Ask most consumers to name their favorite Champagne, and the answer you’ll hear will likely be one of the large brands. This is no accident: Champagne is big business, and the major houses spend staggering amounts on advertising. On top of that, it’s virtually impossible to walk into a wine shop and not find a bottle of Moët et Chandon or Veuve Clicquot.
The reality is that there are over 19,000 small growers in the region who account for nearly 90% of the vineyard land. These growers have traditionally sold their grapes to the major Champagne houses, but more and more they are making and bottling their own wine. Those labels are finding acceptance among a public increasingly attuned to hand-crafted, artisanal products.
One such producer is Champagne Collet, established in Ay in 1921. Like other small growers in the area, they were part of a cooperative named COGEVI. The cooperative was originally founded to combat the problem of counterfeit Champagne during that period, in which inferior grapes from outside the region were used as a cost-cutting measure. Over time, COGEVI became a powerful platform for small growers to penetrate the market.
From the beginning, Champagne Collet identified itself with the Art Deco period, an artistic style that became popular in France after World War I. Art Deco was typified by the sleek design still visible now in the Collet bottles. The creative wave unleashed by the Art Deco style was the perfect accompaniment to the joy and abandon of life in the 1920s, and remains part of the attraction of Champagne in the present day.
Collet is expanding distribution in the U.S. and moving into Florida. Expect to pay around $45 for their entry-level Art Deco Brut. If you’re lucky, you’ll snag a bottle of their 2006 Brut Collection Privée ($70). Composed of Premier and Grand Cru grapes from an exceptional harvest, the nose is toasty and yeasty, with hints of vanilla and brioche. It’s crisp and clean on entry, with a profusion of creamy citrus in the mid palate; the mouthwatering acidity carries the fruit onto the ample finish. This is a Champagne for food, and would pair nicely with fish dishes in substantial sauces, as well as entrees of poultry, veal or pork.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to amazon.com.