Găsiți următorul dvs. carte preferat

Deveniți un membru astăzi și citiți gratuit pentru 30 zile
The wines of Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois

The wines of Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois

Citiți previzualizarea

The wines of Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois

543 pages
12 hours
Jun 30, 2019


The wines of Chablis builds on Rosemary George’s pioneering books on the region, The wines of Chablis and the Yonne and The wines of Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois, and brings the story of Chablis completely up to date. It begins with the history of the region, from St. Martin de Tours in the fourth century to the twenty-first century, and goes on to consider the vineyards, the Crus, how the grapes are grown in this the most northerly wine growing region of Burgundy, and how wine is made in Chablis in the twenty-first century.
The bulk of The wines of Chablis profiles the producers. This Who’s Who of Chablis winemakers and estates is an invaluable, up-to-the-minute resource for all lovers of this steely, dry white wine. George goes on to profile the most important wine growers of the surrounding areas, the Grand Auxerrois, including the Côtes d’Auxerre, Irancy, Coulanges-la-Vineuse, St. Bris le Vineux, Chitry-le-Fort, Joigny, Tonnerre, Epineuil and Vézelay. Appendices cover one hundred years (and more) of vintages, as well as vineyard areas and bans de vendange dates. Rosemary George’s The wines of Chablis is an essential guide to the different wines of this part of France for all wine professionals and enthusiastic amateurs.
Jun 30, 2019

Despre autor

Rosemary George spent nine years in the wine trade with The Wine Society, Louis Eschenauer (Bordeaux), H Sichel & Sons, Findlater Matta and Les Amis du Vin. In 1979 she became one of the first women to qualify as a Master of Wine. A freelance writer since 1981, she has written thirteen books, covering the Languedoc, Chablis, Tuscany and New Zealand. She is a contributor to various magazines including Decanter and Sommelier India.

Legat de The wines of Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois

Cărți conex
Articole conexe

Previzualizare carte

The wines of Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois - Rosemary George



Chablis is the most northerly region of Burgundy. It is commonly called La Porte d’Or de la Bourgogne and has been linked both historically and commercially with Burgundy for centuries. Yet in many respects Chablis is a very isolated, independent and individual vineyard area, more appropriately called by another less frequently used epithet, l’Ile Vineuse. In fact Chablis is geographically closer to the vineyards of Champagne than to those of the Côte d’Or, but the contact between the two areas is negligible, apart from the fact that before the days of appellation contrôlée, wine from Chablis once found its way to Champagne. The négociants of Beaune have played, and continue to play, an important role in the commerce of Chablis abroad, and some also own vineyards in Chablis, but they make little impact on the character of Chablis itself. So, the interest and appeal of Chablis is that of a small, isolated vineyard with its own traditions and idiosyncrasies, as well as a huge reputation.

On an early visit to Chablis, in 1981, Michel Poitout, Jean Durup’s chef de cave told me that one hundred years earlier, before the phylloxera crisis, there had been 40,000 hectares of vines in the Yonne, the department in which Chablis is located. In 1981 there were barely 3,000, of which Chablis accounted for a little more than half. Now, nearly 40 years later, there are 5,641 hectares in Chablis, with another 2,038 hectares covering the various appellations of the Yonne.

So what happened? It was fascinating to discover that the department of the Yonne had been a prolific producer of vins de comptoirs for the cafés of Paris and that its vineyards had included Clos de la Chainette, which is now reduced to a small plot in the suburbs of Auxerre, and once famous names such as Epineuil, Vézelay and La Côte St Jacques, which are now enjoying something of a revival in their fortunes. Chablis itself survived the ravages of phylloxera, as well as two world wars and rural depopulation, but only just. The adherence of its growers to the Chardonnay grape distinguished Chablis from the other white wines of the area, but climatic vicissitudes, with years of devastating frost, were enough to deter even the most optimistic and stubborn vigneron. In the mid-1950s the vineyards were so empty of vines that in the hard winter of 1956 people skied down the slopes of Les Clos, on what is now the source of one of Chablis’ most distinguished wines and some of the most valuable land in the area.

