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What’s Grower Champagne?

“Champagne is on the verge of profound change. There is a growing realization in the region that its viticulture has become slovenly and the subtleties of its terroir have been neglected. The era of great growers and great vineyards is just beginning.”
Andrew Jefford, The New France

In Champagne, only about 4,000 growers make their own wine; the rest sell their grapes to the cooperatives or to big brands like Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot. In fact, big Champagne houses account for about 70 percent of total Champagne production and about 97 percent of sales outside Europe. They have long been the names that stand for Champagne.

But in the past several years, things have started to change. More growers have begun exporting their wines. And more consumers have been buying them. The reason for this new popularity is terroir—the untranslatable (and frequently invoked) French term for the confluence of weather, soil and aspect that gives a vineyard an identifiable character. Unlike the big houses, which buy grapes from all over Champagne (sometimes from as many as 1,000 different vineyard sites), growers make wines with grapes from a particular place. That sense of terroir, coupled with good prices (often 10 or 20 percent less than the big brands, and sometimes even lower), has incited sommeliers to add names like Pierre Paillard to their wine lists, even according them special categories in some cases. For winemakers too small to have marketing teams, publicity departments or, for that matter, much wine, this is a clear underdog victory

How to spot when a champagne has been made by the producer that grew the grapes rather than by a bottler that bought and blended the wine. Virtually all champagne front labels carry a little code next to the name of the producer as follows:

NM négociant-manipulant, one of the big houses/maisons/négociants
RM récoltant-manipulant, a grower who makes his or her own wine
CM coopérative de manipulation, one of the co-operatives
RC récoltant-coopérateur, grower selling wine made by a co-op
MA marque d’acheteur, buyer’s own brand, usually a made-up label

So to find a grower’s champagne, look out for the letters RM.

Click here to find out more about Champagne Pierre Paillard in British Columbia or click here for Alberta

Video: Truchard Vineyards

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Truchard Vineyards was established in 1974, when Tony and Jo Ann Truchard came to the Carneros region of the Napa Valley and purchased a 20 acre parcel of land. They transformed what was an abandoned prune orchard into a vineyard and began selling the fruit to a local winery. Through hard work and dedication they quickly developed a reputation as one of the outstanding vineyards in Carneros. Over the past 31 years the Truchard Estate Vineyard has grown to 400 acres, of which 270 acres are planted. The Truchards now sell grapes to more than 20 premiere Napa Valley wineries.

The Truchard Estate Vineyard is a series of hills and valleys, which contain a variety of soils: clay, shale, sandstone, volcanic rock and ash. The various combinations of terrain, geology, and marine-moderated temperatures provide unique winegrowing conditions. Currently the vineyard grows 10 different grape varieties, making it one of the most diverse estate vineyards in California.

In 1989, the Truchards began making wine for themselves using only their estate-grown fruit. An old barn on the property was converted into a winery; this barn became the symbol for Truchard Vineyards and adorns the top of the wine label. With the addition of a 10,500 square foot wine cave, the winery has become a beautiful, modern facility. Only 20% of the grapes from the Truchard Estate Vineyard are reserved for Truchard wines. The winery makes 11 different wines, producing a total of 16,000 cases per year.

Truchard wines are produced with the vineyard in mind. They’ve always considered themselves “a big vineyard and a small winery”. The wines are hand-crafted using traditional winemaking techniques and exemplify the high quality fruit of the Truchard Estate Vineyard. They are truly: “wines with a sense of place”.

