In Champagne, there are around 19,000 growers that cultivate vines. Most sell their grapes to large houses like Taittinger, Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot. Just 5,000 produce wines at their estates.
Their bottles are sometimes called “grower wines” or “farmer fizz,” a type of Champagne praised for its ability to reflect the characteristics of a given vintage. By contrast, many house-style Champagnes are blended from different plots to ensure consistent taste.
But how does one judge the best of the best grower Champagnes? There are, after all, thousands from which to choose, and they are less well known. That’s where the Special Club designation comes in.
What is Special Club Champagne?
Special Club Champagne is the highest tier of classification that grower Champagnes can achieve.
The official name is Club de Trésors, or Club of Treasures. It was established in 1971 under the name Club de Viticulteurs Champenois, to assess quality among certain growers in Champagne.
There were 12 founding members, three of which currently remain: Pierre Gimonnet, Gaston Chiquet and Paul Bara. New members come and go every year. As of 2021, there are 28 members.
The process to become a Special Club Champagne is practically as laborious as the process of making Champagne. The wines must pass two rigorous stages of selection. Before that happens, members gather each February to taste each other’s still wines from the previous vintage. The members vote on whether to declare a vintage year, which would mean that the vintage was outstanding, and worthy enough of a vintage-dated Champagne. The vote must be unanimous.
If a vintage year is declared, the process for Special Club selection begins. The selection committee includes wine professionals and enologists, including a Club-employed enologist that presides over the blind tastings.
First, the panel tastes the vin clairs, the still wines before they undergo a secondary fermentation, before they’re bottled. At this point, the panel weeds out wines that aren’t up to snuff.
The second blind-tasting stage takes place after three years of bottle aging. If the wine passes muster unanimously by the panel, it can be bottled in a dedicated green Special Club bottle, whose design is based on one from the 18th century. Only members can use the green Special Club bottles.
How to find Special Club Champagne
In the U.S., the Terry Theise portfolio, represented by Skurnik Wines, imports the largest number of Special Club producers, followed by Napa-based importer Grace Under Pressure, which only imports Champagnes.
“The wines offer incredible value, considering that they’re small production, single vintage and the top offering of each producer,” says Jessica Di Fede, spokesperson for Grace Under Pressure. “Similar top level-vintage bottlings frequently sell for two to three times the price from large houses. I’d also argue that while many wines from the classic négociants can be amazing, it’s nice to support the smaller-business endeavors, especially during these times.”
Special Club Champagne by the numbers
2000: Bottles of Special Club Champagne produced
1971: The year the Club de Trésors was established
167: Around the number of cases of Special Club Champagne produced by members
28: Member-producers that make up the Club de Trésors
7: Producers who produce blanc de blancs Special Club bottling
4: Producers helmed solely by women (as of 2021)
4: Members who make a rosé Special Club
3: Remaining members of the original 12 Special Club producers
2: Number of producers who produce Meunier-only Special Club bottlings
1: Producer who makes a 100% Pinot Noir-based Special Club bottling
Published on February 22, 2021