Champagne’s Special Club

Champagne's Special Club

In 1971 a group of twelve growers started an organization called Club de Viticultures Champenois, to promote the concept of terroir and estate bottled, or grower Champagne in France and abroad. In 1999 the group changed their name to Club Trésors de Champagne, but the mission and philosophy has not changed. Today, the group consists of 28 growers, including three of the original members: Pierre Gimonnet, Gaston Chiquet and Paul Bara.

In addition to promoting the individuality of grower produced wines, this association allowed producers to market their wines together, through a special bottling of their top wine. The Tête de Cuvee or the Prestige Cuvée of each grower is peer reviewed. If the wine passes muster, it is bottled in a specifically designed, distinctive, bottle for the Club. Club growers made it easy to identify the Spécial Club bottling for consumers by using the same unusually shaped bottle for their top wine. In 1985 the Club changed the shape of the bottle to the one that is used today which is based on an 18th century design. The production of the Spécial Club bottle is regulated and trade-marked; only Club members may purchase these bottles from a glass supplier and they may only be used for Spécial Club wine, once it has passed several rigorous blind tastings.

The Club Tastings

Every year, in February, the 28 members of the Club Trésors de Champagne get together for a tasting. The top still wines from the previous harvest are brought by each grower to share with the group. There is an air of conviviality for this tasting. The wines are tasted and judged not individually, but rather as a whole, to decide if the vintage is good enough to produce Spécial Club wines. (In 2003, for example, the vintage was deemed too rich, slightly unbalanced and the Club decided not to produce any Spécial Club wines.) After the February tasting, a consensus is reached about the vintage. After this decision is made, the growers begin the process of submitting wines for a series of blind tastings.

In order for a wine to be sold as Spécial Club, it must pass two separate panel tastings. The Trésors employs their own, objective enologist to oversee this aspect of the Club and these rigorous tastings. The release of a mediocre Spécial Club wine would cast a shadow over all the wines in the Club. Phillipe Benoit has been the enologist for the Club Trésors since 2013 and is responsible for the blind tastings, which are done by a panel. The panel consists of a rotating group of enologists and winemakers who belong to the Club. The panel tastings, done through spring and summer, are always done blind and are very demanding; wines in both blind tastings are regularly rejected.

One tasting focuses on vin clair from the current vintage, tasted blind, while the other tasting is for finished wines that have previously passed the vin clair tasting and have undergone at least three years of post-secondary fermentation aging in bottle. The methodology is very strict and regularly includes Club wines that have already passed and have been subsequently released in the finished wines tasting. These finished wines act as a control, calibrating the tastings.

It is important to the identity and reputation of the Club that only the very best wines be sold as Spécial Club. There is no standard time-frame for the submission of these wines for the second tasting. Each Club member produces different wines which might need more or less aging on the lees. These differences are respected within the Club which is why you can find Spécial Club wines from the 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2012 vintages all as current releases in the market. Previously all of the Spécial Club wines shared the same label, apart from the name of the producer. Today there is more flexibility and each grower can design their own label, but the Spécial Club wines will always be easy to recognize in their distinctive, embossed bottle.

The Producers

The Spécial Club members that we have the privilege of representing include two or the original members (Pierre Gimonnet & Gaston Chiquet), as well as the current president of the Club (Rene Goutrobe from Henri Goutrobe), and the first Club producer to make a wine from 100% Meunier (Cédric Moussé at Moussé & Fils). Jean-Paul Hébrart is making some of the best wines in the Grand Vallée at Marc Hébrart and Arnaud Margaine’s single Cru (and sometimes Blanc de Blancs!) Club wine is outstanding.

These wines are as individual as the people who produce them and the multitude of terroirs that they hail from.