Wine writers are often asked that perplexing question: what is your favourite wine? My usual quip by way of reply is: the wine in my glass at the moment. But if I am forced to make a more serious and considered answer, it has to be Chablis. I have realized to my astonishment that I have been visiting Chablis and drinking Chablis regularly for forty years and I have never tired of the wine. It defies description. There are many Chablis, as many as there are wine growers. The Chardonnay grape grown on limestone and clay, the defining Kimmeridgian soil, makes wines with flavour, complexity and depth. Young Chablis is pale straw-coloured with a hint of green; it has dryness and bite, with a firm backbone of acidity, but should never taste harsh, green or tart. As it ages, it develops the characteristic gout de pierre à fusil, the mineral flavours of stony gunflint, which is the traditional description of mature Chablis. Chardonnay produces so many fine wines in so many parts of the world but, for my taste buds, Chablis remains unique, and quite unlike a Chardonnay from anywhere else in the world, especially when it is allowed to age in bottle, for there is an intriguing chameleon quality about Chablis. As it matures, it develops flavours which may lead you to believe that it has been aged in wood, when on the contrary the wine has not been near a stave of oak.

While Petit Chablis and Chablis make enjoyable bottles when drunk in their youth, the grands and premiers crus more than repay bottle ageing. On more than one occasion somebody has proclaimed to me that they don’t like Chablis, saying, ‘It’s boring,’ to which my reply is, ‘Have you ever drunk a mature Chablis?’ The answer is invariably no. Chablis in its youth has a fresh, fruity acidity, before going into a sulky adolescent phase when it is about eighteen months or two years old, often coinciding with its arrival on our wine merchants’ shelves and its imminent consumption, when it can seem inharmonious, awkward and closed. Instead of drinking it straight away, it is best to forget about it and leave it to mature in bottle. In five or ten years’ time it will more than amply reward your patience, with depth of flavour and a potential for longevity which exceeds that of its nearest rival, the white wines of the Côte d’Or. Fine Chablis should always have elegance and a steely backbone that is cushioned by rich fruit and mineral flavours, with a subtlety that defies description.

Chablis is not just one wine. Within the appellation there are four categories, in ascending order, Petit Chablis, Chablis, premier cru and grand cru. The premiers crus now comprise 79 named vineyards, some of which appear on a label much more frequently than others, and then there are the seven grands crus, as well as the anomaly of La Moutonne. The historical heart of the appellation is focused upon the town of Chablis and a couple of the nearest villages, Milly and Poinchy, but the vineyards of Chablis cover twenty communes over a relatively compact area. However, within that small area there are numerous small differences in terroir, aspect and microclimate, all of which contribute to the infinite subtleties of flavour in the wines. Of course there is also a human element: each wine grower gives something of themselves to their wine, which makes it different from their neighbour’s Chablis.

You can best appreciate the topography of Chablis from the viewpoint above the slopes of the grands crus. You have the finest vineyards of the appellation literally at your feet; the gradients are steep, but the slopes are not even; the aspect is generally south-west, but parts of the slope face east or even north. The only building is the so-called Château de Grenouilles, a small farmhouse used by La Chablisienne, the local wine cooperative. At the bottom of the slope flows the gentle river Serein. The church tower of the parish church, the Collégiale de St Martin, stands out above the russet-coloured roofs. Like most small towns in France, Chablis has sprawled, with modern wine cellars and a light industrial area on its outskirts. Across the valley are the slopes of the premiers crus, the long hillside of the Côte de Léchet above the village of Milly, and Vaillons and Montmains immediately behind the town, with other premiers crus, Fourchaume and Montée de Tonnerre forming a natural continuation of the grands crus.

The Collégiale was built by the monks of the abbey of St Martin de Tours and is said to be a replica of the Cathedral of Sens, with its solid rounded arches. The south door is decorated with a wonderful collection of wrought ironwork and horseshoes, as offerings to Saint Martin, who is said not only to be patron saint of drunkards, perhaps appropriately for a wine community, but also of horsemen. Usually the door is locked, but I once attended a concert of Gregorian chants, which was wonderfully atmospheric. The other church, the original parish church of the Faubourg Saint Pierre, was nearly destroyed in the Revolution and is now surrounded by the cemetery. It is in a state of severe disrepair and consequently closed. Other buildings of note include the Obédiencerie, a fifteenth-century house that belonged to the monks of Saint Martin, with much older cellars which are said to have sheltered his body. It is now the offices of Domaine Laroche. Le Petit Pontigny is a reminder of the original presence of the monks of the nearby Cistercian abbey of Pontigny. It dates back to the twelfth century and has been used for the festivities of the local wine brotherhood, the Piliers Chablisiens, and is now about to become part of the Burgundian Cité du Vin. The rue Porte Noël ends in the Porte de Noël, the old gate, which retains two conical towers marking the former confines of the town.

