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LES ECHOS

Bubble Trouble? Champagne Region Dips Into High-End Vodka

High-quality grapes from Champagne production used to be made into ratafia liqueur. Now French winemakers are exploring a more trendy (and Russian!) alternative.

Guillotine vodka barrels
Guillotine vodka barrels
Guillaume Roussange

A taboo has been broken in Champagne country. Traditionally, winemakers in the French area famed for its legendary bubbly have turned leftover grapes into a relatively obscure liqueur, called ratafia. But now, several producers in and around the province of Champagne in the northeast of France are turning the grapes into a more popular spirit: vodka.

Among the most recent to make the switch is Paul Berkmann, a former French television executive, who launched his own vodka in 2017, called Guillotine. His aim? To revolutionize the world of spirits by producing a premium beverage from three grape varieties of Champagne. "We have chosen these grapes for their enological quality, not as a marketing campaign," says Berkmann​.

Aging in oak barrels

The production, using neither food dye nor additives, has allowed the brand to offer the first-ever vodka aged in oak barrels. There's also another elite product, designed in partnership with Petrossian, that includes 20 grams of Oscietre caviar per liter. Already, 8,000 bottles have been shipped to the U.S.

It's a success in France too, with vodka now seen on the menus of most prestigious Parisian establishments. "The Tour d'Argent restaurant has even developed a signature dish for Guillotine, selected twice in a row as the best vodka in the world!" Berkmann boasts.​

Berkmann isn't the first to have bet on Champagne grapes. In 2013, Valentin Lefebvre and his associates paved the way in creating Cobalte, a vodka that is distilled multiple times to obtain a pure and natural product. "The majority of industrial brands are poisons. We're meeting a demand from consumers who want to drink less, but better," explains Lefebvre.

This positioning in the premium sector explains the vodka's selling price: 45 euros for a bottle of the classic edition of Guillotine, 34 euros for Cobalte and almost the same for the Veuve Capet, the third brand created in Champagne. The two founders, entrepreneurs Côme Simphal and Timothée Duguit have chosen to have fun with the brand's identity, with a visual nod in the bottles and their packaging. Presenting itself as "ultra-premium," the brand also boasts being exclusively made from Chardonnay, the region's most prestigious variety of grape.

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Society

Parenthood And The Pressure Of Always Having To Be Doing Better

As a father myself, I'm now better able to understand the pressures my own dad faced. It's helped me face my own internal demands to constantly be more productive and do better.

Photo of a father with a son on his shoulders

Father and son in the streets of Madrid, Spain

Ignacio Pereyra*

-Essay-

When I was a child — I must have been around eight or so — whenever we headed with my mom and grandma to my aunt's country house in Don Torcuato, outside of Buenos Aires, there was the joy of summer plans. Spending the day outdoors, playing soccer in the field, being in the swimming pool and eating delicious food.

But when I focus on the moment, something like a painful thorn appears in the background: from the back window of the car I see my dad standing on the sidewalk waving us goodbye. Sometimes he would stay at home. “I have to work” was the line he used.

Maybe one of my older siblings would also stay behind with him, but I'm sure there were no children left around because we were all enthusiastic about going to my aunt’s. For a long time in his life, for my old man, those summer days must have been the closest he came to being alone, in silence (which he liked so much) and in calm, considering that he was the father of seven. But I can only see this and say it out loud today.

Over the years, the scene repeated itself: the destination changed — it could be a birthday or a family reunion. The thorn was no longer invisible but began to be uncomfortable as, being older, my interpretation of the events changed. When words were absent, I started to guess what might be happening — and we know how random guessing can be.

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