Pierre Gimonnet

The Special Club
Olivier & Didier Gimonnet

Didier Gimonnet’ father was an original member of the Spécial Club and joined in 1971. Located in Cuis, the holdings at Gimonnet are almost all located in the Côte des Blancs, focusing on Cramant and Chouilly Grand Crus. Blending the different Premier and Grand Cru wines from their vineyards has always been a part of Gimonnet’s style. The wines are fermented and aged in stainless steel, separated by parcel. The wines stay on the fine lees for 6-8 months prior to blending and bottling and malolactic is allowed. The Spécial Club is always based on the best holdings in Cramant Grand Cru and Chouilly Grand Cru. The holdings here are actually very close to each other even though they span two villages. The Chouilly wines come from old vines planted in Mont Aigu, a prime section of Chouilly. The Cramant holdings are extensive and the domaine owns excellent, very old vineyards in Buissons and Fond de Bateau, planted in 1914 and 1919, respectively.  In 2012, Didier felt that the wines were so excellent and individual that he decided to make a few different bottlings, separated by Cru. In late 2016 he released the first 2012 Oger Spécial Club. This focused on three outstanding parcels in Oger – Terres de Noël, Fondy and Champs Nérons. The 2012 Chouilly Special Club, all from old vines in Mont Aigu, planted in 1951 was released in September 2017, along with the more traditional Spécial Club 2012 which blends these crus together. The 2012 Cramant Spécial Club will be released in 2018.

Gaston Chiquet

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Nicolas Chiquet

Nicolas Chiquet’s father Claude was also a founding member of the Club. The winery is located in Dizy, which represents an important part of the vineyards owned by the estate. Holdings in Aÿ, Hautvillers and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ make up the rest of the holdings – all in the Grand Vallée. Dizy “forms a sort of amphitheater and the best vineyards are those that lie in this area, like Souchienne or Les Cerisières” says Nicolas. A majority of the vines at this agency are selection massale, and average over 40 years, keeping yields naturally low.  The Spécial club is not made by rote and Nicolas feels that it is important to make the blend for the top wine from the parcels which preform best in each year. This means the vineyards for the top wine as well as the cepage are in flux. Currently, the excellent 2009 Spécial Club is released and interestingly Nicolas did not produce a 2012 Spécial Club. Many growers feel that this vintage is outstanding, but for Nicolas felt that the vintage lacked elegance and finesse. In fact, Nicolas will not produce any of his Carte D’Or Millésime or Club wine in the 2012 vintage. The fruit that would normally be used for the vintage wines has gone into his 2012 base Tradition Brut and 2012 Blanc de Blancs d’Aÿ. Needless to say, the 2012 based versions of these two wines, which are on release, are superb.

Henri Goutorbe

The Special Club 2Rene Goutorbe manages the Henri Goutorbe estate, located in Aÿ Grand Cru. He took over from his father, Henri in 1970 and is the current president of the Club Trésors. Goutorbe’s Spécial Club is Pinot Noir dominant, including a bit of Chardonnay. The Club wine always comes entirely from the Grand Cru of Aÿ and the wines, like the producer and terroir, are generous and open. This is very often the richest of the Club wines that we offer as well as being the oldest. The current release, which is quite recent, is from the 2006 vintage. It’s a ripe and forward wine, showing the warmth and generosity of the style of the house and the south facing and sunny Grand Cru of Aÿ. It’s interesting to note that this is one of only a few Spécial Club wines that comes entirely from a single Grand Cru village.

