Every year in January Champagne House Cellar Masters conduct detailed tastings of wines from different Champagne vineyards. Like musicians they look for that perfect combination of notes that will best express the particular style of their House. It is this blending process that sets Champagne apart from any other wine in the world. The skill lies in predicting the results of second fermentation and cellaring — a leap into the future that requires long experience of wine tasting.
The Cellar Master’s responsibilities do not stop there however. They cover the overall process of Champagne making, starting with the grape harvest. Today as yesterday, the Cellar Master is the custodian of a consistent house style and a brand ambassador for a Champagne House with an international presence.
The association dates back to 1929 when a training centre in Epernay appealed to Champagne Houses for help with their cellar operations course. Cellar Masters were among those who volunteered for the job, together with other specialised cellar workers including coopers, riddlers, disgorgers and tank-room operators (French cuviste or homme du cercle).
In September 1946, the Cellar Masters of Epernay and Aÿ joined forces and drew up statutes for the Société Amicale des Chefs de Caves de la Région d’Epernay (friendly society of Cellar Masters in the Epernay region). Shared objectives included:
Since 1955 every newcomer to the profession has a diploma in oenology — a solid grasp of wine science for the traditional masters of Champagnisation. The Amicale meanwhile provided ongoing training for its members, keeping them abreast of new advances within the profession with help from the Science Faculty of Reims University, the Comité Champagne, the AVC and the ITC.
In the 1960s Reims Cellar Masters likewise felt the need to belong to an association and mooted the idea of expanding Amicale membership to include the whole of the Champagne region. Ten years later, on 26 October 1970, the Société Amicale des Chefs de Caves de Champagne (AACCC) came into being. The 1970s was also the decade that saw the mechanization of vineyards and wineries, with new technologies such as stainless steel fermenters, temperature control, special bottle closure systems for wines undergoing second fermentation, yeast selection — new challenges for the profession as a whole.
In the 1980s, the Amicale expanded its membership beyond Champagne Houses. Cellar Masters working for Champagne cooperatives (among others) were invited to join in 1986, followed, in 1989 by technical directors in charge of making private label Champagne.
The AACCC currently has 72 members (including 28 retired Cellar Masters). Its principal focus remains the provision of training for association members through an ongoing programme of seminars and courses. These are offered under the aegis of the Amicale, in collaboration with the Oenology Department of Reims University, the INAO, the DGCCRF, the Comité Champagne, the AVC and the ITC.
New technologies and regulations are implemented subject to a system of prudent vigilance that carefully monitors their effects. Amicale members participate in the tastings of the year’s vins clairs, blended wines and newly released vintages (officially approved by the INAO with quality monitoring by the Comité Champagne). The AACCC also invites technological research input from like-minded organizations in Champagne (estate managers, oenology specialists) and other French wine regions.
Successive AACCC presidents:
|Moët & Chandon
|Mumm & Cie
|Piper and Charles Heidsieck
|Marne and Champagne
|Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin
|Marne and Champagne
|Moët & Chandon