Chablis9 March 2021
We can attest proof of wine growing in the region of Chablis since the high Middle Ages. The Cistercians, who founded the Abbey of Pontigny in 1114 and subsequently stood up a cellar called the Petit Pontigny in Chablis, developed the vineyard and made it prosper thanks, in particular, to the relatively close Parisian market and easy access by fluvial roads through the Yonne and the Seine.
The 1860s Chablis vineyard described by Guyot (Étude des vignobles, 1868) is quite different from what exists today in a way that both red and white wines were produced there, while tday the AOC Chablis ( 1938) is reserved for still white wines made exclusively from the white Chardonnay grape variety. In Chablis before the phylloxera crisis, Guyot indicates that we cultivated “in red wines, Gamays in the lowlands, and Lombards, Tresseau and Caesar in the heights; but its great and real products are white wines, whose unique and traditional plant is the white morillon * ”. The author further specifies that “Chablis wines rank among the first among the white wines of France; they come to be placed very close to the wines of Meursault. Spirits, without the spirit being felt, they have body, finesse and a charming fragrance; their whiteness and clarity are remarkable. […] Despite the great reputation they have rightly and long enjoyed, their real value is, in my opinion, even higher than their fame. ”
The phylloxera crisis and the two world wars will have serious consequences for Chablis. In 1955, the vineyard occupied only 550 hectares, whereas it currently has 5,700 hectares of planted vines (divided into 47 Climats and 4 appellations: Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru).
The Chablis vineyard extends at the east of Auxerre in the Yonne department, over the reliefs bordering the Serein valley, a tributary of the Yonne, in its course through the heart of the Côte des Bars. The landscape of Chablis is characterized by large, slightly concave slopes, occupied by vines and dominated by a wooded limestone cornice, closing off the perspectives, open only in the axis of the Serein valley. A multitude of small valleys, often dry, cut hillsides with various orientations. These valleys are generally steeped in and wooded on their steepest sides, leaving room for vines only on the best exposed slopes.
The vineyard obtained the AOC in 1938 and the production area is delimited within the territory of the municipalities of Beine, Béru, Chablis, La Chapelle-Vaupelteigne, Chemilly-sur-Serein, Chichée, Collan, Courgis, Fleys, Fontenay-près-Chablis, Lignorelles, Ligny-le-Châtel, Maligny, Poilly-sur-Serein, Préhy, Villy and Viviers.
The AOC specifications state that white chardonnay “reigns supreme and gives rise to a whole hierarchy of” vintages “, reflecting very varied climatic and topographical conditions. The wines from the best situations have acquired a reputation which has made them stand out under the “premier cru” label. The “climats” (a customary name, most often a locality name) classified as “premier cru” occupy the best exposed slopes and are precisely delimited. On the right bank of the Serein, are classified the historical “climates”, attested from the Middle Ages. On the left bank, more recently revealed “climates” are classified. These “climates” are 40 in number, which can be grouped under 17 names. These “climates” are located on the great “coasts” individualized by the complex relief. ”
The 379 wineries of Chablis work day after day to promote their wines from a unique subsoil, the Kimmeridgien **, and whose international reputation is indisputable since nearly two-thirds of the production is exported everywhere. in the world***.
* White morillon is a synonym of white chardonnay
** The Kimmeridgian is a geological stage of the Upper Jurassic in which we find gray marls alternating with limestone beds sometimes very rich in Exogyra virgula fossils (small comma-shaped oyster).
*** The key figures of the Chablis vineyard
Visuals: photos and map of the Chablis vineyard © D.R.