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The Wines of Burgundy
By Clive Coates
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 2008 the Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
SOIL / 41
THE DANGER OF FROST / 42
THE GRANDS CRUS / 43 Blanchots
THE PREMIERS CRUS / 46
CHABLIS AND PETIT CHABLIS / 46
MANUAL VERSUS MECHANICAL HARVESTING / 46
OAK OR NOT / 48
THE WINE / 49
CHABLIS'S BEST SOURCES / 50
WHEN SHOULD YOU DRINK CHABLIS? / 50
RECENT VINTAGES / 50 2005
THE LEADING DOMAINES AND MERCHANTS / 53 Christian Adine
Domaine de la Conciergerie
Domaine Jean-Claude Bessin
Domaine Alain Besson
Domaine/Maison Pascal Bouchard
Domaine de Chantemerle
Domaine/Maison Jean-Marc Brocard
Cave Coopérative La Chablisienne
Domaine Christophe et Fils
Domaine Jean Collet et Fils
Domaine Daniel Dampt
Domaine Agnès and Didier Dauvissat
Domaine Jean and Sébastien Dauvissat
Domaine Vincent Dauvissat
Domaine Bernard Defaix
Maison Sylvain and Didier Defaix
Domaine Daniel-Étienne Defaix
Domaine du Vieux Chateau
Domaine Benoît Droin
Domaine Joseph Drouhin
Domaine Gérard Duplessis
Domaine Jean Durup Père et Fils
Chateau de Maligny
Domaine de l'Églantière
Domaine William Fèvre
Domaine Garnier et Fils
Domaine Raoul Gautherin et Fils
Domaine Alain Gautheron
Domaine Corinne and Jean-Pierre Grossot
Domaine Thierry Hamelin
Jean and Romuald Hugot
Domaine de Pisse-Loup
Domaine Chantal and Claude Laroche
Domaine/Maison Michel Laroche
Maison Olivier Leflaive Frères
Domaine des Marronniers
Lyne and Jean-Bernard Marchive
Domaine des Malandes
Domaine Louis Michel et Fils
Domaine Alice and Olivier De Moor
Domaine Christian Moreau Père et Fils
Domaine Louis Moreau
Domaine de Biéville
Domaine du Cèdre Doré
Domaine Sylvain Mosnier
Domaine du Colombier
Domaine Christianne and Jean-Claude Oudin
Domaine Gilbert Picq et Fils
Domaine Pinson Frères
Domaine Denis Race
Domaine Guy Robin
Domaine Francine and Olivier Savary
Domaine Roger Séguinot-Bordet
Domaine Philippe Testut
Domaine des Iles
Domaine Laurent Tribut
Maison/Domaine Olivier Tricon
Domaine de Vauroux
Domaine de la Chaude Écuelle
Domaine du Chateau de Viviers
Domaine Yvon Vocoret
Domaine Vocoret et Fils
OTHER WINES OF THE YONNE / 66
Yonne Leading Domaines
S.I.C.A. du Vignoble Auxerrois
Domaine Anita and Jean-Pierre Colinot
Domaine Ghislaine and Jean-Hugues
EQUIDISTANT BETWEEN Champagne, Sancerre at the eastern end of the Loire Valley and the Côte d'Or, the isolated region of Chablis lies on the banks of the small river Serein in the Yonne département. A dozen kilometres away, the Paris-Lyon autoroute cuts a great concrete swathe through the fields of wheat, maize and pasture. Across the autoroute you come to the busy city of Auxerre, dominated by its cathedral of Saint-Étienne.
But Chablis lies in a backwater, on the road to nowhere of any importance. The town of the same name is sleepy and rural—hardly more, indeed, than a large village. There are no buildings of any note and nothing, really, to distinguish it from a hundred other small towns in arable France—nothing except for what is produced from a single noble grape which has found here an ideal soil in which to thrive. This grape is the Chardonnay. The soil is a peculiar and highly individual mixture of chalky limestone and clay, and the resulting wine is one of the world's best-known dry white wines, but one quite different from other Chardonnays produced 150 kilometres further south in the Côte de Beaune.
A century or more ago, before the arrival of phylloxera, the Burgundian vineyard began at Sens and continued, uninterrupted, through the Auxerrois and down to Montbard and Dijon. There were then in the Yonne as many as 40,000 hectares under vine. Much of the resulting wine, no doubt, was thin and very ordinary, destined to be consumed directly from the cask in the comptoirs of Paris and the other conurbations of northern France. Chablis and the other local vineyards benefited greatly from this close proximity to the capital; however, with the arrival of the phylloxera louse—rather later than in the Côte d'Or, for it did not seriously begin to affect the Chablis vines until 1893—coupled with increasing competition from the Midi once the railway system connecting Paris with the south had been completed, most of the Yonne vineyards disappeared. This decline was further accentuated by World War I and the resulting economic stagnation and rural depopulation. By 1945, when a particularly savage frost totally destroyed the potential harvest—not a single bottle of Chablis was produced in this vintage—the total area under vine was down to less than 500 hectares. As late as the severe winter of I956, the locals were skiing in February down what is now the grand cru of Les Clos.