Click here to find out more about the wines of Truchard Vineyards in British Columbia

Josef Chromy: A life in wine & food (Part 2)

The Wine business and JAC Group years

The Blue Ribbon float enabled Josef to form another group of companies, called the JAC Group, to invest in other industries within our economy. In 1994 the JAC Group waded into the Tasmanian Wine Industry, buying Heemskerk, Rochecombe & Buchanan Vineyards as well as establishing a completely new vineyard at Kayena. The Jansz sparkling wine was part of the acquisitions. Josef’s Heemskerk Wine Group effectively became the second major participant in the industry in Tasmania, with production ranking with the famous Pipers Brook Vineyards Limited. Many have enquired as to the reasons for Joe taking on another big challenge which the fledgling wine industry was. His response is that the wine industry in Tasmania, like the meat industry before it, was undergoing rationalisation where many participants were undercapitalised and unable to achieve the economies of scale necessary to take full advantage of wine making with Tasmania’s premium cool climate fruit. Joe had 30 years experience in creating scale, quality, yield and new markets and wasn’t about to waste it. The Rochecombe acquisition is a good example. Founded in the late 1980’s by Swiss vignerons, four out of its first five crops failed due to frost damage and it was in receivership. With the liquidation auction scheduled for late April 1994 Joe stepped in, and probably saved the vineyard from being “grubbed”. Within 6 months he had built a huge dam and installed a water sprinkler system covering 24 hectares to protect against frost. Big money spent but more than 10 years later the vineyard has never again been significantly frost affected. Joe was not a wine connoisseur but in the years prior to entering the business his palate had come to appreciate the distinctive quality of wines made from genuine cool climate grapes. Sparkling, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc all shine in Tasmania when given the right care and attention through all facets of growing the grapes and making the wines. A favourite wine? Joe maintains a cellar of the many award winning Tasmanian wines from his and other brands. “My favourite depends on my mood, the people I am sharing it with and the accompanying food”, Joe said. “95% of my favourite wines are Tasmanian”, he added.

In 1997 Josef was awarded the Medal of the Order Of Australia for services to the meat industry. 1997 also saw the Heemskerk Wine Group’s Heemskerk Chardonnay (1995 Vintage) awarded Winestate Magazine’s “Chardonnay of the Year”, beating 841 Chardonnay’s from Australia and New Zealand. The same year the US President Bill Clinton was sipping the 1993 Jansz sparkling wine for the whole evening at one of his dinners while visiting Australia. After several years of rapid expansion and innovation, using the best industry expertise available, the Heemskerk Wine Group was sold to Pipers Brook in early 1998 for $11 million as a prelude to that Company’s listing on the Australian Stock Exchange.

Testimony to Joe’s ability is the subsequent history of the main vineyards Joe bought and improved: Rochecombe first became the home of Pipers Brook Limited’s “Ninth Island” and is now “Bay of Fires”, the Tasmanian base for industry giant BRL Hardy. Heemskerk remains the home of the famous “Jansz” sparkling now owned by the prestigious Yalumba Wine Company of South Australia. Kayena evolved into the extraordinary “Tamar Ridge Wines” whose story evolves below. Josef retained his vineyard at Kayena which had been established under advice from one of Australia’s foremost viticulturalists, Dr Richard Smart who recommended the “Scott Henry” system of trellising, as yet untried in Tasmania. The 1998 vintage showed great promise and the decision was taken to expand again in the wine industry by building a winery under the new name Tamar Ridge Wines. During the period between 1998 to 2000 Joe also made significant investments into premium properties around Tasmania including the historic and architecturally significant Custom House in Launceston. After many years of relative neglect the Federal Government renovated the property to a high standard in 1998 and when it came on the market Joe purchased it to ensure it’s preservation into the future. The latter purchase brought to three his Heritage listed properties. Trinity House in the Glebe, Hobart, an 1842 convict built property which after starting life as a rectory fell into disrepair and then vacancy, was purchased in 1995 and renovated as serviced apartments. The JAC Group offices are also late victorian, having originally been built and occupied by members of the Gunn family. “I do love old buildings, Joe says, but they must have commercial as well as heritage value to be considered for purchase.”

