As summer turns into fall, one place remains evergreen. At the Rochambeau Club, members wear white throughout the seasons as they make their way from the majestic neoclassical clubhouse to the manicured courts, where the pock-pock of tennis balls sounds year-round, and the smell of cut grass is always in the air. The Panoramic Sorbet Lounge is perpetually busy, the Snorkelling Jetty never closes, and the Orangery remains the perfect place to while away an hour with a glass of the house rosé.
The Rochambeau is a storied institution, which brags of having sent three ball boys to Roland-Garros. Admittedly, the club’s location, “in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of the French Riviera,” is somewhat vague. But its discernment is beyond reproach. After all, nothing is more exclusive than something that doesn’t exist.
Yes, I’m afraid to say that the Rochambeau Club is a beautiful mirage, the creation of Air Mail Writer-at-Large Joseph Bullmore and his co-founder, Chris Seddon. But why go to the trouble of mapping out this fictional clubhouse, replete with literature and lore? Was it inspired by rejection from an actual club?
“There may be something subconscious in that,” says Bullmore. “I can’t join the Hurlingham Club [the exclusive social-and-athletic club in London] because the member waiting list is shut and will be forever. So there is a little bit of that.” But largely the Rochambeau Club is a whimsical piece of branding used to advertise the pair’s Racquet Rosé wine, a classic blend of five grapes, which very much does exist.
Bullmore and Seddon met at Gentleman’s Journal, the luxury men’s-lifestyle magazine of which Bullmore is editor and Seddon was chief operating officer. They had long charted the rise of rosé as a drink not just for women but for men—this, despite the way it’s been marketed. “We were astonished that Whispering Angel was far and away the market leader, with a name like that,” says Bullmore. Whispering Angel, which is largely owned by LVMH, has a 65 percent value share in the premium-rosé category, according to Forbes. “It’s incredible what they’ve done,” says Bullmore, “but it doesn’t really speak to people like Chris and me.”
It was during the pandemic lockdown, when the pair was deprived of anything “social and fun and bougie,” that they came up with the idea of creating a fictional tennis club to build up their rosé brand.
Wes Anderson and Slim Aarons were touchstones in the creation of this romantic artificial world. “Slim Aarons was always about the setup,” says Bullmore. “His photos were never candid documentary shots, and that’s what we’re trying to do with our wine brand. It’s meant to show you the most fun, idealized, beautiful world that you, too, could be a part of, but hopefully with a sense of self-deprecation.”
When you become a Rochambeau member—the name “just felt right,” they say—you receive a physical member’s pack, which includes a map of the club and a virtual locker key, with which you can access the “Members Area” of the Web site. Among the privileges of the initiate are invitations to private suppers and tennis tournaments, and access to members-only clothing. Currently the club shop sells branded sweaters, caps, and zip-ups in a preppy, Ralph Lauren style. It will soon expand to carry even more.
“We wanted an all-encompassing experience,” says Seddon, like a fine hotel or restaurant. Bullmore adds, “It’s a very European thing, and particularly an Italian thing. They just do those details so well, without even thinking about it.”
They had long charted the rise of rosé as a drink not just for women but for men—this, despite the way it’s been marketed.
Membership is already around 2,500 members, thanks largely to social media and the Rochambeau’s digital newsletter, the Club Sandwich. There’s also a Taste Committee, which, for around $600 a year, gains members access to nonvirtual dinners in Provence and tastings of new rosé vintages.
Tie-ins with other brands are being discussed, such as one that will allow members to hit balls with an A.T.P. tennis pro, while new drinks—such as a lemonade radler, made with real lemons from the Côte d’Azur—are set to make the bibulous members of the Rochambeau Club ever squiffier.
The Racquet Rosé is available not just through the club Web site but at selected sites in London, including Selfridges, and “one or two” places in the Cayman Islands, according to Seddon. “There was a shortage of rosé wine there last year, which,” Bullmore says, “is pretty much the worst thing that can possibly happen in the Caymans.” The Rochambeau Club stepped in to save the day.
But the founders are not content with sticking to wine. “We want to work up to having a big, permanent clubhouse,” says Bullmore, an annex in the British countryside, followed by “something more substantial in Provence.” For now, members must congregate around the racing green of the Rochambeau’s Web site until this imaginary club forces its way into reality.
George Pendle is an Editor at Large at AIR MAIL and the author of Strange Angel: The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons