On Tuesday, October 2nd, the Managing Director of Champagne Collet, Olivier Charriaud, was kind enough to organize a tour of the Coopérative Générale des Vignerons (COGEVI) production facility in Oger, as well as a lunch and a tour of La Cité du Champagne in Aÿ, for the participants from the Luxury Brand Management major of the ESSEC Global MBA. While the tours at La Cité du Champagne are open to the public, it was through our special relationship with Mr. Charriaud, a graduate of the ESSEC Grande Ecole, that we were able to get an in-depth walkthrough of the production facility.
At the COGEVI site, Mr. Sébastien Walasiak, Chef de Cave Champagne Collet, explained the processes that are undertaken to transform the juice received from the cooperative’s wine growers into champagne. Champagne is produced through a double fermentation process - the first, done in tanks, creates the alcohol content of the wine, and the second fermentation, done in the final bottle, produces the effervescence that is so distinctive to this very special variety of wine. It is after this second fermentation cycle that the neck of the bottle, which at this point contains all of the sediment, is frozen. The frozen sediment is then expelled and the bottle is corked. The bottles are then sent to the caves to age. Champagne Collet ages their product for a minimum of 3 years, and up to 7 years.
Once we had an understanding of the process, Mr. Walasiak handed us tasting glasses before we ventured into the production area. We had the exquisite opportunity to taste the wine that had only been through its first fermentation cycle, referred to as vin clair. The first sample, made from Chardonnay grapes, was very acidic at the young age of 3 weeks. Mr. Walasiak helped us recognize the lemon and citrus notes in this wine.
The next two samples were from Pinot Noir grapes and were distinctly more palatable on our taste buds. The second of the two Pinot Noir vins clairs, we were told, could have been bottled and sent to market if they wanted, though it was of course going to better serve as champagne for the year 2026. The two samples were pinkish in color, which is a result of using the grapes as well as the juice; the skin of the grapes is the element that gives color to the wine.
Our final taste of vin clair at COGEVI was made with Meunier grapes, which are notably less acidic and highlight tropical fruit flavors, such as pineapple and mango. As this wine ages quickly, it is best used for Brut Cuvée, rather than a Vintage Cuvée.
After a warm thank you to Mr. Walasiak, we boarded the bus en route to La Cité du Champagne for lunch and a taste of the final product.
We arrived at La Cité du Champagne and found ourselves in the Champagne Collet Maison, one of three buildings in the complex. The other Maison is specifically dedicated to COGEVI; the final is a museum, which we were able to tour after our lunch.
Managing Director Olivier Charriaud warmly welcomed us to the property and graciously took time out of his schedule to describe the history of COGEVI, Champagne Collet, and the revival strategy he implemented in 2011. A dying brand upon his arrival, Champagne Collet was in need of a creative marketing plan and he was just the one to take on this task. Mr. Charriaud introduced a three pillar operation strategy: Legitimacy, Visibility, and Profitability. In an industry of long standing giants, such as Moët & Chandon, legitimacy was not easy to come by, though there was a backbone; COGEVI is the oldest champagne collective in France. However, that wasn’t necessarily strong enough to bring Champagne Collet to the luxury side of the industry. To combat this challenge, Mr. Charriaud thought up an extremely creative solution - le Prix Champagne Collet du Livre de Chef. This competition consists of a jury of critics of haute gastronomie and media that decides upon the winner, a chef who’s written a book of their own recipes. The challenge requires these chefs to cook a meal with pairings of various cuvées of Champagne Collet for each course. This, in my opinion, was a genius way to tie Champagne Collet to an image of luxury.
After Mr. Charriaud’s discussion of the transformation he implemented, we enjoyed a lovely lunch paired with their Brut Art Déco and their Brut Rosé before delving further into the history of the Coopération and Champagne Collet. The museum furthered our understanding of the societal context of the origins of COGEVI and Champagne Collet, while also letting us view the final phase of the process - the aging of the bottles.
With a new wealth of knowledge about the entire champagne production process, the history of the appellation of ‘Champagne,’ and the long-standing & withstanding significance of Champagne Collet, we departed Aÿ en route to Paris, though we couldn’t take off before stopping at the gift shop to buy some champagne to enjoy in our own homes.
If I may speak on behalf of the participants of the Global MBA Luxury Brand Management major, this visit offered all of us an incredible insight into the challenges and creative solutions this brand of champagne has seen and withstood. We all send our dearest regards to Mr. Charriaud for this truly unique experience!
Watch a highlight video of the visit: