Champagne Charlie


Champagne Charlie

The Frenchman Who Taught Americans to Love Champagne

Don and Petie Kladstrup

296 pages
8 photographs, 22 illustrations, index


November 2021


$32.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

November 2021


$32.95 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

November 2021


$32.95 Add to Cart

About the Book

A New York Times Best Wine Book of 2021

Champagne Charlie tells the story of a dashing young Frenchman, Charles Heidsieck, who introduced hard-drinking Americans to champagne in the mid-nineteenth century and became famously known as Champagne Charlie. Ignoring critics who warned that America was a dangerous place to do business, Heidsieck plunged right in, considering it “the land of opportunity” and succeeding there beyond his wildest dreams. Those dreams, however, became a nightmare when the Civil War erupted and he was imprisoned and nearly executed after being charged with spying for the Confederacy.

Only after the Lincoln administration intervened was Heidsieck’s life saved, but his champagne business had gone bankrupt and was virtually dead. Then, miraculously, Heidsieck became owner of nearly half the city of Denver, the fastest-growing city in the West. By selling the land, Heidsieck was eventually able to resurrect his business to its former glory.

For all its current-day glamour, effervescence, and association with the high life, champagne had a lackluster start. It was pale red in color, insipid in taste, and completely flat. In fact, champagne-makers, including the legendary Dom Pérignon, fought strenuously to eliminate bubbles. Champagne’s success can be traced back to King Louis XV and his mistress Madame de Pompadour, Napoleon Bonaparte, countless wars and prohibitions, and, most important to the United States, Charles Heidsieck.

Champagne Charlie tells the history of champagne and the thrilling tale of how the go-to celebratory drink of our time made its way to the United States, thanks to the controversial figure of Heidsieck.

Author Bio

Don and Petie Kladstrup are former journalists and now live in Paris. Don was a television news correspondent for CBS and ABC News from 1978 through 1994 and is the winner of three Emmys, two Dupont-Columbia Awards (Gold Baton), the Robert F. Kennedy award for humanitarian journalism, several Overseas Press Club awards, and a National Association of Black Journalists award. Petie was a reporter for several midwestern newspapers, assistant to the U.S. ambassador to UNESCO in Paris, and is the winner of an Overseas Press Club award. They are the coauthors of Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure and Champagne: How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed over War and Hard Times.


"Don and Petie Kladstrup offer not only a fascinating portrait of the 19th-century founder of the Charles Heidsieck Champagne house but an evocative sketch of America and the wine business around the time of the Civil War."—Eric Asimov, New York Times

"A fascinating portrait of an audacious French wine merchant during his travels around mid-19th-century America."—Moira Hodgson, Wall Street Journal

"Champagne Charlie is the dimensional, captivating biography narrative of a man who lived his life with vision and conviction—and who brought champagne to the US."—Amy O'Loughlin, Foreword Reviews

"The Kladstrups weave a wonderful narrative, rich in history both well-known and obscure."—Eric Annino,

“A high-spirited romp through the world of French champagne and antebellum America, chronicling the exploits of wine-merchant sensation Charles ‘Champagne Charlie’ Heidsieck. Don and Petie Kladstrup are storytellers with a keen eye for a good yarn and with an even keener appreciation of the rich history of the world’s favorite beverage.”—Tilar J. Mazzeo, author of The Widow Clicquot: The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It

 “Like an effervescent de Tocqueville, Heidsieck himself was a keen observer of all things American. Champagne Charlie is U.S. history paired with a primer on champagne. We learn that George Washington employed a wine advisor, that America was once lousy with counterfeit champagne, and that, for a while, cotton was an acceptable currency for purchasing bubbly. Deeply researched, elegantly written, Champagne Charlie goes down as smooth as a glass of Heidsieck’s finest. Here is a book worth savoring—and celebrating.”—Eric Weiner, author of the New York Times best-seller The Geography of Bliss

Champagne Charlie is a fascinating, fast-moving narrative of Heidsieck’s remarkable story and the tumultuous times in which he lived.”—Lesley J. Gordon, Civil War historian and Charles G. Summersell Chair of Southern History at the University of Alabama

“From raging success to humiliating scandal, from creating international thirst to losing all in the jaws of a harrowing Civil War, Champagne Charlie is a true original—and with effervescent prose and connoisseurs’ savvy, our guides don’t miss a moment. As much a history of the maturation of American taste as of self-promoting European sophistication, this entertaining story will have you gently popping a cork in no time! Cheers!”—Joseph Spellman, named world’s best sommelier in French Wine and Spirits competition, 1997

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. The First Sip
2. Young Charles
3. Discovery of the New World
4. Reading the Stars
5. The Panic
6. The Lion of New York
7. Southern Comfort
8. “It’s War”
9. The Beast
10. Into the Jaws
11. “We Are Not in Venice”
12. The Homecoming
13. The Man Who Never Forgot
14. “War Seems to Follow Me”
15. The Denver Miracle

Also of Interest