Wine experts agree, the Charles Heidsieck brand is synonymous with consistent high quality. The house emphasises extended maturation and a high proportion of reserve wines, giving champagnes of remarkable creaminess, complexity and richness. During the tenure of the last four chefs de cave - Daniel Thibaut, Regis Camus, Thierry Roset and now Cyril Brun - the house has won the title of Sparkling Winemaker of the Year no fewer than 15 times in the International Wine Challenge. Put simply, these are beautifully crafted champagnes, worthy of a place in any cellar.
12 Allee du Vignoble, Reims. +33 3 26 84 43 00
Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV
Contains the three classic varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier in roughly equal parts for the base year. The blend includes 40% of reserve wines, with an average age of around 10 years and comprised of approximately 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir. In the past, the Brut Reserve would have been blended from upwards of 100 crus, though this has been reduced to around 60 in the present day. Matured for a minimum of 3 years on the lees in chalk ‘crayeres’, with at least one further year in bottle before release.
Charles Heidsieck Rose Reserve NV
Contains the three classic varieties of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier in roughly equal parts for the base year. The blend also includes 20% of reserve wines (roughly equal parts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) averaging 7-8 years old, and 5-6% of still red Pinot Noir. Matured for a minimum of 5 years.
Charles Heidsieck Brut Millesime
Vintage champagne produced in the best years from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir only. The exact percentage of varieties depends on the vintage, between 60-70% Pinot Noir and 30-40% Chardonnay. Vineyards that make up the house style include Oger, Avize, Vertus and Cramant for Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir from Mailly and Ambonnay. Matured on the lees for a minimum of 8 years, with a further six months minimum in bottle.
Charles Heidsieck Rose Millesime
Rose vintage champagne made in the best years, from 65-70% Pinot Noir and 30-35% Chardonnay. The blend includes 10% of still red Pinot Noir. Grapes are selected from around 120 crus. Matured for a minimum of 10 years before release.
Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires
100% Chardonnay from five crus: Cramant for complexity and ageability, Avize for verve and minerality, Oger for creaminess and weight, Mesnil-sur-Oger for balance and Vertus for floral freshness. This vintage blanc de blancs is aged for at least 15 years before release. It is the prestige cuvee of the house. The 1983 vintage was the first to be released.
Charles Heidsieck Champagne Charlie
A vintage luxury champagne produced from 1979 to 1985, with additional vinotheque releases. Made from roughly equal parts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
It was founder Charles Heidsieck’s philosophy not to purchase vineyards, but to keep them in the hands of the individual growers, whom he considered experts at getting the best fruit from their own sites. He prioritised the purchases of cellars over vineyard land in his lifetime.
Today the house owns around 60ha of vineyards, with roughly 30ha in the north of Champagne and 30ha in the south. Of these, 15ha of vineyards are located in Grand Cru villages, in Ay, Ambonnay and Bouzy. But this is insufficient to supply all of their needs. They have exceptional relationships with the most experienced growers throughout Champagne, from whom they purchase grapes annually. Of all the grapes that go into their champagnes, they press over 95% themselves.
Fermentation takes place in stainless steel, and malolactic fermentation is allowed to take place to soften the youthful acidity. Once the blending has taken place, selected yeasts are added to enable the second fermentation in bottle.
The winemaking philosophy of the house emphasises long maturation and a high proportion of reserve wines. All of the non-vintage cuvees mature on the lees for a minimum of 3 years, followed by at least one additional year in bottle. The classic Brut Reserve contains around 40% reserve wines - which endows the signature cuvee of the house with true complexity and a creaminess in the middle palate.
The house is also at the forefront of the movement in Champagne towards greater transparency for consumers. Since 1990, all non-vintage bottles of the house are labelled with the dates of their cellaring and disgorgement.
Charles-Camille Heidsieck was only 29 years old when he left the family firm of Heidsieck & Co to establish his breakaway venture in 1851.
Charles was keenly aware of the obstacles his new brand would face in the mature French market, and there was already intense competition to win over the Russian market. So the dashing young entrepreneur decided to promote his wines in the United States. With his personal sense of style and lavish sense of entertaining, Charles conquered Manhattan society, and went on to win over the South. He became so well known there that he earned the famous nickname ‘Champagne Charlie’. By 1857, he was selling over 300,000 bottles in the US alone.
His venture was not all smooth sailing, however. When the US Civil War broke out, with over half the company’s assets tied into unpaid accounts, his Northern agent refused to make payment for wine shipped to Southern merchants. So in 1862, desperate to secure payment, Charles was forced to journey secretly from North to South. In Mobile, Alabama, he eventually accepted payment in cotton from a merchant, which he tried to smuggle out in two ships. But neither ship was successful in running the Yankee blockade, and the cargo was sunk.
Charles then tried to charter a ship to take him to Mexico or Cuba, to allow him to return to Europe. Whether it was brave or naive, he agreed to carry a diplomatic pouch for the French consul in Mobile back to France. When he was captured by Northern forces, they found the pouch and imprisoned him on charges of being a French spy, in what would become known as “the Heidsieck Incident”. Despite the entreaties of the French authorities, and even an intervention on his behalf from President Abraham Lincoln, Charles was held prisoner for seven months before being released.
But Charles’ good fortune returned. The brother of his Northern agent felt guilty about how he had been treated, and made recompense to Charles by giving him deeds to land in Colorado. Proceeds from the sale of that land saved the company.
By 1867, following expansion of the business in Belgium and Great Britain, cash flow had improved sufficiently for the Charles to purchase 47 chalk ‘crayeres’ - the deep, hand-tunnelled cellars around Reims dating from Roman times. They provided the company with perfect conditions for champagne maturation.
With the arrival of World War I came devastation to the vineyards and economic hardship for all of the producers in Champagne. But Prohibition in the US revived the company’s fortunes after WWI. Ironically, they sold twice as much champagne to the US during prohibition than to any other country.
The house of Henriot has had longstanding ties with Maison Charles Heidsieck. It was a partnership with Ernest Henriot that helped Charles to establish his business in the early 1850s. Eventually, in 1976, Ernest’s descendant Joseph Henriot purchased Charles Heidsieck, and the two houses still share a cellar in Reims.
In 1985 the business was sold to the Remy Cointreau group, who eventually disposed of its champagne division in a private sale to EPI in 2011. The company currently operates as C&P Heidsieck, with its sister house Piper Heidsieck. Damien Lafaurie has been president of the company since June 2015, succeeding Cecile Bonnefond. Stephen Leroux is executive director of Charles Heidsieck.
But it is the last four chefs de cave who have done the most to build the modern-day reputation of the house for consistent high quality. They include Daniel Thibaut, Regis Camus, Thierry Roset (who passed away suddenly in the autumn of 2014) and Cyril Brun, who was appointed in May of 2015.
Cyril comes from a family of winemakers and coopers in Ay, and worked in the mass retail sector before joining Veuve Cliquot as oenologist. Today, at Charles Heidsieck, he is in charge of winemaking and wine communication. According to Cyril: “I would be happy if in 15 years’ time people say that Charles is as good as it ever was, that my mark has entirely blended in with the House style.”