta winemaker, Julio Sáenz.

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Masterclass with Cornelius Dönnhoff: exploring the estate through six distinct wines

Although only average in size (4124ha under vine) the Nahe boasts some of Germany's most complex, profound, and idiosyncratic wines. Often overlooked, the primarily south and southwest facing vineyards, stretching from Bingerbrück to Soonwald, are drenched in sun, lying in a transition zone between a continental and maritime climate. With vines in many of the regions most favourable sites, claiming monopole status over some, one producer is particularly emblematic of the Nahe's unsung wonders. The Dönnhoff family first came to the region over 200 years ago, steadily establishing a modest estate. Since 1966, the famed Helmut Dönnhoff has made the wine, with 4th generation Cornelius now overseeing the families 28ha of vines, 25 of which are classified Erste Lage. Elliot Awin and the team at ABS Wine Agencies, importers of Dönnhoff, invited me to join them for a virtual Zoom discovery of the estate. Lead by Cornelius and accompanied by 6 wines, including a glimpse into 2019. We walked through the estate's history and talked more about the challenges of producing laser-sharp, spicy, and intense wines vintage after vintage.

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Revolutionising wine tasting at home: behind the scenes with 67 Pall Mall

As we head into the 15th week of forced closures, industry across the length and breadth of the UK faces an unimaginable demand to adapt or risk the inability to continue trading in the long-term. 67 Pall Mall is a haven for wine lovers, the exclusive members club in London not only has one of the most expansive wine lists in the world but also a spectacular array of sommeliers and events. In the face of their club being closed for the foreseeable future, owner Grant Ashton, vowed to keep all 130 staff on full pay, transform the club's service and revolutionise the way we experience wine tastings at home. I spoke to Ronan Sayburn MS about how the club has adapted, transformed its service to members and how these changes will change the club looking to the future.

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Charlie Herring Wine: Tim Phillips does English wine differently in Clos du Paradis

I had originally intended to speak to Tim Phillips, one-man-band at Charlie Herring wine, about his experience planting Riesling in England. Anybody who knows me knows all too well that I'm a Riesling junkie, so this prospect alone was sufficient cause for excitement. What I got from Tim was so much more. Previously I have discussed the challenge of oversupply in the English wine industry. If it is to maintain long-term viability and achieve truly global appeal, more of the norm simply won't do. We must push boundaries, we must exploit the opportunity afforded to us as a new world producer not bound by the complexities of intricate regulation. In a tiny 1 acre walled garden in the south of England, aptly named Clos du Paradis, Tim Phillips tends to a petri dish of exciting, exploratory winemaking.

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Canned wine is far from wrong, it’s everything we need and more

The beverage industry is evolving at great speed, perhaps now more than ever wine needs change. Spend enough time on Twitter and you may be fooled in to thinking a small number of people have all the answers. Whilst the wine intelligentsia act out what Freud called the narcissism of small differences, consumers make their own spending decisions. UK spending on alcohol is on the rise; however, despite this, wine volume sales fell in 2019 by 7.4% year on year. Whilst a select bunch spars between one another, they do agree broadly on what IS important for consumers; they must be educated at all costs, low-intervention winemaking is of utmost importance and heavy bottles must be ousted. Consumer sentiment could not be further from the truth. But don't fear, canned wine has the answers ...

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Bruno Paillard: from Champagne broker to established Maison

1981 was a fairly average year in Champagne. Harvest was small and the wines were somewhat thin and austere. Following World War II, both the popularity and sales of Champagne had once again surged. Despite this, the region had not seen a new house for over 100 years. Bruno Paillard had been working as a broker since 1975, his lineage of brokers and growers in the villages of Bouzy and Verzenay dating back to 1704. Champagne run thick in Bruno's blood and during his time as a broker he acquired a deep and extensive knowledge. At just 27 years old, without a penny to his name, Bruno sold his vintage Jaguar for 50,000 francs to satisfy his burning desire. A desire to create a different Champagne. Almost 40 years later, he and his daughter Alice direct one of the most prestigious houses in Champagne. I spoke with Alice about beginnings, relationships, challenges and the future.

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Visiting Champagne Paul Launois: the beginnings of a friendship

The most fantastic of experiences often occur out of chance encounters. After being impressed by the several great reviews I had read about Champagne Paul Launois, his philosophy and his wines I decided to try my luck and request a last-minute visit with him.

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