The surrounding countryside is gentle and undulating; this is not dramatic scenery but restful and best appreciated on foot, when you can see the contours of the vineyards. One crisp April day when there were fears of frost, and flakes of snow in the wind, with heaters at the ready in the vineyards, we left the town along the Vallée de Vauvilien and continued up through the vineyard of Mont de Milieu, heading towards the village of Fleys. Our route then took us past the steep slopes of Vaucoupin and then down to the outskirts of Chichée to follow the valley of the Serein back into Chablis. As well as vineyards, there are cornfields and cherry trees. Cowslips, which seem to have long since disappeared from the English countryside, grow in abundance in the hedgerows and along the roadsides in April, with fields of yellow rape making a violent splash on the landscape in May. On the hilltops above the vineyards are woods of oak, juniper and pine.

The nearest town of any size is Auxerre, the préfecture of the Yonne, and some twenty kilometres away. It is an attractive place, with three churches towering above its roofs, built on a hillside by the river from which the department gets its name. The Cathedral of St Etienne, the Abbey of St Germain and the church of St Pierre dominate the view of the town as you cross the bridge over the river. There are narrow cobbled streets, timber-beamed houses from the sixteenth century and a fine old clock tower. Auxerre is definitely worth the journey. The cathedral has a simple Romanesque crypt, while the abbey boasts in its crypt frescoes dating back to the ninth century, some of the oldest in Europe.

Over the last thirty years or so the town of Chablis has gently become more prosperous. The centre of the town was bombarded in 1940 and rebuilt in the conventional post-war style of urban France. These days it exudes an air of quiet confidence. There are a growing number of small wine shops dedicated to a single wine grower, Jean-Marc Brocard, Domaine Laroche, Daniel Defaix, to name but a few. I have measured the rise in Chablis’ fortunes by the menu in the main café, Le Chablis Bar, of which I have been an erratic but at times frequent and loyal customer. It offers warming hot chocolate on cold winter days, to restore the circulation to your toes between visits to cold cellars. As you would expect, you can also find a decent glass or two of Chablis, and over the years the menu has become more sophisticated. Once the choice was distinctly limited to baguettes, jambon beurre, fromage or saucisse; these days you may choose a plat du jour, andouillette or croque-monsieur, while the choice of baguettes includes rillettes or tuna.

Across the road is the charcuterie, a purveyor of some fine andouillettes, and a member of the AAAAA, l’Association Amicale des Amateurs d’Andouillette Authentique. The andouillette sausage, a mixture of unmentionable bits of the pig, is a local speciality, at its best grilled on an open fire. As for cheeses, Chaource, on the former boundary between Champagne and Burgundy, is not too far away and there is no doubt that a ripe Chaource, accompanied by a Chablis with a certain weight, effectively counters the argument for red wine with cheese. For those with a sweeter tooth there are the local Duché biscuits, which resemble a boudoir biscuit, and are now produced by just one of the village bakers. Sometimes they accompany a tasting, but go better with a glass of ratafia, another local speciality that is made more for friends and family than for commercial reasons. Fresh grape juice is prevented from fermenting by the addition of some of the previous year’s marc or brandy. Although less common than it was, I have been offered it at the end of a tasting as a gesture of amitié. To accompany Chablis, I prefer the traditional gougères of Burgundy, the small cheese flavoured balls of choux pastry, which admirably soak up the unavoidable excess of acidity in a tasting of young Chablis. The other classic Chablis dish is jambon au Chablis, with its delicious tomato and Chablis sauce to accompany the ham.

Restaurants too have proliferated in Chablis. Today my favourite is Au Fil du Zinc, with a comprehensive wine list and a talented Japanese chef, Ryo Nagahama. Front of house is Fabien Espana, grandson of Léon Bienvenu of Irancy, who manages to combine the perfect balance of informality and professionalism, while serving delicious food. Les Trois Bourgeons is the other restaurant of note, run by a Japanese trio, two in the kitchen and one front of house, again with a good wine list, and delicious food that shows off Chablis at its best. Daniel Defaix has converted some medieval cellars on the main street into another sympathique restaurant, La Cuisine au Vin. If you are just after a glass of Chablis, perhaps with a plate of charcuterie, the place for you is the wine bar, S Chablis, on the main street, which was set up by Arnaud Valour after he left the BIVB. I have spent a convivial hour or so tasting with Arnaud, as he introduced me to some of his favourite new growers.