Drawing on the undisputed potential Tasmania has as a true cool climate region, Tamar Ridge focused on production of premium and super-premium quality wines. This combined with the strategy to provide value for money for its customers saw the brands of Tamar Ridge Wines reach sales of 9,000 cases within the first twelve months from its launch in October 1999. The success of Tamar Ridge in the marketplace did not go unnoticed by the media and was captured by Chris Shanahan (The Canberra Times) who described the Tamar Ridge brand as “…. surely one of the most stunning, complete and instant wine-brand creations in the history of Australia’s wine industry.” The 1999 vintage for Tamar Ridge and its contract winemaking clients was processed through a newly built state-of-the-art winery. In March 2000 Josef Chromy experienced one of the most memorable moments in his life when he had the privilege to lunch with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at a table of ten during her visit to Tasmania. In 2001 the Tamar Ridge brands entered the prestigious portfolio of Tucker Seabrook, Australia’s largest independent wine distributor with over 150 years of experience. In his 2003 edition of the Australian Wine Companion noted wine writer and judge James Halliday elevated the winery to 5 stars, the highest rating, defined by Mr. Halliday as “an outstanding winery regularly producing exemplary wines”. The winery was only three years old!

In March 2003, Joe Chromy sold Tamar Ridge Wines to Tasmania’s largest company – Gunns Limited, in a bid to allow Tamar Ridge to achieve goals he always hoped and strived for and that are only attainable with the level of financial backing and business experience that a large company, such as Gunns Ltd, can provide. At the time of sale Tamar Ridge Wines had, over four short years, won 12 Trophies, 20 Gold, 36 Silver and in excess of one hundred Bronze medals in competitions around Australia. The vineyard spanned 65 ha under vines and the state-of-the-art winery was capable of processing 1200 tonnes of grapes per vintage. The company had also started to build export markets and shipped its wines to countries such as Canada, UK, Denmark, Singapore, Japan and many others.

Not long after the sale of Tamar Ridge Wines in July 2003, Josef acquired another vineyard dedicated to the growing and supply of grapes to other Tasmanian wine producers. Glenwood Vineyard, as it is currently called, includes 60 hectares of vines and is located on the southern outskirts of Launceston at Relbia. In receivership at the time of purchase, this is another carefully considered investment. Joe knew the potential of site through making wine from its grapes under contract and because of the excellence achieved by the few small vineyards nearby such as Bundaleera, Sharmans and Jinglers Creek. The site was also magnificent with the vineyard overlooking picturesque small lakes and out over White Hills to Ben Lomond. With all this only 10 kilometres from the city centre a new direction for Joe’s wine interests is planned – a boutique winery fronted by a magnificent cellar door/restaurant/function centre. Accommodation units around the lakes will complete the picture.

Approaching his seventy sixth birthday, Josef suffered a stroke in August 2005 which severely affected his speech. “At 80 years of age I perhaps should be easing up.” Joe said. “However my mind has always been and is still full of business ideas and I will keep on contributing. I enjoy both working and taking the time for holidays but I have never understood those who insist on completely separating their work and play.”Joe is still the driving force as Chairman of The JAC Group of companies and continues to focus on expansion and the introduction and implementation of new initiatives. Asked why all of his property investments were in Tasmania Joe replied “I came here with nothing but hope and ambition over 50 years ago. Tasmanians welcomed me and, with their help, I have been rewarded for the challenges and risks I have taken on in both the meat and wine industries. Loyalty is a quality I value highly and this definitely affects my investment decisions. We do at times look elsewhere but so far there has been sufficient quality opportunities in this State that I love.”Strongly supported by Alida, his wife of 55 years, Joe is not stopping yet.

Click here to find out more about the wines of Josef Chromy in British Columbia or click here for Alberta 

Josef Chromy: A life in wine & food (Part 1)

From penniless immigrant to a leading entrepreneur in the Tasmanian wine, Josef Chromy has certainly come a long way.

The Czechoslovakian Years

Like so many other European refugees who fled from their homeland after the second World War, Josef Chromy came to Australia penniless but with deep hope in his heart. Born in Czechoslovakia, he enjoyed a happy childhood spending his spare time from the age of ten with his father in the meat business. It was always presumed he would follow his father’s chosen occupation and he completed a master butcher and smallgoods maker’s diploma by the age of 20 – at that time perhaps one of the youngest to achieve this. Unfortunately, these were dark days for Czechoslovakia, devastated by successive Nazi and Soviet occupation. Josef experienced World War II first hand in his early teens. During the war Joe’s hometown was a base for regional Nazi command and the Czech people experienced atrocities on a daily basis.

