Thursday, February 21, 2008

Spécial Club

I’ve been invited to a 2007 vins clairs tasting tomorrow, hosted by the Club Trésors de Champagne, the organization of growers responsible for the Spécial Club bottlings. It occurred to me that while Spécial Club wines are widely available in export markets, there are still some questions among consumers as to what the Club is and what these wines are all about.

The Club began in 1971, under the name Club de Viticulteurs Champenois, when a group of about a dozen growers banded together to create, in effect, a prestige cuvée of grower champagne. Being small houses in the shadow of huge and powerful négociant firms, they reasoned that the marketing power of the collective would be greater than that of any individual member, and so decided to create an exclusive label and bottle that would be used only by Club members, and only for their top wines. Quality, of course, was of paramount concern to the founding members, and it still remains at the core of the Club philosophy today. In order for a wine to be released under the Club label, it must be estate-grown and must adhere to strict rules of viticulture and vinification, as well as undergo blind taste tests by a panel of Club members—once as vin clair, or still wine, and again after three years of aging on its lees in bottle. (And since I know you will ask, yes, I have been assured that wines have failed these tests in the past.)

A Spécial Club wine is intended to be the prestige cuvée of the house, and its quality should reflect that premise. Club wines are often produced from a house’s oldest vines and best vineyards, and are usually aged longer on the lees than the house’s other vintage wines. Although they come from diverse villages and are made of different blends of grape varieties, Club wines tend to share a certain sense of richness, concentration and complexity. Some of the Club’s growers are better than others, of course, but in general, I do consider the Club label to be an indication of exceptional quality.

The original bottle selected by the Club was a tall, vase-like form that you can see in the photo to the right. It was discontinued in 1988 for two reasons: first, the shape has curiously proven to be less than ideal for long-term aging; and second, it was drawing unflattering comparisons to a Perrier bottle! Since then, the Club has created a rather handsome bottle based on an old, traditional design, which you can see in the photo below, together with a distinctive label that is somehow both ornate and discreet at the same time. The label is both a mark of distinction and a source of confusion: while it ties the Club members together and promotes the Club as a unified organization, it unfortunately also happens in the marketplace that different Spécial Club bottles are often mistaken for the same wine. Greater education among consumers will hopefully alleviate this problem, but it has been persistent enough that the Club now allows for the label to be produced in three different color schemes. The green one, as in the below photo, remains by far the most common, although occasionally you might see purple or orange versions.

While the Club has grown since its inception, producers have come and gone over the years, and former members include such excellent houses as Larmandier-Bernier, Gosset-Brabant, Leclerc-Briant and Pierre Peters. In 1999 the Club changed its name to Club Trésors de Champagne, and today there are 26 members. The president of the Club is Didier Gimonnet, of Champagne Pierre Gimonnet et Fils. The current Club members are, in alphabetical order: Paul Bara (Bouzy), Roland Champion (Chouilly), Charlier et Fils (Montigny-sous-Châtillon), Marc Chauvet (Rilly-la-Montagne), Gaston Chiquet (Dizy), Forget-Chemin (Ludes), Fresnet-Juillet (Verzy), Pierre Gimonnet et Fils (Cuis), Henri Goutorbe (Aÿ), Grongnet (Etoges), Bernard Hatté et Fils (Verzenay), Marc Hébrart (Mareuil-sur-Aÿ), Hervieux-Dumez (Sacy), Janisson-Baradon et Fils (Epernay), Vincent Joudart (Fèrebrianges), Juillet-Lallement (Verzy), Lamiable (Tours-sur-Marne), Larmandier Père et Fils (Cramant), J. Lassalle (Chigny-lès-Roses), Launois Père et Fils (Le Mesnil-sur-Oger), A. Margaine (Villers-Marmery), José Michel et Fils (Moussy), Moussé Fils (Cuisles), Nominé-Renard (Villevenard), Vazart-Coquart (Chouilly) and Voirin-Desmoulins (Chouilly).


peter said...

Peter L. - I recently picked up some 1998 Le Brun Servenay Special Club, and was curious if you could point to any info on the producer.

If the wine wasn't in the Special Club bottle, I'd have passed right over it.

Peter Liem said...

Hello Peter,

I know nothing about Le Brun Servenay -- I've seen their house in Avize but have never visited, and I've never tasted their wines. I'd be interested to know what you think of the wine when you open it.

peter said...

I popped one the other night, some nice ocean/seashell notes and orchard fruit. It seemed pretty young, needed some air to round/flesh out. Also had the Avize pencil shavings note which I enjoy.

How often does the Special Club change? This was a 1998, so I would think a fairly current release - but I see they're not on the up to date Club list.

Peter Liem said...

That sounds great, Peter. I'll try to check out that house sometime.

The Club changes fairly often -- people tend to come and go. There have been quite a few departures lately (although there have been additions, too), but this list is up to date as of right now.

David McDuff said...

I'm curious as to your thoughts on the wines of Jose Michel in Moussy. I once sold them and rather miss having ready access to them, particularly the Special Club bottling.

PS: Great site. I've added BR&OD to my blogroll.

Peter Liem said...

Thanks David,

I appreciate your comments and your link. I love the wines of José Michel. It's always a pleasure to visit him, and his wines are uniformly excellent. He's a great (and possibly THE great) meunier specialist. I'm particularly excited by his new Cuvée Pinot Meunier -- my friend Brian and I like to joke that we're responsible for it (although obviously we're not). He would always open fantastic old bottles of 100% meunier for us to drink, but when we kept asking why he didn't make pure meunier anymore, he would just shrug his shoulders and make up some flimsy excuse. Finally, one year I ran into him in Bordeaux and he said, "Hey, I've got a pinot meunier for you and that friend of yours." It's a delicious wine -- in an all-meunier tasting/drinkfest I held in NYC last year, it was the first bottle on the table to be completely emptied, which says a lot. Needless to say, his Spécial Club is quite drinkable as well (even with that pesky chardonnay in it!)

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