Chablis has a quiet unhurried air about it and it is hard to believe that anything could disturb its calm, save perhaps a large lorry, collecting an export order, causing a jam in the main street, but the traffic is light enough that Chablis is still happily free of any traffic lights. The town is at its most animated on Sunday mornings, when the main street and square are closed to traffic to make way for the market. This is not the place to buy wine; there is the usual collection of French market fare, old-fashioned frocks and comfy slippers, interspersed with local produce. Sylvain, the principal cheesemonger, has a cheeky line in repartee to entertain the patient queue of chablisienne housewives; seasonal fruit and vegetables abound, as well as trompettes de mort and chanterelles in the autumn. If you felt so inclined, you could even buy a dining table and matching chairs and then adjourn to the steamy café which is bustling with noisy animation in sharp contrast to the more tranquil mornings of the weekday.

Although I have been visiting Chablis on and off for the last forty years, with plenty of opportunity to observe the fortunes of the town and its wines, this book is specifically the distillation of two visits, each of three intensive weeks, in June and October 2018. During these visits I talked to some 130 wine growers, not only in Chablis but also in the surrounding vineyards of the Yonne: Irancy, Coulanges-la-Vineuse, Chitry-le-Fort, St Bris-le-Vineux, Joigny, Epineuil, Tonnerre and Vézelay. Virtually none of the people who featured in my first book (published in 1984) are still making wine, though several are still enjoying an active retirement. They have been followed by their sons, who largely featured in my second book, and now by their grandsons, and increasingly, their granddaughters. There are many old established estates in the heart of Chablis, but I also wanted to include the several new estates, the people who made their first wines in this century. There have not been dramatic changes, but a quiet and constant evolution, with developments in both the vineyards and wine cellars, as Chablis has moved with the twenty-first century.

The welcome has been warm. Most of the growers respond to an enthusiastic audience and once they have decided that you are serious they are more than happy to air their views and share their wines with you. Most are men of the land; their fathers, grandfathers and great-grandfathers were vignerons before them and their children and grandchildren will follow in their footsteps. However, it is noticeable that the new generation has much broader horizons than the parents, whose view of things was limited to the hillsides of Chablis and the banks of the Serein. In contrast, the new generation has travelled and seen other vineyards and brought its experience back to Chablis. Nonetheless, despite this greater exposure to the outside world, Chablis remains very much Chablis, its own place and its own wine: that is its appeal and the reason that I am drawn back to it so frequently.

A note on the text

Some French winemaking terms are much more precise and less clumsy than the equivalent English terms, and the same goes for wine descriptions. If you are talking to French winemakers, inevitably some French words creep into the notes and the subsequent text. The most commonly used ones are explained on page 321.



The origins of the name Chablis are uncertain. Two suggestions have been put forward, but neither is entirely convincing. Chablis may be derived from a combination of two Celtic words ‘cab’ meaning house and ‘leya’ meaning wood, to make a house in the wood, but many towns are near woods and there seems to be no reason why Chablis should be singled out. The other hypothesis derives from its situation on the river Serein. The first bridge over the Serein was not built until about 1270. Before then travellers between Tonnerre and Auxerre had to use a boat with a cable to take them across the river. The Celtic word for a large cord is ‘shable’ which could easily have been altered to Chablis over the years.

In Roman times the town was called Cabeia and although there may have been an early Celtic settlement on the site of the town, it was the Romans, as in so many other parts of France, who brought vines and viticulture to Chablis. However, when Domitian issued an edict in AD92 forbidding the further planting of vines in Gaul and ordering that at least half the existing vines be torn up, viticulture had not yet reached the Yonne. Consequently its arrival there was delayed. Domitian’s edict was not so much an attempt at protectionism, as a move to prevent land that was better suited to, and needed for, the production of grain from being converted into vineyards that would only produce inferior, common wines.

The better vineyards of Gaul continued to flourish, despite Domitian’s edict. By the time Probus became Emperor, the economic situation of Gaul had changed and by reversing Domitian’s edict in 276 and allowing vines to be grown throughout Gaul, Probus was able to open up the valleys of the Seine and the Loire to viticulture. Some sources say that Probus even sent vines to Chablis. Be that as it may, it is certain that he was ultimately responsible for the beginnings of wine production in the department of the Yonne.

