On the Trail

Collard-Picard's Grower-Producer Legacy

Gary Westby

It is our tenth anniversary of working with Champagne Collard-Picard here at K&L this year. They are the only grower producer to have an address on the famous Avenue du Champagne in Epernay, and many of our customers have visited them there over the years on our recommendation. I first met Olivier Collard through his grandfather, the late great Rene Collard, who was one of the founding fathers of grower Champagne. Olivier has inherited a lot of knowhow from Rene, but has also found a lot of his own way. I visited him this past March on a freezing day in Epernay and a touch of his great Champagne soon perked me up.

Olivier is married to Caroline Picard, who is part of the Gonet family in Mesnil. Together, their vineyards span from Mesnil, Vertus, and Oger in the Cote de Blancs to Reuil, Binson-et-Orquiyny and Villers-sous-Chatillon in the valley of the marne. This diversity allows them to make very impressive blends, as well as offer great terroir wines. The estate is thirty-seven acres total, quite large for a grower-producer. Olivier and Caroline are believers in large foudres for primary fermentation, and more than half of their juice starts out in barrels of over 3000L. Like his grandfather, Olivier does not believe in malolactic fermentation, and blocks it to keep more acidity in the wines. He leaves the wines on their gross lees in foudre and tank before bottling, and holds back a large proportion of reserves for his non-vintage blends.

Their flagship wine, the Collard-Picard "Cuvée Selection" Brut Champagne (currently available to pre-order), is a blanc de noir composed of half each Meunier and Pinot Noir from the valley of the marne. Nobody in Champagne has such mastery over the native-to-Champagne varietal as the Collard family. If you love the “British” style (truffles, cognac, sherry and caramel), this is a must try. This is Champagne at its toasty apogee, but it still has the acidity to refresh. We get next to none of the 2002 Collard-Picard "Archives" Vintage Champagne, which is one of the greatest grower Champagne bottles that we have access to. We are only getting eighteen total on our current shipment. Greatness like this is very hard to describe. We received so few bottles of this that a lack of good prose probably will not make much of a difference. Let me give you the facts: This Champagne is a blend of 80% Chardonnay (from the final harvest of a mid slope parcel in the Grand Cru of Mesnil that was planted in 1923) and 20% Pinot Noir (from a plot in Reuil that was planted in 1953) and entirely barrel fermented. It is huge Champagne, and Olivier Collard recommends decanting it and serving it in Bordeaux glasses, either with a truffled main course or even as a digestive! I found it to be decadent, chocolaty Champagne with a Devon cream nose and a powerful finish. Save it as long as you care to—it should improve for decades.

-Gary Westby