Since then, however, there has been a gradual but accelerating increase in the total area of vineyards to 4,755 hectares in 2005. As more efficient methods of combating the ever-present threat of frost damage have been devised, as greater control of other potential depredations of the yield has been introduced and as more prolific strains of Chardonnay have been planted, production has risen disproportionately from an average of around 24,000 hectolitres per annum in the 1960s to more than ten times as much in the early 2000s.
The local Bureau Interprofessionnel announced in 2003 that the surfaces délimitées (i.e., authorised for production) are as much as 6,830 hectares. In case you might think that the extra, over what is planted today, is in marginal land, I can only tell you that their potential grand cru and premier cru figures are only 2 hectares higher than the 2001 levels. So you may well be right. Will these theoretical 2,500 extra hectares really produce good Chablis, or will they produce just a palatable non-oaky Chardonnay, hardly indistinguishable from a Mâcon?
The heartland of the Chablis region is the southwest-facing slope north of the town. Here all the grands crus are situated in a continuous line, adjacent to some of the best of the premier cru vineyards. These famous vineyards lie on a soil of crumbly limestone, grey or even white in colour, which is named after Kimmeridge, a small village in Dorset. Elsewhere, particularly at Beines to the east and in the communes of Maligny, Villy and Lignorettes to the north, the soil has a different appearance, being more sandy in colour and marginally different—Portlandian limestone as opposed to Kimmeridgian. There has been much argument over whether the wines from Portlandian soils are as good as those from Kimmeridgian. At times there has been heated opposition, even lawsuits, between those who favour a strict delimitation of Chablis and those who favour expanding the vineyards. The first camp stresses the overriding importance of Kimmeridgian soil; the second believes that an extension of the Chablis vineyards over further suitable slopes of Portlandian soil will relieve pressure on the existing vineyard and better enable the whole community to exploit and benefit from the worldwide renown of its wine. Each grower has his own opinion and will probably be a member of one or the other of the two rival syndicats, or producer groups. Le Syndicat de la Défense de l'Appellation Chablis, as its name implies, is in favour of the strict delimitation of Chablis and was led, until his recent retirement, by William Fèvre of Domaine de la Maladière. The second group, La Fédération des Viticulteurs Chablisiens, is led by Jean Durup of Domaine de l'Églantière in Maligny.
Following a decision by the INAO in 1978, which effectively diminished the importance of the soil in favour of microclimate and aspect when considering a further revision of the area, the expansionists have been ascendant. Since then, the total vineyard area has tripled. New premiers crus have appeared on the scene. No one who has tasted the new premier cru Vau de Vey alongside other premiers crus, such as Vaillons or Montmains from the same grower, can be in any doubt that it can be at least as good. Whether this extension of vineyard area will help avoid some of the extreme fluctuations in the price of Chablis which have occurred in the past remains to be seen. Greater stability, in my view, is crucial to the continuing commercial success of the wine.
So, too, is a higher and more consistent level of quality. The run of recent vintages has been kind, but half the vignoble, especially in plain Chablis tout court, is young vines, and production figures tend to be much higher than in the Côte de Beaune (nearly 59 hl/ha in 2005), inevitably necessitating chaptalisation up to the limit, even in the very best of vintages.
THE DANGER OF FROST
The Chablis vineyards lie very close to the northernmost limit for rearing the vine successfully. The vine will not start to develop in the early spring until the average temperature reaches 10°C, and the fruit must ripen before the leaves begin to fall in the autumn. The incidence of frost, therefore, is an important concern. Chablis, particularly the lower slopes adjacent to the river Serein, lies in a frost pocket. The grand cru vineyards are the most susceptible, but even on the higher plateaux used for the generic wine or plain Chablis, the young shoots are vulnerable from the time they break out of the buds in late March through the middle of May. The exposure and angle of the slope is critical, and there are a number of techniques the grower can use in order to protect his or her vines from being harmed.
The most primitive method, but one now frowned upon by the ecologists, is simply to install a little fuel burner or a paraffin chaufferette in the vineyard. The grower must be in the vineyard, usually by three o'clock in the morning (the coldest part of the night is normally just before sunrise), to light his or her burners, and these must then be refilled in readiness for the following night. More recently, automatic fuel-heating systems, connected to a nearby tank, and infrared devices have been installed in some vineyards. These are expensive, both in fuel and in labour, but they are effective.
Another technique is the aspersion method. First, a system of water sprinklers must be set up in the vineyard and connected to a supply of water. (There is a large reservoir outside Beines which serves over 80 hectares of vines, chiefly in the premier cru Fourchaume.) When the temperature descends to zero, the system is switched on, spraying the vines with a continuous fine stream of water, just as you might do if you were sprinkling your garden. Water freezes at 0°C, but the vine buds will not suffer until the temperature sinks below minus 5°C, by which time the bud is protected by a snug coating of ice. This aspersion method, however, is costly to set up and difficult to maintain. You will find it only in the grands and premiers crus.