Although the Romans brought vines to Chablis, it was the medieval church that gave viticulture the impetus that it needed to establish itself as an essential part of the rural economy and landscape of the area. The first monastery in the region, a tiny cell, was founded in Chablis in 510 and dedicated to Saint Loup. In 867 this monastery, together with the town of Chablis, was given to the monks of Saint Martin de Tours by Charles the Bald. That year Charles the Bald had spent Christmas at the Abbey of Saint Germain in Auxerre. His cousin Hugo, the abbot of Saint Martin de Tours, came to ask for a sanctuary for the relics of his monastery’s founder, after the monks had been ejected from Tours by the Normans. The gift of the monastery of Saint Loup was the solution and the bones of Saint Martin were duly laid to rest there. The charter confirming this gift contains the first written mention of the name of Chablis. The exact site of the monastery of Saint Loup is unknown, although there is strong evidence to suggest that it may have been on the site of the Obédiencerie in the centre of the town, now the offices of Domaine Laroche.

The association between Chablis and Tours continued until the Revolution. The Abbot of Tours kept the title Abbot of Tours and Chablis and in 1138 the construction of the collegial church of Saint Martin was begun under the initiative of Hugues of Merlignac, Merlignac being the former name of the nearby village of Maligny. The Collégiale is now the parish church of Chablis, a fine, imposing building with an elegant spire and soaring arches.


Although the monks of Saint Martin cultivated vines, it was the monks of Pontigny, about fifteen kilometres north of Chablis, who provided the greatest impetus to viticulture in Chablis. The austere white stone abbey of Pontigny is an offshoot of the Cistercian monastery of Citeaux. It has provided refuge for two archbishops of Canterbury, Thomas à Becket and Stephen Langton, and contains the tomb of a third, Edmund Rich, or Saint Edmé as he later became known, who died at Pontigny on his way to Rome. The Cistercian monks in accordance with their traditions at Clos Vougeot in the Côte d’Or created Clos la Vieille Plante at Pontigny. This red-wine producing vineyard was still in existence in the early nineteenth century, when Jullien, in his classic study of 1822, Topographie de Tous les Vignobles Connus, said, ‘La Vieille Plante makes wine that combines the vigour and bouquet of Bordeaux with the other qualities of Burgundy. Aged it astonishes gourmets.’

As this was the only vineyard of any note within the vicinity of the monastery, the monks wanted a large vineyard in an area that was more suitable for the cultivation of vines, even if further from their monastery, and consequently they looked to Chablis. The monks of Saint Martin de Tours were already well established in Chablis and would no doubt have resented any encroachment on their property and authority. Nevertheless, at some time during the twelfth century, in either 1118 or 1198 (sources disagree on the date), an agreement was concluded between the monks of Pontigny and Saint Martin de Tours. In return for an annual payment of ten muids of wine (a muid being an old measure of about 225 litres, though confusingly todays demi-muid is 500 or 600 litres) the monks of Pontigny were allowed the use of 36 arpents of land (about 22 hectares) in Chablis, together with the building still called Le Petit Pontigny. There is a doubt, however, as to whether this agreement was made before or after a gift of land to the monks of Pontigny by Anseric II, Lord of Montréal and Seneschal of Burgundy. Here again there is uncertainty about the date of the gift. Consequently we cannot be sure whether Anseric’s present heralded the beginnings of Pontigny’s association with Chablis, or came after the agreement with the monks of Saint Martin de Tours. However, there is no doubt that it helped to establish the relationship between Pontigny and Chablis, which was to continue until the French Revolution, and the wine was said to be worthy of the esteem of the monks and capable of long conservation. Le Petit Pontigny was run as an offshoot of Pontigny, like Clos Vougeot and Citeaux. The building still stands today and has been regularly used for the dinners arranged by the Piliers Chablisiens, notably at the annual Fête du Vin. A three-hundred year old wine press stands in the courtyard.


By the twelfth century the fame and reputation of Chablis was spreading throughout France. The wine’s renown gained it a place in the twelfth-century fable poem La Bataille des Vins and Fra Salimbene, a Franciscan who marvelled at the abundance of vines around Auxerre in the thirteenth century, also sang its praises: ‘It is a white wine, sometimes golden, that has aroma and body, an exquisite and generous flavour and fills the heart with a happy confidence’.

