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Charles Heidsieck Cellars

A Visit To… Charles Heidsieck

My fascination and favour for Champagne Charles Heidsieck is no secret… at last count I have included Charles Heidsieck in 11 posts on my blog.

When people ask me “What’s your favourite champagne?”, I do find it really hard to respond with just ONE champagne. I always say it’s a bit like asking a mother to pick her favourite child and that it depends on the day, the weather, the budget, the occasion, my mood, even the lunar cycle. But when I am pushed to name just one, I always have the same answer – Charles Heidsieck.

I also have a habit of describing champagne in non-champagne terms… and Charles Heidsieck is my Idris Elba champagne. The connection is pretty simple… Charles Heidsieck is my fave champagne, and at the time I first wrote about Charles Heidsieck, Irdis Elba was* my favourite man, and both Charles and Idris have a masculine, smooth, sauve, cool vibe going on.

You can read all about Charles and Idris in these posts…

But this post is about is less about the champagne and more about the story of the house and my visit to the Charles Heidsieck cellars.

(*Author’s note, Idris, I apologise for the past tense and saying you were my favourite man. I still love you, but I have a partner now, so you have been relegated to being my second favourite man.)

My visit to Charles Heidsieck Champagne

Loving Charles Heidsieck pretty hard meant that when I visited Champagne in 2018 and was accepted as a guest for a tour and tasting at Charles Heidsieck, I was beyond excited. I had made a lot of appointments before my visit (after my five weeks in the region, I had visited a total of 52 champagne producers!) but I was MOST excited about Charles Heidsieck.

And the tour and tasting did not disappoint.. it was amazing! My host, Dominique, is one of the coolest French women I’ve ever met… it was very special to share this once in a lifetime opportunity with her.

Charles Heidsieck are private cellars that are not open to the public (sorry guys and gals!) and they lie very close to the city centre in Reims. You could quite easily be standing right outside and have no idea they were there. This is quite different to most of the other large houses in Reims whose signage boldly announces them from miles away.

On the contrary, the entrance to Charles Heidsieck is discreet and elegant and even once you are inside the gates, you are still no wiser to what lies beneath.

Charles Heidsieck Cellars Charles Heidsieck Cellars

Standing in the pretty, peaceful gardens of Charles Heidsieck, you would never know that 30 metres below the gardens lie 8 kms of 2,000-year old chalk pits. The crayeres, which were mined for limestone in ancient times, were only re-discovered 200 years ago and were World UNESCO heritage listed four years ago. They left me in awe. Five champagne houses own crayeres (the others are owned by Veuve Clicquot, Pommery, Taittinger and Ruinart). I have been lucky enough to visit them all and Charles Heidsieck has by far the smallest production of these five houses and their crayeres are the only ones not open to the public and something about them felt… sacred, even spiritual. I literally use my memories of being in the crayeres at Charles Heidsieck as my meditation ritual. Walking down the steps and entering the dark, cool, quiet caves calms and centres me every time.

But before I put you in a trance and head into the cellars – or bring you back into the light to taste the magnificent champagnes – let me tell you the story of Champagne Charles Heidsieck… because it’s a cracker!

The legend of Charles-Camille Heidsieck

While the cellars are 2,000 years old, Champagne Charles Heidsieck only began in 1851.

Founder Charles-Camille Heidsieck was born in 1822 and was from the same Heidsieck family who owned Piper-Heidsieck Champagne. The Heidsieck family were all originally from Germany, and Charles-Camille’s great uncle founded Champagne Heidsieck et Cie House in 1785. Champagne Heidsieck et Cie House later became Piper-Heidsieck and while Charles-Camille could have worked at Piper-Heidsieck, he was an entrepreneur and wanted to forge his own path so he created his own company Charles Heidsieck in 1851.

Charles bought his vineyards and decided not to buy just any ordinary cellars … he wanted to use the ancient chalk pits to cellar his champagnes. So he bought 8 kilometres of chalk pits for the Charles Heidsieck crayeres.

There is a long and fascinating history with this champagne and Charles Heidseick, the man. He was an innovative entrepreneur, marketer and salesman.. and a bit of celebrity in his day.

Just one year after establishing his champagne house, Charles traveled to America to conquer the international market for champagne. At this time, America was largely untouched by the champagne trade and Charles took America by storm.

Acting as an Ambassador of Champagne and of France itself, Charles is said to have seduced New York society and won over the South, including the wild Louisiana. He was said to have been arrested as a spy and imprisoned in Louisiana during the Civil War, needing the intervention of Abraham Lincoln to be released. He was charming and business-savvy and became quite a society figure. He was invited to all the right parties and the press followed his every move, giving him the nickname “Champagne Charlie”.

