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  The Special Club: Summing Up the Movement for Terroir Expression in Champagne in Just One Bottle  

Champagne’s Special Club is a unique collection of 26 Grower-Producers who all have the common goal of promoting the expression of terroir in the region. Their efforts and the wines that result are the best argument for the further exploration of specific terroirs in Champagne. It serves as a jury of peers that ensures that every Special Club bottle sold is of exceptional quality.
The Special Club or Club Trésors de Champagne (Treasures of Champagne) was created in 1971. The rules for membership are simple: one must grow their own grapes. All members must be legally designated as Récoltant-Manipulants. The wines are all put in the same unique bottle, regardless of producer, but each wine maker gets to put their own label on the bottle. The wines all taste different from each other because they come from different villages/grapes, but they all have a commonality of being extraordinary.

How do they decide what wines go into the Special Club bottle?

The Special Club bottling is supposed to represent a grower’s best offering. Each year the members of the club meet and taste each other’s vin claire (still base wine) to see if it is up to quality standards. A member is not required to submit wine ever year, only when they think they’ve made something spectacular; in 2003 no Special Club wines were made.
Once the Club has agreed that the base wine is of sufficient quality, the grower is then permitted to put the wine in the Special Club bottle and induce the second fermentation. After a minimum of 3 years of aging, the wine may be disgorged and tasted a second time by the Club. If the Club approves of the finished product, it may be labeled and sold as a Special Club wine.

What makes the Special Club so, well, special?

Champagne is complicated. It’s arguably the most complicated of all wines. Firstly, the Champenois deal with some of the most difficult climatic growing conditions of any region working with Vinifera. In addition to having the same fermentation options that all still wine makers have (stainless steel or barrel, natural yeasts or cultured, etc.) there’s also the additional complexities involved with blending, not only different grapes and vineyards, but different vintages too. When you take into account all of these factors, and then consider that the situation is further compounded by the fact that the wine undergoes a controlled second fermentation, a disgorgement process, and all of the decisions that go along with that (how long is the wine on the lees, dosage or no dosage, sugar or concentrated must, etc.) you begin to realize how difficult a subject it can be to master.
Put simply, Champagne has more variables affecting the final taste than any other wine. There are very few people that can proclaim a mastery of Champagne. The folks that make these wines are amongst those few. Furthermore, it’s within the members of the club’s interests to have very high standards because a single member’s wine represents the entire Club’s judgment and tastes, so they won’t permit anything other than exceptional wines to pass.
Who decides when and how much Dom Perignon or Cristal is made? Surely the wine maker has a say in the process, but one must consider that the decision is also, at least partially, based upon economic conditions. Supply and demand, market studies, focus groups, shareholders, profit and loss statements. This is not the way to make a wine with soul. The Special Club is not influenced by any of these factors. Remember, it’s with the entire Clubs’ interest to be very stringent on what they permit to be called Special Club because it affects them all. 

Ok, I’m in. How can I get my hands on some?

Michael Skurnik Wines has had the pleasure of selling Special Club wines since we first started working with Grower Champagne in 1999. We are proud to represent 5 of the 26 current members.
Pierre Gimonnet, ‘Special Club de Collection’ Brut, 2002

Gimonnet represents the terroir of the northern half of the Côte des Blancs with this offering. The wine is comprised of strictly Chardonnay from 54% Cramant (Grand Cru), 31% Chouilly (Grand Cru), and 15% Cuis (Premier Cru). The base wine was fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel and put under malolactic fermentation. The wine is finished with a dosage of 6 g/Liter after 8 years en tirage.

Pierre Gimonnet, ‘Special Club’ Brut, 2004

This vintage is also comprised of strictly Chardonnay, however with the blend of 60% Cramant (Grand Cru), 28% Chouilly (Grand Cru), and 12% Cuis (Premier Cru). Vinification methods are the same as above with the exception of a 6 g/l dosage and 6 years en tirage.

Marc Hébrart, ‘Special Club’ Brut, 2006

Hébrart is situated in the Premier Cru village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. This village is home to Philipponnat’s Clos des Goisses, and has the highest rating of any Premier Cru village in Champagne (99%). It seems as if this village should be elevated to Grand Cru status, but such changes are rarely if ever made. The 2006 Special Club is made from 55% Pinot Noir (Mareuil) and 45% Chardonnay (Mareuil, Chouilly, and Oiry) and it presents a unique perspective on terroir and the boundaries of Champagne. The border of the Côte des Blancs and Vallée de la Marne runs south of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ and north of Chouilly and Oiry. The border may separate the regions in name, but not in terroir. Open a bottle of this and try and tell yourself that this fruit doesn’t belong together.  The wine is finished with a dosage of 7.2 g/Liter. 
Gaston Chiquet, ‘Special Club’ Brut, 2004

The Chiquet family has been working in the region since 1746 and courageously making Champagne under their own label since 1919 (one of the first Récoltant-Manipulants). The 2004 Special Club bottling is comprised of 70% Chardonnay (this comes from the same vineyard that is responsible for the famed Blanc de Blancs d’Aÿ) and 30% Pinot Noir from Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. The wine is finished with a dosage of 8 g/Liter after 6 years en tirage.

Henri Goutorbe, ‘Special Club’ Brut, 2002

Goutorbe’s Special Club bottling features fruit picked from the Grand Cru village of Aÿ exclusively. Many Champagne houses are physically based out of Aÿ and list the village on their labels, but almost none represent the terroir as well as this.
The 2002 is 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. The wine was vinified in stainless steel and spent 7+ years en tirage.

Henri Goutorbe, ‘Special Club’ Brut, 2002

The 2004 cépage is composed of 75% pinot noir, 25% chardonnay and spent 5 years en tirage.  Vinification and focused fruit selection is the same as with the 2002 vintage.
A. Margaine, ‘Special Club’ Brut, 2006

This is what Grower Champagne is all about. Margaine’s wines all come from the village of Villers-Marmery in the Pinot Noir strong hold of the Montagne de Reims. Pinot is king in this region, but Margaine’s soils are particularly chalky and therefore better suited to Chardonnay. Not only are you getting a specific terroir with this wine (a rare chalky Blanc de Blancs from the Montagne de Reims), but Villers-Marmery grows a specific clone of Chardonnay that is not planted anywhere else in Champagne. The result is a truly unique wine. This 2006 Blanc de Blancs ‘Special Club’ was assembled from 80% stainless-steel fermented wine and 20% done in old barriques. All fruit was sourced from 3 distinct parcels in Villers-Marmery – Charmois, Broccot, and Champs d’enfer.  The wine spent 50 months en tirage, received no malolactic fermentation, and was finished with a 9 g/Liter dosage…and if you get within striking distance it will rock your world.

For more information on the Special Club, please visit http://www.clubtresorsdechampagne.com/

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