An Afternoon in Chablis
A last-minute decision to visit Chablis while we were in the Burgundy area turned out to be a very enjoyable and memorable afternoon, following a quick search of tour guides in the Chablis area and we found that Franck the owner of Chablis Vititours was available to take us on a private afternoon tour. Off we set from Dijon train station and an hour and a half later we arrived in Tonnerre to begin our tour around the wonderful countryside of Chablis.
Located in northeast France, Chablis is considered the northernmost extension of the Burgundy wine region. It is separated from the Côte d’Or by the Morvan hills making Chablis quite isolated from other winemaking regions. Before becoming part of Burgundy, Chablis was once considered part of Champagne, and the two regions share many climatic similarities.
River Serein, which flows through Chablis
Monks from the Abbey of Pontigny were the first to plant Chardonnay grapes here on the slopes surrounding the River Serein realising that the microclimate in this area with its cold spring was essential for the dry, honey-scented flavour of the wine. The wines fall into four appellations: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru and Grand Cru. The monks at Pontigny introduced new farming methods and most importantly wine production to the area. It is thought that the famous Chablis vineyards were first planted with Chardonnay vines by the monks and with the success of the wine, in the 12th century, the Abbey was able to expand.
Our first stop of the afternoon was high above the town of Chablis, Franck drove us through vineyards and led us through the forest to a hillside panoramic viewpoint and explained in-depth the different vineyards.
Many of the Premier Crus, and all the Grand Crus vineyards, are planted along the valley of the Serein river as it flows into the Yonne with the best sites on a southwest facing slope that receives the greatest amount of sunlight. There are seven officially delineated Grand Cru vineyards, covering an area of 247 acres (100 hectares), all on one southwest facing hill overlooking the town of Chablis.
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The cool climate of this region produces wines with more acidity and flavors less fruity than Chardonnay wines grown in warmer climates. All of Chablis’ Grand Cru vineyards and Premier Cru vineyards are planted on primarily Kimmeridgean soil which is composed of limestone, clay and fossilized oyster shells. Other areas, particularly the majority of Petit Chablis vineyards, are planted on slightly younger Portlandian soil-a limestone based soil of similar structure.
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The main viticultural concern for Chablis vineyard owners is frost protection. The main threat is spring frost which can do a lot of damage to the vineyard. Owners used to spend a lot of time getting the little heaters and candles ready but now these have largely given way to sprinklers that surround the vines with a protective coating of ice. Water is sprayed on the vine and a cocoon of ice form around young leaves and buds, protecting them from the cold.
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Petrol burners which are pumped along the vineyards and then ignited at intervals in small burners are also used. We saw some petrol burners and tanks at the side of the vineyards. Pre burners and sprinklers the church bells used to ring out in the town to warn the vineyard owners and workers of the impending frost.
In the Chablis region, harvesting generally begins at the end of September. The traditional style of vine training in Chablis is to have the vine trained low to the ground for warmth with four cordons stretching out sideways from the trunk.
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Enjoying the grapes straight from the vine and a cool glass of Chablis in the vineyard was a fun and unique experience.
A short stroll around the town of Chablis was interesting taking in the history and quaint buildings.
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Our next stop was Maison Albert Bichot, an independent family house, founded in Burgundy in 1831. Albert Bichot owns four estates set at the heart of four great viticultural regions that make up Burgundy: Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, and Côte Chalonnaise.
Situated at the heart of the village of Chablis, Long-Depaquit was founded in 1791 and has built a reputation as one of the top estates in Chablis.
The outhouses of the Chateau are home to the fermentation tanks and underground cellars
The Chateau Orangery is used as a reception area, here we enjoyed learning more about the terroir and got to taste a selection of wines.
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The jewel among the vines of the Cistercian Abbey of Pontigny for a several centuries, La Moutonne is a small vineyard of just six acres on the Grand Cru hillside of Chablis. As the vineyard is essentially a monopole, only Domaine Long-Depaquit makes a La Moutonne wine. This puts La Moutonne in good company, the Romanee-Conti Grand Cru vineyard – responsible for one of the most famous wines in the world – is also a monopole.
Our last stop of the afternoon was to Domaine Gouailhardou winegrower and merchant found in the centre of Chablis
The tasting was hosted by the winegrowers daughter and with her retiring shortly after we visited it is uncertain if the shop will still be operating under this Domaine. The opportunity to taste the 1991 Chablis was a real privilege and was a lovely end to the afternoon and our introduction to the Chablis region.
We learnt such a lot from Franck in only an afternoon, it would have been great to have had the full day as I did not want it to end. An excellent host it was a real pleasure to spend time with him. Knowledgeable and passionate about his work I have no hesitation in recommending him if you are ever looking for a wine tour in the Chablis area.