Charles Heidsieck founded the Champagne house he named for himself in 1851. An energetic marketer, Heidsieck traveled to the United States in 1852 where his Champagne became immensely popular. In 1864 he took his marketing skills and his wine to Russia, where the Champagne became the favorite of the royal Russian family. Today the famous estate in Epernay is part of EPI, a French luxury goods conglomerate owned by the Descours family. Charles Heidsieck is, according to Robert M. Parker Jr., “known as a source for rich, supple, forward Champagne…” One of the maison’s prestige cuvees is a blanc de noir called “Champagne Charlie,” named for the founder, who was called Champagne Charlie by his first customers in the United States.
Champagne is a small, beautiful wine growing region northeast of Paris whose famous name is misused a million times a day. As wine enthusiasts and all French people are well aware, only sparkling wines produced in Champagne from grapes grown in Champagne can be called Champagne. Sparkling wines produced anywhere else, including in other parts of France, must be called something besides Champagne. Champagne producers are justifiably protective of their wines and the prestige associated with true Champagne. Though the region was growing grapes and making wines in ancient times, it began specializing in sparkling wine in the 17th century, when a Benedictine monk named Dom Pierre Pérignon formulated a set guidelines to improve the quality of the local sparkling wines. Despite legends to the contrary, Dom Pérignon did not “invent” sparkling wine, but his rules about aggressive pruning, small yields and multiple pressings of the grapes were widely adopted, and by the 18th and 19th centuries Champagne had become the wine of choice in fashionable courts and palaces throughout Europe. Today there are 75,000 acres of vineyards in Champagne growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. Champagne’s official appellation system classifies villages as Grand Cru or Premier Cru, though there are also many excellent Champagnes that simply carry the regional appellation. Along with well-known international Champagne houses there are numerous so-called “producer Champagnes,” meaning wines made by families who, usually for several or more generations, have worked their own vineyards and produced Champagne only from their own grapes.