Club Class: how to turn a Bordeaux backwater into wine

WE ALL know that most “wine clubs” are nothing of the kind – just a bloke in a call centre with a sales target and a script. But not all of them... I’ve written about one or two in previous columns and the other night I came across another that piqued my interest.

About 15 years ago a Frenchman called Jean-Francois Boras came across a small parcel of land in an unfashionable backwater of Bordeaux. Rather wonderfully it is within the Appellation Controlee named Cadillac – a high end name if ever there was one. These were fields that had produced wine as early as 1647 and there was a fine chateâu to prove it, but it was in completely the wrong area of Bordeaux to interest people – too low down, practically falling into the Gironde river and prone to gravelly soil and those autumn mists that can ruin a wine harvest. Undaunted, Boras set about realising his dream of creating a fine wine and enlisted the help of the chief viniculturalist from Chateâu Cheval Blanc.

The result is a fine claret and one that has held up extremely well in blind tastings against its more illustrious neighbours sitting on the hills above. In one tasting two years ago the 2005 vintage scored higher than the fabled Chateâu Ausone among a group of professional tasters despite selling for less than one sixth the price. The interesting thing about Domaine Bellevue is how to get hold of it. Sensibly it decided not to compete in the open market with the established First Growths. To put brutally: it would lose. Most wine buyers like a brand (a brand they can trade) and aren’t interested in spending money on a wine made for – heaven forbid – drinking.

Instead Boras has created a club to support his venture and to enjoy the fruits of it. And having tasted the wine and spoken to the organisers I reckon this is a bit of a deal for someone who likes wine, good company and a bit of flash. For £10,000 for five years, the members get: three cases of wine per year (two of the grand cru and one of the second wine), at least two dinner invitations a year to the chateâu or the en primeur dinner and finally, the bit of flash: Domaine de Bellevue will put your name or initials on the foil around every bottle

Furthermore, Boras is happy for you to visit the chateâu when you like and even host a dinner or two for you in his cellars. And the wine? Well, this is a fine claret and much better than I expected given that it’s so low-lying. It doesn’t have any Cabernet Franc to support the nose, which is a shame, but this is a small vineyard. It is a powerful 40 per cent Cabernet Sauvignon/60 per cent Merlot blend that can hold its head up against many of its loftier cousins. And given the vineyards are barely a decade old, they have worked miracles.