Moussé & Fils

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Cédric Moussé

Cédric Moussé is one of the young, superstars of the Club Trésors. After working at a number of estates in France and the US, and the CIVC experimental cellar, Cédric returned to his home village of Cuisles in 2003 to work alongside his father Jean-Marc. In 2007 they began planning a new cellar which was completed in 2012, one of the first of its kind in Champagne. The cellar has an extraordinarily low carbon footprint, with enough solar paneling to power the cellar as well as several homes, rainwater collection and filtration for washing equipment and a geothermal heating and cooling system. The cellar was built with a much larger capacity than Cédric needs, which was by design – “I like for the team to have room to work” says Cédric. Viticulture here is practicing organic with no herbicides, or pesticides used for the last 15 years. Further, Cédric avoids the use of copper-sulfur as this builds up in the soil and affects soil health. The Moussé’s joined the Club in 2005, producing the first 100% Meunier Spécial Club wine. Vineyards in Cuisles are quite steep and have a very unique soil, called Illite, a green mica inflected clay. The Spécial Club comes from a single vineyard called Les Forts Terres in Cuisles, from old Meunier vines. In 2012 Cédric crowned another first, vinifying the first Spécial Club Rosé de Saignee from a single vineyard called Les Bouts de la Ville. Also 100% menuier, grapes from this 40 year old vineyard undergo a long, cold maceration before fermentation in old oak barrels with blocked malo. Experimentation is a part of Cédric’s DNA and this year also marked the first release of a new wines, called “Vignes de Mon Village”, a 100% Menier Brut Nature, aged under cork rather than crown cap for the secondary fermentation. The name is an homage to Jean-Marc, his father who was the Mayor of Cuisles for 25 years and passed away in 2013.

Marc Hébrart

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Jean-Paul Hébrart

Champagne Marc Hébrart has been producing estate bottled Champagnes since 1964 and joined the Club Trésors in 1985. Jean-Paul Hébrart, who took over the estate from his father in 1997, is the current winemaker and owner. Jean-Paul owns 78 parcels over 10 different villages including the Grand Crus of Aÿ, Avize, Chouilly, Oiry and Louvois as well as the Premier Crus of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Avenay val d’Or, Bisseuil, Dizy and Hautvillers. Each parcel is vinified separately and the Spécial Club wine is normally Pinot Noir dominant, but includes around 40% Chardonnay from Jean-Paul’s Grand Cru holdings in the Côte de Blancs. The Pinot Noir for the Club wine come from the best parcels in Mareuil and Aÿ. In 2012 version, the Pinot Noir came from Faubourg d’Enfer and Croix Blance, two parcels above the Clos de Goisses in Mareuil, as well as old vine Pinot from Cheuezelles, Pierre Roberts and Le Leon in Aÿ. Le Leon is one of the finest vineyards in Aÿ and actually spans the bottom part of the hillside in Aÿ Grand Cru as well as Dizy 1er Cru. Jean-Paul was able to purchase some parcels here and began making a mono-parcel wine in 2013 from Le Leon, which will be released in 2019. While houses like Roederer, Moët and Jaquesson own vines in this vineyard, it should be noted that the only other estate to make a single vineyard wine from Le Leon is Philipponnat, who produced their inaugural release in the 2006 vintage. This is the second single vineyard wine that Philipponnat has produced since Clos de Goisses was first produced in 1935. Hébrart is one of the very finest producers, not just in the Grand Vallée, but anywhere in Champagne.

Arnaud Margaine

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Arnaud Margaine

Arnaud Margaine has managed the André Margaine estate since 1989. The estate had been bottling their own wines since the 1920s, but it was Arnaud’s father who expanded the estate to 5 hectares and joined the Club Tresors in 1977. Arnaud’s holdings are entirely in Villers Marmary Premier Cru, an east facing village in the Montagne, which due to its exposition and chalky soils, is an island of Chardonnay surrounded by Grand Cru Pinot Noir dominant villages. Arnaud has been focusing on improving viticulture here for the past decade, eliminating herbicides, pesticides and relying more on cover crops. The wines at this address are outstanding, and though the range is small (the entire estate is only 6.5 ha), they offer a unique perspective on this very interesting Cru. The Special Club is always made in small quantities, released only in 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2011 so far. The parcels for the Club wine are not always the same vintage to vintage, but often come from the southern side of the village (Brocot and Champs d’Enfer), where chalk is more dominant. Although it is abnormal for a Club wine to have oak influence, the last few releases that Margaine has produced incorporate about 20% of wines fermented in oak. This blends seamlessly and this Club wine is always a favorite, though the quantity is always small.