This summer I accomplised one of my biggest dreams – to visit Champagne. I was in the middle of Ay vines, sweating in 37 degrees and realising the depth of hard work behind of a Champagne production. It’s something more and different than just being educated specialist. You have to be a natural born with capability to understand, value, assess every spectre of the business and be an artist to create a product what we know as a Champagne.
I was invited to Champagne by Charles Heidsieck. I got to know the story behind Charlie when I discovered Champagne once. But only this summer I was told the whole story.
Charles Heidsieck has a great historic background. He’s known as Champagne Charlie bringing this s bubbly drink and popularising it in America at the time when a majority of the Champagne were exported to Denmark and Russia. Escaped death many times, survived bancrupsy and restored his house to former glory.
What’s really fascinating with Charles Heidsieck is that it was in a dormant stage for many years. It wasn’t until 2011 when French luxury good firm EPI bought it from Remy Cointreau Group for £345 million. Frenchman Christopher Decours runs EPI.
House dates back to 1851 when a young man at my age established it. Now when it comes to starting your company one has to choose wisely where to invest. At that time Charlie didn’t purchase a lot of vineyards (which would be logical in many ways) but he decided to invest his money into chalk pits. Those chalk caves called crayeres were escavated by Romans few thousands years ago and are lying 20 m below the surface.
Only 5 Champagne houses own those dousens of km long chalk tunnels: Charles Heidsieck, Ruinart, Veuve Clicquot, Taittinger and Pommery.
So why are those crayeres so special? Simply explained it’s one of the best conditions for Champagne to age. Regardless the seasons it constantly has 10 degrees! Complete darkness and silence.
In those chalk cellars, millions of Champagne bottles are kept like babies. Slowly maturing and developing.
We discovered Ay and Epernay vineyards. Our guide was vineyard manager Jean-Luc. A true Champagne born man, with a lifelong background growing vines.
So far it has been blessing for the region. Grapes are still smaller than figerpoints, but growing day by day under hot and sunny 2016 summer. Fingers crossed that the season ends with no significant weather changes.
Executive director Stephen Leroux mentions in an interview that young generation of Sommeliers has forgotten about Charlie (ref http://www.thedrinksbusiness.com/2016/07/db-interview-stephen-leroux/ ). And I have to agree with the fact. As far as I can remember Charles Heidsieck never was presented like other big names. I knew the brand very well, but my knowledge was rather based on what information I got on the internet. The Champagne house has never put emphasise into marketing or PR, rather continued to growth and develope their high quality. Of course, Remy Cointreau was a reason that Heidsieck was sleeping beauty for decades. But here’s a good side ofc. They kept a low key on a market and continued to collect valuable reserve wines which are now used continuously to make their signature label Brut Reserve. Their Brut Reserve contain staggering 40% of reserve wines. The average for other houses is up to 20%. 1996 Cramant is the oldest wine their using for Brut Reserve. Bottles are aged for 5 years and after that disgorgement is done. After that they will keep another year in the cellars to settle it.
On our tasting tour in Heidsieck HQ we had opportunity to taste still base wines.
After tasting future base ingridents we went straight to taste the available selection for open. Now when it comes to rose Champagne, I’m not the biggest fan of this style. But Heidsieck rose proved and made me fell in love.
Well balanced beauty; 6 years aging and astonishing pink copper/coralle colour.