Spirits / Vin de Liqueur / Ratafia de Champagne / Champagne Guy Charlemagne
Champagne Guy Charlemagne - Ratafia de Champagne
Owner Philippe Charlemagne, a mile-a-minute talker, is the fifth-generation descendant of father-to-son winegrowers in Le Mesnil since 1892. With RM status, he only harvests and vinifies grapes grown on his 15 hectares of vines. The majority of his vines are in the Côte des Blancs, more specifically Oger and Le Mesnil along with some plots in Cuis. But Charlemagne also has vines in Mancy, Glannes and in the Sezannais that he uses for specific cuvées. 87% of his vines produce Chardonnay, with the remaining 13% producing Pinot Noir. About 130,000 bottles of champagne are produced a year, with 70% of that production exported abroad.
Harvest is carried out entirely by hand and usually takes place in September. Freshly cut, the grapes are delicately pressed in one of the family's two traditional presses, each containing 4,000 kilograms of grapes. Slow fermentation in temperature-controlled stainless steel vats slowly transform the grapes into wine. After 100% malolactic fermentation, the wine is blended by marrying wines with different aromatic qualities. The bottles age quietly in dark chalk cellars beneath the winery where the secondary fermentation takes place. After riddling and disgorging, the bottles are prepared and labeled with an eagle, the Charlemagne emblem.
Charlemagne is also unique because he still produces and exports a Ratafia, the vin de liqueur of the region. For bottled champagne, only the free run juice and first two pressings of the grapes are allowed (just over 80% of the grape’s potential juice). Third and fourth pressings, which often contain bitter or astringent elements, are set aside for the base matter of the Ratafia de Champagne.
This rich juice, usually made with a blend of the 3 major champagne grapes (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier), is placed in a vat and chilled, allowing the heavy solids to settle. After a racking, the unfermented juice is fortified with the addition of about 30% clear marc de champagne or fine de champagne at 60% alcohol, purchased from a local distillery. The addition of alcohol overwhelms the yeasts and prevents the fruit juice from fermenting, leaving a stable sweet blend of around 18% alcohol. This mixture is then placed in large oak casks where it is often mixed with other vintages for a solera-type aging. It is normally served as an aperitif, but can also be consumed with desserts or with foie gras and strong, soft rind cheeses.
Charlemagne’s Ratafia (made in the traditional, INAO-protected method) is aged in oak casks for 4 years. It has a lovely amber color that emits aromas of cherry, almond, chocolate and fine herbs. On the palate, more dried fruits emerge on its creamy texture, including apricot, grapes and spices. We enjoy this with strong cheeses like Munster, Epoisses and Maroilles, accompanied by walnuts.