We spent a week in the champagne region researching producers and were lucky to find Collard-Picard. This is a champagne that stands out from the competition at a price that is incredibly low for its quality. Suffice to say it is the only class of champagne that Judith drank in its entirety and the one we pull out for special occasions. I would happily put it up against champagnes costing over £200 knowing that in a blind tasting it would be impossible to separate it.
Olivier Collard and Caroline Picard married in July 1996 and the next day formed their company following traditional lines of merging the family names. They started with 2 hectares of land rented from their families and now have over 16 hectares under vignes.
They are Récoltant Manipulants (RM) which means that they plant, grow, manage, harvest, press and produce their champagne 100% in-house and under their control. Unlike Negotiant Manipulants (the vast majority of entry versions of well known labels) where purchased pressed liquor is used (sometimes with purchased grapes pressed by themselves) to make the champagne, Olivier Picard is highly selective in his production process which he personally oversees. Olivier and Caroline have invested heavily in the very best equipment to produce a champagne that is hard to beat. In addition to his electronically controlled, top of the range, hydraulic press, they have ten of the largest oak barrels (foudres) I have ever seen for the first vinification and five stainless steel cuves where the wine is transferred for further maturation. The entire property is clean and fresh and this is reflected in their wines.
Olivier explained that he prefers to use the oak barrels as they allow a tiny oxygen transfer to occur at the boundary of the barrel which assists the initial fermentation and assists the final flavour. Olivier also controls the fermentation to avoid malolactic fermentation which changes the malic acids to lactic acids so his wines are crisp, full of fruit and zesty as a result.
Grape pressing for champagne involves progressively increasing the pressure to produce differing qualities of juice or musts, the sweeter, maturer grapes bursting first and the less mature last. The pressings, separated by a retrousse (moving and agitating the pressed grape mass) produce three qualities of musts, Première Cuvée, Taille and Rebèche. Olivier goes one step further and separates the first part of his Première Cuvée into Coeur de Cuvée (heart of the first press) and Première Cuvée. It is the Coeur de Cuvée that finds its way into his prestige champagnes of which Champagne Collard-Picard Cuvée de Prestige
is one. The Première Cuvée produces very fine champagne wines, whilst champagne wines produced using the Taille come with more intense aromatic qualities. The Rebèche is the remnant at the end of the pressing and is usually traded for distillation of industrial alcohols or used for fertilisation of the vineyards. RM producers will often only use the Première Cuvée for their own production and trade their Taille to NM producers such as the main labels we all know and love whose taste and flavour is vastly improved by adding their name to the label.
Collard-Picard was cited as one of the up and coming champagnes in an article in the Telegraph in 2015 describing it as
“…outstandingly good but, more importantly, not in the “silly money” market….
…Last year they opened a pristine tasting room-bar-shop on the Avenue de Champagne in Epernay, a kind of Bond Street, but with champagne headquarters in place of shops….”
The shop is worth a visit to taste and buy the produce and an arranged visit to the production facility is also worthwhile for those really interested in the production process of champagne. They can even arrange helicopter collection at the airport!