The Civil War, Denver and Champagne Charlie – Charles Heidsieck

First, before we forget, happy holidays from Pearl Wine Company! It’s been a great year plus, and we would not be celebrating with you as such without you believing in us. Thanks, and all the best to you and yours!

Now, on to the wine!

This week we have quite the story for you. The amazing story of Champagne Charlie, in fact. This is one story that, on the surface, could seem to be made up. However, with all the twists and turns, one quickly realizes this particular tale would indeed be a hard one to fabricate!

Charles Heidsieck, later known as Champagne Charlie, had a thirst for entrepreneurship and champagne, both of which he likely inherited from his grand-uncle, founder of Piper Heidsieck, and his father, who gained notoriety for riding ahead of Napoleon’s Army into Moscow to sell champagne to the victor of the impending battle. Yes, Champagne was in his blood!

heidsieck-banner-2In 1851, at the age of 29, Charles Heidsieck set out to create a champagne house that would embody his character and that of his family before him. In 1852 Charles visited the United States. As he began to tour New York and the New England area, he partnered with a local sales agent who believed in the bubbly. Within months, Charles was the toast of the New World. He received extensive newspaper coverage and was quickly dubbed “Champagne Charlie.” In 1861, sales exceeded 20,000 cases.

However, in 1861 the United States found itself in the midst of the Civil War. Charles received news of the war while in France, and, fearing for half of his assets which were tied up in the hands of an unscrupulous New York sales agent, he left for New York immediately. The exact details of what law or act the New York broker cited to Charles upon his arrival in New York are difficult to decipher but, in essence, the broker Charles had worked with in New York informed him upon his return of an act of Congress which absolved Northerners of their cotton debts to Southerners. The agent claimed this law absolved him from his debt to Charles and refused to release Heidsieck’s assets. Charles was left with no choice but to go try and collect his money from original source in the South.

Charles had to travel first to Kansas City and then to New Orleans to circumvent the Union forces. He arrived finding the entire city bankrupt. The only repayment the champagne merchant was able to obtain was a warehouse full of cotton. By this time, cotton was in high demand in Europe because of the war, so Charles decided he could make do.

However, shortly after sending his cotton to sea, both ships were intercepted and sunk. Charles was then arrested and charged as a confederate spy, despite his pleas and explanations. The French consulate was eventually able to help free Heidsieck in November of 1862 (a presidential pardon from Lincoln himself didn’t hurt, either); sadly, by this time his wife was selling off their assets. Still, Charles was just happy to be alive!

Roman crayere

A Roman-dug “crayere” or chalk cave. These caves are where most champagne is aged. Great taste takes time.

The story takes a good turn, though: in 1863 Charles received a letter from the brother of the New York agent who had refused Charles his own assets. According to the agent’s brother, his family was ashamed of what the agent had done to Mr. Heidsieck. As means of repayment, the family offered Charles deeds to land in DENVER, CO! The deeds added up to a third of what was then Denver. It was with the proceeds from the land sale that Charles was able to pay his current debts. With some of the remaining proceeds he invested in Roman Crayeres, the famous caves in which most French champagne makers age their bottles. The caves had been used for cold storage since the Roman times, and, frankly more were not being made. The investment was a wise one as these cellars are still used today. You can guess that Heidsieck made a nice profit renting space to other champagne producers.

Today, Charles Heidsieck is led by winemaker Cyril Brun, a 15 year vet from Veuve Clicquot. The operation as a whole is owned by a family determined to make C.H. the toast once again. To that, Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve is made with 40 percent reserve wines from vintages that are at least 10 years old! In comparison, most houses blend around 20 percent reserve wines. In our humble opinion, this champagne is this is some of the best out there. Salute to “Champagne Charlie”!

As for this week’s bottle’s, well:

NV Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve, Champagne France – Champagne :: $64 Sale $58 

The blend offers a complex, voluptuous nose with notes of freshly baked brioche and the richness of toasted notes and sundrenched fruits–mango, apricot and greengage plumalong with a touch of dried fruits, pistachio and almond. The meticulous selection of crus ensures the delicious and sophisticated harmony of this champagne. The texture is reminiscent of a crisp layer of nougatine on a velvety cream pastry filled with plump, red plums and ripe cherries. The reserve wines, some dating back more than 15 years, give the wine lushness. The depth of the two-thousand year old chalk cellars where the wine matures offer a touch of praline along with glazed notes and vanilla.

NV Charles Heidsieck Brut Rose Reserve, Champagne France – Pinot Noir :: $88 sale $80

Light, bright orange. Intensely perfumed scents of raspberry, orange zest, white flowers and chalky minerals. Juicy and precise in the mouth, offering vibrant red berry and blood orange flavors and a complicating hint of brioche. The floral quality comes back strong on the very long, incisive finish, which features a subtle anise quality and smoky minerality.

Discover why 5280 Magazine Readers and Editors voted Pearl Wine Company Denver’s BEST BOTTLE SHOP. PWC takes pride in being Denver’s best wine shop–a craft liquor specialty store. Conveniently located on South Pearl Street in Denver’s Platt Park neighborhood.