After the end of World War II, wanting to escape the oppression of successive Nazi and Soviet regimes, Josef decided to escape from his homeland in 1950. Josef joined two friends and prepared a plan to escape Czechoslovakia. Not even his parents, brother or sisters knew about his intention to leave his homeland as they would have been persecuted and jailed if proven to have known of such a plan. This was a very hard decision to make at such a young age as he knew that he may never see his family again once outside Czechoslovakia.

Setting off to Russian occupied Austria, Joe and his friends had to negotiate the border between the two countries that was guarded by minefields and soldiers patrolling with dogs. The actual crossing of the border was successful for all of them but unfortunately both of his companions were later caught when trying to board a train destined for Vienna. They were returned to Czechoslovakia and imprisoned. Fortunately, Josef eluded the authorities and boarded another train several hours later. During his journey on the train Joe learned an important lesson that he believes helped him many times in his life thereafter. That lesson was to ensure that whatever you plan or whatever you undertake in life always have a second option available.

Speaking Czech and only very little German, Josef knew that if he had to speak to the train conductor he would get caught. He decided to place his train ticket on display in the breast pocket of his coat and pretend to sleep once he saw the conductor. Sure enough the train conductor came. However, the conductor tried to wake him up. At that moment Joe was terrified and as he slowly opened his eyes he did not know what to do. Suddenly it came to him – pretend to be deaf and dumb. He moaned and gesticulated like a deaf mute and the conductor was so convinced that Joe was able to complete his journey to Vienna where the city was occupied by the Allies. Joe was so shaken and close to capture that he swore in his own mind to always have a backup plan in future. Once in Vienna Joe survived five further months of privation before sailing for his new home, Australia – a country he believed had a bright future and offered him a home as far away from communism as he could get.

The early Australian Years

These were difficult times for the young 20 year old as he knew no one in Australia, spoke no English and was penniless. Josef found a job with Goliath cement and asbestos sheeting factory at Railton in north western Tasmania but he always knew that it was only a means to an end as he was determined to realize his ambition to open his own meat business. He was so strongly motivated that he worked at two jobs, saving every penny until two years after his arrival in Australia he was able to start his own business. It soon failed however from lack of capital and Josef’s limited grasp of English. It took nine months but all creditors were paid in full.

It was at this time he met Alida, a lovely young Dutch girl who could not speak Czech while he couldn’t speak Dutch. However, love overcame all, they communicated as they learnt English together and they married in 1954. In 1957, Josef opened his own butcher shop in Burnie called Continental Butchers. He was already planning a far larger and more diverse operation, so in 1958 he changed the name of his company to Blue Ribbon Meat Products, believing that this name symbolized quality, success and achievement. His turnover at that time was approximately $160,000 per annum employing five people. It was not until 1968 when Czechoslovakia was under softer and more liberal communist regime that Josef was able to see his parents for the first time after 18 long years. It was a very emotional encounter. They stayed with him in Australia for 6 months. On the day of their planned departure from Australia at Sydney airport Josef and his parents learned from the press that the Russian army had just entered Czechoslovakia and occupied the whole country. Joe urged his parents to stay with him in Australia but nevertheless they decided to continue their journey home. Once again, Josef was not sure whether he would ever see his family again.

The Blue Ribbon Meat Products Years

Over the next two decades Josef continued to expand his business, increasing the number of shops and acquiring other enterprises such as a small abattoir, two farms, and enlarging the impact of his smallgoods business until he had a dominant market position on the north west coast of Tasmania. By 1972 he had 4 butcher shops and distribution centres in Launceston & Hobart. The same year he built a totally new smallgoods ham and bacon factory at Camdale employing over eighty people. At the opening ceremony, Josef spoke of his belief in vertical integration and his plans to establish an export standard abattoir so that he could enter overseas markets with premium Tasmanian meat products. In 1973, the assets of Universal Smallgoods, Ham & Bacon in Hobart were acquired.

