All about the Chablis vineyard
If you stand on a street corner in Tokyo, New York or Moscow and ask people to name a French white wine, chances are that beyond a few cautious glances, a name will come up repeatedly: Chablis.
How did this small village of 2,500 souls, nestled in northern Burgundy, conquer the world with its wines?
Chablis is a historic wine-growing village located in the north of Burgundy, in the Yonne department. It is also the name of the mosaic vineyard which surrounds it, crossed by the river Serein and which extends over about twenty villages.
The history of the Chablis vineyard
The first civil bases of Chablis are said to have been founded during Roman times. According to local historians, the first Chablis vines have existed for over 18 centuries.
From the 14th century onwards, Chablis wines became known throughout France. They reached Paris and eventually Rouen to be re-exported to the northern countries. The reputation of Chablis finally crossed the Channel in the middle of the 17th century at the latest.
Much later, in 1935, the Chablis vineyard was in a precarious situation. Less than 600 hectares were planted and the region was barely recovering from the destruction caused by phylloxera, the war and frost. It was from 1960 onwards that a new generation of winegrowers decided to turn the tide. The vineyard expanded, and man discovered mechanisation and solutions to combat frost. From then on, men and women fought to make the magnificent wines of this appellation known. Since then, Chablis has enjoyed a worldwide reputation.
One vineyard, 4 appellations
The Chablis vineyard is a unique terroir where a great diversity of expressions can be found. The vineyard alone covers almost 5400 hectares of vines, i.e. almost one fifth of Burgundy. It is the largest vineyard in the Yonne and has imposed on the world the image of a dry white wine with a strong personality.
The Chablis vineyard is carefully divided and the wines produced are divided into 4 Protected Designations of Origin:
Chablis Grand Cru
Chablis Premier Cru
The most prestigious plots of Chablis, the Grands Crus and Premiers Crus, are divided into what are known as Climats. The word "Climat" does not refer to meteorology; it is a typically Burgundian term for a carefully delimited parcel of vines that has been named for centuries, has its own history and benefits from particular geological and climatic conditions.
There are thousands of “Climats” in Burgundy. In Chablis, there are 47:
40 “Climats” for the Premier Cru appellation, among them, the best known are: La Fourchaume, Vaillons, Montmains, Montée de Tonnerre, Mont de milieu...
7 “Climats” for the Grand Cru appellation, grouped together on the same hillside overlooking the right bank of the river Serein: Blanchots, les Clos, Bougros, les Preuses, Grenouilles, Vaudésir and Valmur.
Chablis lovers, these prestigious “climates” should speak to you.
A unique “terroir”
In Burgundy, the notion of "terroir" is particularly important. It is defined as: a soil, a subsoil, a climate, a grape variety and people. These are the main elements that characterise the typicity of a wine.
A particular soil and subsoil
The special soil of Chablis, called the Kimmeridgien, was formed over 150 million years ago, when the sea still covered the region.
In Chablis, the climate, which is written without a capital letter this time because it is about meteorology, is very singular. Located in the north of Burgundy, the Chablis vineyard has a semi-continental climate. The winters are long and harsh, the springs are marked by climatic hazards, followed by hot and sunny summers. At the crossroads of continental, Mediterranean and oceanic influences, the climate of Chablis is favourable to the production of fine wines. However, the vineyard is particularly prone to spring frost, which has become one of its characteristics. The winegrowers have learnt over time and after significant losses in some years, to control these climatic accidents.
One single varietal
Chablis has the particularity of producing a white wine from a single grape variety: Chardonnay, formerly called "Beaunois'' in Burgundy. Chardonnay expresses itself in Chablis like nowhere else, notably thanks to its terroir and the know-how of the winegrowers, the “Chablisiens”.
The know-how of passionate winegrowers
Characteristics and evolution of the wines (from the 1980s to today)
Chablis: a recognised name which alone evokes dry white wines. A reference for Chardonnay throughout the world, it has also been the most copied appellation. Natural freshness, tension and minerality are the three characteristics that are often attributed to it.
Renowned for their acidity, the character of Chablis wines has nevertheless evolved over the last 20 years. From now on, one finds on the market, wines much rounder, more expressive, which can sometimes surprise.
As for the vinification of Chablis wines, it depends on the cuvée, the estate and sometimes even the vintage. As for the Premiers and Grands Crus, some producers insist on fermenting and maturing their cuvées in used oak barrels, which gives them more roundness and subtlety. Others prefer to age their wines in vats, which is still the main vinification method used in Chablis, especially for wines from the Chablis and Petit Chablis appellations.
The ageing capacity of the wines
Although Chablis wines are distinguished by their purity, freshness, finesse and minerality, unfortunately the vast majority of them are drunk by consumers within 10 years of bottling. A Chablis Premier Cru or Grand Cru may well find its place in a corner of the cellar and remain there for many years.
The ageing capacity of Chablis wines depends on the appellation, the vintage, the container (bottle or magnum for example) and the climate.
The Chablis market
Chablis has always been a very exported wine, much better known abroad than in France. 65% of the volume of wine produced is sold abroad. Particularly famous in the United States, a legend tells that the American President Richard Nixon would have expressed two wishes while preparing his official visit to France in 1969: to meet General de Gaulle and… the mayor of Chablis!
Another particularity of Chablis is the diversity on the market. 400 estates produce and market their wines. In addition, the cooperative cellar, known as La Chablisienne, markets 20% of the vineyard's production. Finally, the wine merchants also represent an important part of the sale of Chablis in the world, there are about forty of them in recent years.
In addition to the United States, Chablis can boast of being recognised in many other countries. The United Kingdom, considered to be the leading export market, imports nearly 22% of Chablis production. This is a considerable figure when you consider that an average of 35 million bottles are sold each year. Japan, Germany, Belgium, Russia and the Nordic countries are among the major consumers of Chablis.
A small idea of the Chablis estates
The emblematic estates: William Fèvre, Laroche, Jean Paul & Benoît Droin, Brocard, Domaine Christian Moreau Père & Fils, Domaine Pinson
The historical estates: Vincent Dauvissat, Domaine Raveneau, Château de Béru
The rising stars: Pattes Loup, Domaine d'Henri, Domaine de l'enclos,