By 1328 there were 500 arpents of vines out of 12,000 arpents of cultivated land in the commune of Chablis, in the hands of up to 450 landowners. One of the problems of viticulture in the Middle Ages, which has also recurred in more modern times, although not entirely for the same reasons, was the shortage of labour. In 1372 it is recorded that the vines produced only a little wine ‘because they remained partly uncultivated as a result of war’. ‘Déjà …,’ observed Albert Pic in 1935.

In the Middle Ages the river Serein formed the boundary between the lands of the counts of Champagne and the dukes of Burgundy, so inevitably the development of the town of Chablis has been linked with both those territories, as well as the court of France. During the early part of the Middle Ages Chablis was under the protection of the counts of Champagne. Then in 1367 it became a prévôté royale, with a coat of arms incorporating those of the king of France as well as those of Saint Martin de Tours. At the beginning of the fifteenth century the town was fortified with a system of towers and ramparts for which money was contributed from the commerce in wine. Fortifications were undoubtedly necessary, for northern France was continually disturbed by the unrest of the Hundred Years’ War and Chablis could not afford to ignore the events of the time. It was occupied by an English garrison after the defeat of Charles VII at nearby Cravant in 1423 and Joan of Arc passed through Chablis in 1429. After the death in 1477 of Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy, Chablis was incorporated into the duchy of Burgundy, an event which was to have an inestimable effect on the development of its viticulture and wine, for it was to align them with those of the Côte d’Or rather than with Champagne.


After the development of viticulture by the monks of Pontigny and Saint Martin de Tours, it was the proximity of Chablis to Paris and the river systems of northern France that was the most important factor in the growth of Chablis during the Middle Ages. In a time when journeys by road were hazardous and difficult, transport by river was of vital significance. The Serein itself was not navigable, but the Yonne was, and so, once the wine had covered the short distance by road to Auxerre, it was assured an easy journey to Paris, along the Yonne and into the Seine and from Paris onward to northern France, Picardy, Normandy and Flanders. The ease of transport was the crucial factor in the development of Chablis and the other wines of the Yonne during the Middle Ages and also explains why the wines of the Côte d’Or, where there is no significant river, remained unknown at that time.

The late fifteenth century, after the conclusion of the Hundred Years War, was a period of great prosperity for the town, so much so that in 1478 Pierre Lerouge set up France’s fifth printing press in Chablis. It produced two notable books: Le Livre des Bonnes Moeurs in 1478 and La Bréviaire d’Auxerre in 1483. After Pierre Lerouge’s departure to Paris, other members of this family of printers worked in Chablis. Jehan Lerouge produced Les Chartes d’Auxerre and Guillaume Lerouge Les Expositions des Evangiles in 1489. The population at that time numbered four thousand; new houses were built and the vineyards flourished. Chablis had already acquired a reputation as the perfect accompaniment to oysters, as the poet Eustace Deschamps writes:

Avec les huitres

Que le Chablis est excellent

Je donnerai fortune et Titres

Pour m’enivrer de ce vin blanc

Avec des huitres¹

By 1527 there were 700 vineyard owners, cultivating some 1,600 arpents (960 hectares) of land. The wines of Chablis were appreciated at the royal court of France and in 1529 there was an abortive attempt to render the Serein navigable, so that transport to the capital would be easier. However, the monks of Pontigny opposed the scheme, as the Serein crossed their land. During the sixteenth century the Wars of Religion left their mark on Chablis. In 1568 the Huguenots besieged the town and burnt down the whole of the Faubourg Saint Pierre.

By the mid-seventeenth century the fame of Chablis had crossed the Channel and the Earl of Bedford’s cellars at Woburn Abbey contained stocks of the wine. In France records of early vintages indicate that climatic extremes are by no means new. At the end of September 1692, for example, there was so much snow in the vineyards that the grapes froze, and in 1693 the vintage began on All Saints Day, 1st November, for the same reason.

In 1731, in an attempt to remedy the prevailing shortage of grain, Louis XV forbade the planting of new vineyards, a measure reminiscent of Domitian’s edict some seventeen centuries earlier. Two years later the population of Chablis was forced to ask for help and sustenance following five consecutive years of frost and failed vintages. In contrast, so much wine was made fifty years later, in 1781, that there was not enough room for it all in the cellars. Meanwhile, there had also been great vintages, which enhanced the wine’s reputation. Chanoine Gaudon wrote to Mme d’Epinay in 1759: ‘My wine from Chablis this year has quality; when it is drunk it embalms and enchants the throat and leaves the sweet flavour of mousseron’. A mousseron is a very small, local, wild mushroom, which is often associated with mature Chablis.