He commenced the first phase of vertical integration in 1976 through the acquisition of Barkers Bacon Pty Ltd, a piggery with a capacity of 8,000 pigs and an annual production rate of 15,000 head. By that time Joe also owned 18 butcher shops all over Tasmania. In 1979, he continued the vertical integration of his business with the acquisition of the domestic and export licensed Killafaddy Abattoir at Launceston. In addition to pigs and sheep for Blue Ribbon’s own requirements, Killafaddy serviced fresh meat requirements across Tasmania. This enabled Blue Ribbon to commence exporting Tasmanian meat products and thus in 1979, Josef Chromy achieved another of his major objectives. In 1982 he further expanded his operations with the acquisition of the Huttons abattoir and smallgoods ham and bacon business in Tasmania which gave Blue Ribbon a large increase in market share and access to a new product range with its associated customer base. In a similar vein, he purchased Dornauf’s Smallgoods in 1985.

In 1984 Joe and Alida moved to the Launceston area purchasing a small house at Dilston. In making the home suitable to entertain his many local and overseas business guests the renovation budget was exceeded by a multiple of ten! The number of people who have enjoyed Joe’s excellent hospitality, especially the 5 or 6 course dinners, in the years since would run into the thousands. The move to Launceston was to facilitate the efficient running of what was evolving into a substantial state wide business with plants at Smithton, Camdale, Launceston and Hobart. In Joe’s opinion Launceston has been and remains the most efficient place in Tasmania to conduct business from, being central to the major cities and towns and with ready access to the mainland and overseas through the airport. In the mid eighties there were seven licensed export abattoirs in the state but sufficient export quality livestock to service only 2 or 3 establishments economically.

An industry-wide rationalization was proposed by the RMI group and in 1985, Josef Chromy sold all of his red meat operations to RMI in exchange for shares in the group. However, the proposed rationalization was not carried out successfully and the group ultimately collapsed in 1986, rendering the shares worthless. After the collapse of RMI, the Blue Ribbon Group in 1987 comprised only of its Smallgoods Ham and Bacon business, turning over about twenty million dollars annually and employing 190 people. However, Josef appreciated the value of fully integrated abattoir and meat processing, and decided to rebuild his red meat business by buying back some of the assets of the failed RMI group. This was done in the face of very strong competition from a multinational group which was attempting to secure the bulk of the abattoiring industry in the state.

With his desire to expand his business Josef Chromy repurchased the Killafaddy Abattoir and secured the future of 100 to 150 jobs in Launceston taking Blue Ribbon Meat Products total employee number to 350. However, to gain possession of the associated plant and equipment, he was forced to sign a covenant with his competitors that Killafaddy would not be used as an export facility for five years. The last remaining avenue for Blue Ribbon to re-enter the beef export business was through the acquisition of United Meat Products Ltd, a defunct public company which still had assets in the form of an export licensed abattoir at Smithton which had been closed for four years and effectively gutted. Josef and his staff then embarked on the massive task of entering the highly competitive beef export industry from a tiny, remote and under equipped facility with no staff, no management, no suppliers, and no established export markets. However, he had substantial community support, enthusiastic employees, and an abundance of tenacity and confidence.

The purchase and recommissioning of two abattoirs in less than twelve months placed enormous strain on Blue Ribbon’s financial and management resources, and inevitably the company experienced losses over the next two years. However, Josef’s courage and determination continued to drive the group forward, and within three years, sales had grown to over sixty million dollars and employment had risen to a level in excess of five hundred. This occurred as the Australian economy was spiralling into recession and during a period of the highest interest rates in the country’s history. In 1992, at age 62, Josef was named Tasmanian Executive of the year having been the major contributor to the rationalization of seven export works to two. Many industry stalwarts were all gone through purchase by Blue Ribbon or closure. An industry beset by inefficient production and undercapitalization had been transformed. Longford had the only remaining export works in competition with Blue Ribbon. In the early 1990’s Joe approached the Japanese owners twice with offers to purchase but the time was not right and the final plank in export beef rationalization never came about.

