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.

Cobalte vodka — Photo: Facebook page

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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