His exploits and fame saw his nickname Champagne Charlie popularised as a song and a movie made of his life called Champagne Charlie… check out the 1989 biopic starring Hugh Grant about Champagne Charlie’s exploits! At the time of filming Hugh Grant is said to have said “I play the archetypal hero. I hit people in the face, I rescue pretty girls. They fall in love with me. I’m a man, I’m charming. All the things I wanted to be.”

Charles-Camille Heidsieck

Hugh Grant as Champagne Charlie

The song Champagne Charlie… remember this was written in 1868!!!!!

Almost a century later, the House created a “Champagne Charlie” cuvée in tribute to the audacity of its founder. Just five vintages of “Champagne Charlie” exist (1979, 1981 1982, 1983 and 1985) but I have heard the Champagne Charlie cuvée is going to make a comeback, in the loving care of Charles Heidsieck Director Stephan Leroux. I met Stephan in Brisbane a few years ago and we chatted about his mission to resurrect the brand.

According to Stephan, while the champagne brand was in the hands of Rémy Cointreau for many years the brand suffered from neglect, being marketed like a spirit. But in 2011, the Descours family took over the House (along with sister house Piper-Hiedsieck) with the aim of ensuring its international renown.

Into the crayeres of Champagne Charles Hiedsieck

Walking into the Charles Hiedsieck crayeres, I got the familiar feeling of freshness, coolness and humidity… it is 10 degrees in the cellars at all times.

The natural chalk in the earth in the Champagne region imparts minerality to the wines but also forms the walls of many underground cellars and crayeres. The chalk is like a natural sponge, absorbing the water which is good for the roots of the vines and cellaring the champagne.

According to the former wine maker for Charles Hiedsieck, Regis Camus, there are four dimensions to champagne at Charles Hiedsieck – the three types of grapes – pinot noir, chardonnay, pinot meurnier – and the fourth dimension is time…. the time the wines spend in the chalk cellars, which the house describe as being like subterranean cathedrals.

Time is a very important part of the wine making process at Charles Hiedsieck and one of the hallmarks of their champagne is the ageing process. All the cuvées spend at least four years and as much as 40 years in the cellars.

You may notice that the shape of the bottle is quite different for Charles Heidsieck … the bottle shape is inspired by a natural arc in the cellars – see the image below. The bottle shape is called the crayere bouteille … and has even been copyrighted!

The resurrection of Charles Heidsieck

Charles Heidsieck was re-launched in 2012. Until then, under the ownership of Rémy Cointreau, 4 million bottles of Charles Heidsieck were produced a year. But the house was hit hard by the global financial crisis and was sold off to the Descours family (who also took over sister house Piper-Hiedsieck) with the aim of ensuring its international renown and now produces just 1 million bottles a year.

But setting aside all the history and the story and remarkable, historic crayeres, the wine making and the champagnes are what should be most celebrated about Charles Heidsieck.

So let’s – finally! – talk about the champagnes!

Charles Heidsieck is a very masculine style and a champagne for wine lovers. If you want to try something that will surprise you and re-define your definition of what champagne can be, Charles Heidsieck will definitely do that.

On my tour, I enjoyed the Brut Reserve, the 2005 rose and the 2004 Blanc de Millénaires and have enjoyed in other tastings the Brut Rosé, the 2000 and 2005 vintage, the non-vintage blanc de blancs and the 1995 Blanc de Millénaires. 

But for now, you can order all of the Charles Heidsieck range from Emperor Champagne in Australia and there is a lot of detail on the website.

I haven’t had the honour of meeting the Chef de Cave from Charles Heidsieck, Cyril Brun, but the Champagne Dame and CEO of Emperor Champanges, Kyla Kirkpatrick has, so make sure you check out her interview below.

Ladies dies at lunch, with me on the far right and my host Dominique beside me. We enjoyed lunch at Chateau De Rilly, between our tours at Piper Heidsieck in the moring and Charles Heidsieck in the afternoon.

My posts about Charles Heidsieck

I have included Charles Heidsieck in a LOT of my posts.

To finish, thank you to Dominique and the global team at Charles Heidsieck for inviting my to tour at Charles Heidsieck. My writing simply can not do the champagnes justice so PLEASE try all of the wines yourself and let me know what you think.

If you try them, make sure you post a pic and tag @bubbleandflute #bubbleandflute #happychamper #champagnefan 

I received no payment for writing this post but I was a guest of Champagne Charles Heidsieck for the tour and tasting. If you would like me to review and write about your champagne or sparkling wine, email marnie@bubbleandflute.com.

Bubble & Flute promotes the responsible consumption of alcohol for individuals of legal drinking age in their country.