Another poetic comment on the association of Chablis with oysters came from the Chevalier de Piis at the Restoration Dinner of the Epicureans in the early nineteenth century:

Qui pourrait mettre en oublie

Le sec et limpide Chablis

Qui joint à tant d’autres titres

L’art de faire aimer les huitres.²


The French Revolution had a shattering effect on the equilibrium of the town of Chablis, as it did throughout France, for it brought an end to extensive monastic and ecclesiastical landownership. The vineyards of Pontigny, together with the property of the chapter of Saint Martin and the various chapels of Chablis, were auctioned as biens nationaux or ‘national property’ and generally bought by local property owners, who tended to be either wine merchants or commissionaires, or members of the professions, such as the local lawyer and doctor. Three large landowners of the Ancien Régime managed to survive the Revolution, but by the beginning of the nineteenth century the vineyards of Chablis belonged to a small group of bourgeois property owners, most of whom were related by marriage. The rest of the vineyards were shared among the small farmers, who had a few ares of vines along with their cows and wheat, and who also tended the vines of the bourgeois landowners. Although important, vines were not the sole source of income; until fairly recently polyculture remained the norm.

The ownership of a wine press was of considerable significance, for access to a press was vital if any benefit was to be obtained from owning vines. At the beginning of the nineteenth century there were 26 presses, owned by 22 families, for 870 hectares of vines. The many small vignerons who did not own a press had to pay for the use of one, or resort to the more traditional method of pressing their grapes by foot.

Meanwhile, in England, Chablis had continued to build on its reputation. The first white burgundy to appear in a Christie’s sale was a Chablis (catalogued as Chablet) in 1770. In 1793 in his ‘General Instructions for the Choice of Wines and Spirituous Liquors Dedicated to His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales’ (the future George IV), Duncan McBride wrote that ‘the vin de Chable is a light pleasant wine and not unwholesome to be used at table instead of beer’. This is not as flattering as earlier eulogies, and history does not relate whether the Prince Regent forswore beer for Chablis, but it does show that Chablis was becoming one of the better-known French wines in England. During the nineteenth century we find a poetical allusion to Chablis, from Robert Browning:

Then I went indoor, brought out a loaf

Half a cheese and a bottle of Chablis,

Lay on the grass and forgot the oaf,

Over a jolly chapter of Rabelais.

Back in France, the Franco-Prussian War was the next major upheaval to affect Chablis. In 1870 the town was ransomed by the Prussians as a reprisal for the death of a Prussian sub-lieutenant. Forty thousand francs had to be raised to secure the lives of four hostages: M. Rathier, the mayor; M. Dubay, the curé and two members of notable wine families, Messieurs Depaquit and Pic.


One great asset of Chablis and the surrounding vineyards of the Yonne was their proximity to Paris. In the late nineteenth century the railway took over from the River Yonne as the chief route to Paris. Communications with the capital improved enormously with the building of a railway line between Laroche-Migennes and L’Isle-Angely in 1886. Even the tiny hamlet of Poinchy had a railway station until 1952. With the advent of the railway the majority of the surrounding villages succumbed to the temptation of providing the capital with cheap vin de comptoir for its cafés. High-yielding grapes such as Plante Verte, which is probably the present-day Sacy, as well as Damery and Hivernage, which have disappeared, were widely planted in order to supply Paris with light and undistinguished everyday drinking wines.

However, the advantages of proximity to Paris were severely undermined by three disasters which struck the vineyards of Chablis and the Yonne in the second half of the nineteenth century. While the diseases oidium and phylloxera attacked the vines, the railways had a negative commercial impact, since they improved transportation not only for the wine growers of Chablis, but also for their competitors elsewhere.

Powdery mildew, more commonly called oidium, first appeared in the region in 1886. Albert Pic records that the vines lost their leaves prematurely and the resulting wine was barely passable in either quantity or quality. Fortunately, a cure was already known, namely the dusting of the vines with sulphur. Already effective in keeping the plants healthy, this was now found to combat oidium efficiently.

