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Sparkling Surprises - Charlemagne Caves

Sparkling Surprises - Charlemagne Caves

Even if you are familiar with Angoulême you may be forgiven for not having passed Les Caves Charlemagne – tucked at the end of a quiet impasse, the cellars are hewn into the overhanging limestone cliff and hidden from view. But enter the white gates and you will find a bustling business where little has changed since it was created in 1921...

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Lucien Charlemagne first spotted the cave’s potential when visiting the region - not only did the cave possess a constant 15°C temperature but it also had a stable humidity. Born in the Champagne region, Charlemagne was himself an œnologist and realised that with the abundant supply of white wine from the Charente and the conditions in the cave, he could bring sparkling wine to a new market place.

Ninety years on and the business still produces wine using the same traditional methods as for champagne. ‘Our only concession to modernity is the mechanical turning’ says Emmanuel Bouyer, owner. ‘We have to turn each bottle an eighth turn each week so that the sediment falls into the neck…hard work by hand but happily now replaced by a machine.’

The Bouyer family took over the business in 1981 and like the Charlemagne family, wine making is in their blood. Fourth generation cognac and eaux-de-vie producers in the Grande Champagne region, the acquisition of the cellars with their sparkling wine heritage was an important step in their development. Their latest addition to their portfolio is the award-winning Charente wine label Mainart from Les Maison des Maines.

A visit to the cellars is highly recommended – entering by a small door, it takes time for your senses to acclimatise to the still, slightly damp atmosphere. Only then are the cavernous proportions of the cellars apparent. Over 500,000 bottles are stored in the depths of the now 6000m2 cave, all at different angles; some are horizontal but many holding Charlemagne sparkling wine are, somewhat strangely, being held upside down. ‘The traditional methods are technically complex and require a precise chemistry’ explains Sarah Demereau, the English-speaking assistant. ‘When the harvest is bought in and the fermentation has been completed, we put the wine into the bottles. At the same time we add a ‘liqueur de tirage’, a mixture of yeast and sugar which starts the second fermentation to produce the bubbles.’ For nine months or more, the bottles rest horizontally, closed with a metal cap but when the second fermentation produces sediment, the bottles have to be tilted and turned. Little by little, the sediment descends into the neck at which point the bottle is uncapped, the sediment drops out and the bottle is corked before being finished with it fine wire cap.

Les Caves Charlemagne produce six different types of sparkling wine, both brut and demi-sec including a bio variety and their Sparkling XO – sparkling wine with a touch of cognac. With prices starting at just €5.95 a bottle, this is one way to enjoy a glass of bubbly without making a hole in your pocket!

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J&L Charlemagne shop is open Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 12.30pm and from 1.30pm to 5.30 pm. Tour of the caves is by appointment, simply telephone 05 45 95 02 77 or email Cette adresse e-mail est protégée contre les robots spammeurs. Vous devez activer le JavaScript pour la visualiser.
Address: 15 impasse du Tropic - 16000 Angoulême. www.charlemagne.fr

Published in Living Poitou-Charentes 2012 © All rights reserved