There are some Chablis producers who argue that regularly imprisoning the embryonic leaf cluster in ice for 5 or 6 hours a day, perhaps for a month or more, will do it no good. Nevertheless, and despite the difficulties of keeping the nozzles unblocked, this is a technique which has spread rapidly since it was first introduced in the late 1970s. Installation costs are high and maintenance is crucial, but operating expenses are minimal.
EDF (the French nationalised electricity company) has been running trials with William Fèvre and Long-Depaquit with a new anti-frost concept. The idea is to run an electric wire along the rows at the level of the embryonic bunch. When the electricity is turned on, a cocoon of heat measuring roughly 10 centimetres in diameter is created which will protect the embryonic harvest. Although costly to install, it is, so EDF argues, both cheap to run and easy to maintain. Ecologists, however, are worried. The presence of electricity nearby causes mutated and abnormal growth, they argue. Might this be, even infinitesimally, a cancer risk?
Irrespective of the point above, there is another problem with this solution to the frost problem. Frost occurs when the barometer is high and the sky is clear. This frequently coincides with the full moon. Not only can frost be a threat in early April, but it can still occur 4 weeks later. By this time the shoots can be much larger, 10 centimetres in extent, and the fruiting buds will be outside the cylinder of protection.
An alternative method, started in 1995, necessitates covering the vines with plastic sheeting, with holes at intervals for the sun's rays to enter and to prevent undue humidity. This effectively creates an artificial greenhouse effect. It is costly but effective. Strangely, it seems to be allowed here. Using plastic sheeting on the ground of the vineyards elsewhere (avoiding the effects of excessive rain in September) has been declared illegal by the INAO as it is "contrary to nature" and destroys the "uniqueness of the local terroir."
THE GRANDS CRUS
There are currently almost 4,800 hectares of vineyard in production in the Chablis area. Just over a hundred of these are the grand cru vineyards, a continuous slope of undulating vines facing southwest and directly overlooking the town itself.
If you look up at the slope from the town, these grands crus are, from left to right, Bougros; Preuses; Vaudésir, incorporating La Moutonne of Domaine Long-Depaquit; Grenouilles; Valmur; Les Clos; and Blanchots. It is generally agreed that Les Clos is the best grand cru, producing the most powerful and long-lasting wines, the ones with the most intensity and richest flavour. Valmur and Vaudésir are also highly regarded (Valmur, in particular, also needs time to age). Preuses and Grenouilles produce more floral and delicate wines. Bougros and Blanchots are the least fine.
Opinions on these grands crus vary, and quite naturally, it is difficult to find a grower who can be totally objective. Michel Remon, erstwhile owner of the négociant Regnard, who could afford to be more dispassionate than most at this firm, and who did not at any time own any vineyards at all, held the following views: he described wine from Blanchots as the most rustic, and he condemned Grenouilles for its lack of class; in his opinion, it was only a grand cru because it lay alongside the rest. In his view Les Clos was racy and the most nerveux; Vaudésir was the roundest and richest, but occasionally a bit heavy; Preuses was similar, but with less style; and Bougros produced wine somewhat like it on its upper slopes, but it was more like Grenouilles on the lower land. Monsieur Remon gave first prize to Valmur—a feminine wine, the most elegant and full of depth.
The now-retired but until recently important grower William Fèvre sees three different categories. Leading his list is Les Clos, which he describes as intense and long on the palate, with a toasted, gamey flavour. Bougros is tendre and douceâtre (soft and sweetish) with elements of chocolate. The wine is less steely and more obviously fruity than Preuses. Grenouilles and Vaudésir come somewhere between the two in style—less powerful than Les Clos, with more delicate and floral perfumes and a touch of violets. Christian Moreau simply says that Les Clos, Valmur and Vaudésir are the three finest climats, and the remainder do not merit grand cru prices. Les Clos, he adds, is a combination of the finesse of Vaudésir and the structure of Valmur. Jean-Pierre Simonnet, an important négociant-éleveur, finds the quality-price ratio for all the grands crus to have ceased to be useful. These wines are difficult to buy, finance or sell, he will tell you. He concentrates now on premiers crus.
Excerpted from The Wines of Burgundy by Clive Coates. Copyright © 2008 the Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of ContentsPreface Introduction Part One: • The Villages, the Vineyards, the DomainesCHABLIS THE CÔTE D’OR: THE CÔTE DE NUITS THE CÔTE D’OR: THE CÔTE DE BEAUNE CÔTE CHALONNAISE Part Two: • The VintagesVINTAGE ASSESSMENTS2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996 19951994 19931992 1991 1990 1989 1988 1987 1986 1985 1983 1978 1976 1971 1969 1966 1964 1962 19611959 Appendix One: Rating the Vintages Appendix Two: Rating The Domaines of the Côte d’Or Appendix Three: Rating the Domaines and Négociants Appendix Four: Côte d’Or: The Size of the Crop (2005-1949) Appendix Five: Côte d’Or: Surface Areas: A Summary Appendix Six: Price Movements Appendix Seven: Measurements and Conversion Tables Bibliography IndexMaps
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