|Bubbles (via Pixabay)|
Champagne Cyril Freshens Up Charlie.
An Online Masterclass.
An Online Masterclass.
Charles Heidsieck, one of the most admired Champagne houses, was founded in 1851, by the man who would become known as ‘Champagne Charlie’. Their size, and commitment to excellence, has been underpinned by a winemaking team that between them have been named 'Sparkling Winemaker of the Year' at the International Wine Challenge 16 times.
Cyril Brun is current Chef de Caves of Charles Heidsieck Champagne, and last Thursday he took close to two hundred of us through an online masterclass. The theme was: Tradition through innovation: Charles’ signature in the future.
If Charles (aficionados use the first name) has been making Champagne since 1851 you may well think that innovation is scarcely needed at this point in time. But nothing stands still. Cyril though puts Charles fans at ease, assuring us that there is nothing drastic afoot, that much will stay as it is, that he is just tweaking things a bit.
Cyril joined Charles Heidsieck in summer 2015 after more than 15 years as deputy cellar master at Veuve Clicquot. Cyril also had experience at Haut Brion and spent few years working for Metro where he was wine buyer. Since he joined, he has been implementing several slight changes to preserve and improve what fans all know as the “Charles style”
As you can imagine, over the decades, Charles Heidsieck has built exceptional relationships with the best growers across Champagne. Precise selection of grapes takes place from 60 specific sites.
Let us start with the three Champagne grapes. Cyril’s opinion is that this trinity of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, will go on and on. One of the participants asked if “new” grapes were being “trialed”. Cyril answered that, though he was open to trialing, he has not been fully convinced of any new grape being allowed into the champagne club. “Maybe in future.”
Blending from two or three grapes might seem a straightforward process. It’s not. It is a critical task for any champagne house. Fairly complex too, with three dimensions:
- wines are blended from different crus;
- wines are blended from different grape varieties;
- wines are blended from different years.
As it stands, there is competition amongst the various champagne houses for these three grapes. Charles Heidsieck have embarked on a “more selective sourcing of grapes”. They are exploring exciting new villages in Vallée de la Marne and in Côte des Bars yet the selection now comes from about 50 villages instead of 80 in the past. At the same time, they are consolidating their Pinot Noir.
One of Cyril’s primary tasks in recent years has been to enhance the freshness of the Charles champagnes without moving too far from the signature style. Oxygen management through “jetting” is one method. Jetting, kicked off by a high-speed injection of 0.1μl of water and sulphites, ensures consistency of each batch after disgorgement, same amount of oxygen in each and every bottle. The method has been used for decades in brewing.
The house is gradually moving - they started four years back - to using synthetic cork for the entire range. After many trials, Mytik Diam corks were chosen and they find it a perfect tool to make the best of the jetting effect. Other benefits include: no corked taste; no fear of long storage; consistency of every bottle (no distortion due to variations of oxygen), and, many of us will be glad to hear, easier opening!
|Facebook pic from Charles|
The masterclass was followed by a question and answer session. Here’s a flavour for you…
“How do you decide when to pick?”
Cyril emphasised that balance, not ripeness, is the key element in picking. So he does not rely solely on the technical measurement of sugar content - he tastes, “a lot”. Nowadays, because of climate change, they are picking 2 to 3 weeks earlier than ten years ago. (Editor’s note: Are you listening, Mr Trump?)
“Why do you have so much more information on the label?”
Cyril was happy to answer: “Transparency is the respect we pay to our customers.”
“What is the best vintage you have tasted?”
Cyril started with the 1981, “still a young one”. But he seems most taken with the 1955. “Very memorable. Time has had no impact on it.”
Irish importers Liberty Wines tell us that the masterpiece from Charles Heidsieck is the Blanc des Millénaires. Made of the best Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs (Cramant, Avize, Oger, Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger and Vertus), this is an elegant and distinctive Blanc de Blancs. Cyril described the 2004, the current release, as "fabulously fresh and already offering the beautiful colour, long finish and silky texture so characteristic of this cuvée, as legendary as the celebrated founder of the House”.
That’s a good tip for you, so I’ll end on that! Santé!!