Winery Spotlight: Champagne Collet

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Vintage Cellars
October 15, 2018
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At the heart of France’s Champagne region, the village of Aÿ is home to an iconic Champagne house that embraces tradition with a clear eye to the future.

Champagne Collet’s cellars are in Aÿ, the Grand Cru village at the very heart of the Champagne region. Its headquarters are based in the 19th-century Bissinger house, which rose from the ashes (physically and metaphorically) of the Champagne riots of 1910 and 1911. It was here that the Coopérative Générale des Vignerons de Champagne (or COGEVI) was first formed in 1921. The cooperative uses the brand name Collet in recognition of one of the Champagne house’s founders, Raoul Collet.

Champagne Region in France

In 1927, six years after COGEVI was formed, the Champagne region was formally delineated with 35,000 hectares within the Vallée de la Marne, the Montagne de Reims, the Côte des Blancs and the more distant Côte des Bar. The wines made in the village of Aÿ were rated as a Grand Cru, (a wine of the highest ranking within its appellation) with pinot noir as its hero grape variety. And it’s no accident that Collet’s neighbours in Aÿ include the venerable Bollinger and Louis Roederer’s major press house.

There are more than 15,000 growers in Champagne supplying grapes to the Grand Marque houses (the region's most prestigious houses) or to the village cooperative. From an initial 200 growers who formed COGEVI in 1921, the number has grown to 607, with an annual production between five and six million bottles.

More than 20 million bottles rest in the 35-metre-deep,cold, chalky cellars of Aÿ and in a new facility at Oger, in Côte des Blancs. As Champagne Collet approaches its centenary, it’s interesting to observe the changing shape of Champagne production, with the consolidation of high-profile Grand Marque houses under publicly listed conglomerates. At the same time, there has been a strengthening in the quality and brand identity of the numerous cooperatives in the Champagne region. Champagne Collet is at the epicentre of these changes and well positioned at the cusp of its second century.

The Wines

With a resource of more than 650 hectares of vines, Champagne Collet produces a full range of styles based on the three traditional varieties – pinot noir, meunier and chardonnay. The wines are traditionally made, with the time spent on yeast lees typically twice that mandated by the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC); that is, 15 months for non-vintage and three years for vintage bottlings.

The Collet Brut and Brut Rosé are aged for four to five years, with the 2008 vintage only recently disgorged after eight years in the caves at Aÿ. Most parcels are fermented in stainless steel, but old oak vats are used for some parcels to build more depth, character and complexity. The use of reserve wine is a Collet hallmark, with 25 percent used in the non-vintage blends.

The Winemaker

Sébastien Walasiak is a local man whose Polish parents had no winemaking background. Born in Epernay, he grew up in Oger and went to high school in Avize, where he mixed with the children of local growers. It was there that his destiny was set. His CV includes working at Champagne houses Delamotte and Pommery, and CIVC’s experimental vineyards, as well as a brief stint at Morton Estate in New Zealand.

Walasiak joined Collet in 1994 and rose to become chef de cave in 2011. His style is built on tradition with an eye to the future. The new facility at Oger has 200 small tanks that allow for micro-vinifications and enable him to craft intricate cuvées from the 160 individual crus he accesses across the Champagne region. Ever-restless and innovative, since 2012, Walasiak has been working on a new wine to be released in 2021, to celebrate Champagne Collet’s centenary. It’s bound to be superb.

The Cellars

The art deco look of Champagne Collet is reflected at every step of its effervescent journey, with clean, precise packaging echoing the precision of the wines. A visit to the cellars continues the art deco theme at La Cité du Champagne Collet-COGEVI’s home in the Bissinger building, which gives a real sense of the struggle to safeguard the integrity of Champagne as the region producing the world’s most prestigious sparkling wine.

La Villa Collet is an added bonus, offering visitors a cultural and artistic journey to the heart of the 1920s and the spirited lifestyle of the art deco era. Here, Champagne and art come together, intertwined with the history, culture and artistry of this unique region.