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).