The new cuvée of Champagne Heidsieck arrives in NYC by sailboat

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Charles Heidsieck joined the shipper Grain de Sail to celebrate the 200th anniversary of its founderand anniversary with an Atlantic crossing that leaves barely a carbon footprint.

When the Charles Heidsieck Champagne house celebrates 200and birthday of its founder at a party in New York on June 16 by popping the cork of the first cuvée of “Champagne Charlie”, the new sparkling wine will have added a 24-day ocean voyage to its aging process.

It’s because last Friday night [May 6]the first 120 cases of the last cuvée of Champagne Charlie, produced since 1985, have arrived in the port of New York after a transatlantic voyage of almost a month aboard the modern merchant ship Grain de Sail.

He began his adventure in Saint-Malo on the coast of Brittany, and the total crossing of nearly 400 miles was done entirely by sail.

“The trip was quite tough with a few storms, but we’ve seen worse,” said François Le Naourès, one of the four crew members, and also a photographer on board, Saturday morning after arrival.

In addition to the Heidsieck cargo, the Grain de Sail also carried another 600 cases from four other French winemakers.

The bond between champagne producer and young shipper pays homage both to the 200-year-old French founder who helped popularize champagne in America, and to Grain de Sail, the company and ship of the same name whose the ambition is to revive an alternative -energy method of transporting food and wine across the Atlantic while leaving an almost zero carbon footprint on the waves.

It also serves as a reminder of a simpler way of doing things at a time when the international supply chain has been badly broken.

Charles Camille Heidsieck made his first crossing of the Atlantic in 1852 with cases of his new Champagne, and he made additional trips in the years that followed, giving Americans a taste for the luxurious sparkling.

However, the man dubbed “Champagne Charlie” by the press was then caught in a Civil War crossfire that left him in a military prison.

The Charles Heidsieck company later celebrated its founder with a special “Champagne Charlie” bottling at the end of the last century, the last vintage being 1985.

This 1985 vintage was 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir, but details of the latest Champagne Charlie are being kept under wraps by the producer until the bottles open next month in New York.

“I can’t say much about the wine at this stage,” said Stephen Leroux, managing director of Charles Heidsieck, after receiving news of the ship’s arrival from Olivier Barreau, co-owner and president of Grain de Sail.

“It will be unveiled on June 16 at 9:00 p.m. All I can say is that it’s at the heart of Charles’ DNA, witty and unconventional – and full of spirit.

The house says it plans to continue selective shipping to the United States via Grain de Sail, with Sailboat being only US$2-3 more expensive per bottle to transport than conventional shipping.

“The owners of Grain de Sail wanted to green maritime transport”, explains its marketing director, Stefan Gallard. “Although the technology to do wind propulsion is there – and it’s renewable and cost effective – those ships didn’t exist, so the owners had to build one.”

The vessel is 24 meters (about 80 feet) long and can carry 50 metric tons, Gallard says, or about the equivalent of two shipping containers.

“The hull is well insulated and there is a small air conditioner on board to keep the wines cool,” he says, noting that there are also alternative energy generators on board – wind, hydrogen and solar.

“We didn’t want to create a new product to ship, and it’s too expensive to do that with raw materials,” Gallard says of the company’s origins. “But we want to help make consumption greener.”

Grain de Sail therefore began as an owner/shipper of chocolate and coffee from its operations in the Dominican Republic, and only began shipping French wine to America after its first trip in November 2020.

The ship makes two round trips a year, and this is its fourth overall. In two weeks, Grain de Sail leaves for the Dominican Republic before returning to France with its cargo of chocolate and coffee.

The operations were successful enough that the company is now building a second larger vessel, twice as long with five times the carrying capacity.

Although it was carrying a treasure of wine, Le Naourès notes that the Grain de Sail is a “dry boat” – no alcohol consumption during the crossing. Unsurprisingly, the crew spent the evening of arrival, says Le Naourès, at “The Estuary – the bar opposite the port”.

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