As Australia emerged from its worst recession in recent history, Blue Ribbon employed over 540 people, with annual sales in excess of seventy five million dollars. Having consolidated his business and become the largest private employer in Tasmania, Josef decided to convert Blue Ribbon into a public company, selling seventy percent of his business when it was floated on the Australian Stock Exchange in December 1993. The 1994 Australian Exports Awards saw Blue Ribbon win the Austrade Agricultural Products category, a mighty achievement in an era when Australia’s position as an exporter of premium foods was building.

Click here to find out more about the wines of Josef Chromy in British Columbia or click here for Alberta 

Tantalus Vineyards

Tantalus Vineyards is leading the way in sustainable winery and vineyard practices in British Columbia. Their new state of the art winery completed in March 2010 will be the province’s first LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) certified winery. The new winery waste water treatment system is also the first of its kind for a BC winery. Known as a Sequencing Batch Reactor, this cutting edge technology allows them to naturally treat the winery process water and domestic sewage with the final outcome clean and safe enough to use in irrigating the vineyard.

They practice sustainable farming in the historic 60 acre vineyard. Rather than forcing outcomes, they strive for balance in the vines and they achieve this by using local organic composts and soil treatments, minimal watering and a 100% hand tended vine canopy. They do not use artificial fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. Tantalus is proud to be working with their neighbor Arlos Honey Farm. They have 25 Arlos bee hives in the vineyard.

Josef Chromy Wines, Tasmania, Australia

Josef Chromy Wines operates by the doctrine of minimal impact viticulture. Some of the Vineyard/Winery practices include:

  • Practices to minimize soil compaction
  • Buffer Zones that encourage natural predators
  • Maintains a grass “sword” between rows to stop soil erosion
  • The cleanest, most efficient, state of the art winery in the state.
  • A state of the art water purification plant that recycles ALL water to a quality to put back into the vineyard.
  • Grape Marc is processed into cattle feed

Josef Chromy Wines is also the first Tasmanian Winery to employ the new Lean + Green™ wine bottles:

Josef Chromy Introduces New O-i Light Weight Bottles to Tasmania

With the increasing reputation and sales of the Josef Chromy Pepik range of wines and in conjunction with Plasdene Glass-Pak, Jeremy Dineen, Chief Winemaker at Josef Chromy Wines is pleased to announce a Tasmanian first with the 2010 Pepik range of wines bottled in the environmentally friendly Lean+Green® wine bottles.

Australia’s wine industry has received a significant boost with glass container maker O-I’s launch of the substantially lighter weight and more environmentally friendly Lean+Green® range of wine bottles. With weight reductions of between 18% and 28% and retention of the bottle’s premium appearance, this represents one of the largest breakthroughs in wine bottle making in Australia.

The tyranny of distance via the absence of a local manufacturer has long disadvantaged Tasmanian wine producers, along with the added expense of shipping empty containers into the state. For Josef Chromy Wines Lean+Green® wine bottles not only deliver domestic cost savings but increases international competitiveness as export markets become more insistent of producers Environmental and Sustainability credentials.

The new Lean+Green® range of wine bottles has been highly acclaimed in Australia, winning five national awards for both sustainability and design criteria.

Benefits for Tasmania:

840 more bottles packed into a 20ft shipping container; offering a loading increase of 6.25%. (This is particularly advantageous to the Tasmanian wine industry reliant on the manufacture and supply of glass bottles from the mainland); A 20% reduction in energy use to produce the same number of bottles;

An average 12% drop in water usage per container; Brand integrity maintained as the new technology upholds current bottle designs; and A weight reduction per case of wine of 1.5kg or 24000kg for the 2010 production.

O-I Production Benefits:

The substantially lighter weight and more environmentally friendly bottles will save at least 20,000 tonnes of glass packaging a year; Overall water savings of 4720kL or the equivalent of 6.3 Olympic swimming pools a year; A carbon dioxide saving of more than 11,130 tonnes of CO2 per annum – or the equivalent of 4120 less 4- cylinder cars on Australian roads each year*.