Phylloxera was to prove a much more serious threat. The devastating louse that caused so much damage throughout the vineyards of Europe was first found in a greenhouse in Hammersmith in 1863. It had been brought to Europe on some vine cuttings sent from the United States. Shortly afterwards it was found in a vineyard in the Midi department of the Gard, but did not reach the Chablisien until 1887. Although, according to Albert Pic, the blight was initially slow to take hold, the effect was to be devastating. At the very start of the outbreak it could even be said that Chablis benefited, for, since it was the vineyards of the Midi that suffered first, those of the Yonne were able to continue supplying the capital with the cheap wine that its cafés required, without the threat of competition from further south.

Succumbing later, Chablis had the advantage of the experience acquired in the earlier affected areas. However, when the very hot summer of 1893 caused a population explosion of the louse, which rapidly spread throughout the vineyards, the growers still adopted some of the far-fetched ineffective remedies which had been applied elsewhere. Albert Pic recalls a certain vaccine that was applied to the vines, where they had been pruned, and which was supposed to give them renewed vigour, as well as killing the phylloxera louse. Needless to say, it did neither. However, a treatment of carbon bisulphide, applied regularly in the spring and autumn, succeeded in prolonging the life of some of the old French vines until about 1906. The only truly effective remedy lay in grafting European vines on to American rootstock, which was being done in some parts of France by the mid-1880s. Although this method became accepted as the only viable solution to the phylloxera crisis, the cost of replanting the vineyards was enormous and many growers were simply unable to meet it. Claude Chevalier’s great-grandparents were one such example. They lost their vines to phylloxera and their children turned to wheat and cows as they were simply unable to replant their vineyards, leading to a gap of two generations in the family’s winemaking activities.

Competition from the South

The third catastrophe was brought about indirectly by the railways, whose arrival, although initially highly beneficial to Chablis, was disastrous in the long term. The completion of the Paris–Lyon–Marseille railway line in 1856 brought the cheap wines of the Midi within easy reach of thirsty Parisians, and once the remedy for phylloxera had been found, the wines of the Yonne lost their advantageous position and were unable to compete with those of the Midi on price alone. Chablis and the surrounding vineyards could never escape the vicissitudes of their northern climate, for they were constantly the victims of frost and could not regularly produce the high yields of the warm south. Thus, the pattern was set for a long period of decline in the vineyard area of the Yonne. The vineyards that were replanted after the phylloxera outbreak were those which produced wines of quality, that is to say the vineyards around the town of Chablis itself. The vineyards in villages like Poilly, Yrouerre, Chemilly and Collan simply disappeared and Sacy and Joux-la-Ville replaced their vines with plantations of pine trees.

What phylloxera and competition from the Midi had begun, the labour shortages of the First World War and subsequent rural depopulation continued. Even more vineyards fell into disuse after 1914, when the labour forces of entire villages were conscripted and the horses requisitioned, so that only the women and old people were left to carry on the unequal struggle of maintaining the land and the vineyards. Once the war was over, the lure of work in the capital, with a regular weekly wage – an easy living, compared to the hard and often discouraging existence of a farmer and vigneron – hastened the rural exodus. Yet more vineyards were abandoned; those subsequently not included in the delimitation of Chablis, and even those of favourable, if frost-prone sites, were left unplanted. The vineyards of Chablis reached their nadir just after the Second World War when fewer than 500 hectares remained in production.

The ownership of the vineyards remained with the same families with little change throughout the nineteenth century. Families such as Rathier, Mignard, Hochet and Thomessin had benefited from the sales of biens nationaux after the Revolution. During the reconstruction of the vineyards after the phylloxera crisis there was some infiltration by outsiders and after the Second World War the ownership of the vineyards became less concentrated in the same small group. Since the return of prosperity to the vineyards in the 1960s the rural exodus has reversed and people whose families once left the region have returned. There has also been a marked consolidation in vineyard holdings. In 1955 an average holding was about two hectares, often split into several tiny parcels. An aerial photograph of Chablis taken in the 1950s shows the vineyards in patchwork strips, a couple of rows of vines adjoining a small plot of wheat, or more likely a patch of fallow or wasteland. The complicated French laws of inheritance were responsible for this multiplicity of tiny holdings. One man, for example, needed 300 documents to give to a holding of 240 hectares of farmland and vines some semblance of organization. Even today the older generation would say that they were dans la vigne, as though they had been working on a single row of vines.


The 1960s saw the arrival of

Ați ajuns la sfârșitul acestei previzualizări. Înscrieți-vă pentru a citi mai multe!
Pagina 1 din 1


Ce părere au oamenii despre The wines of Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois

0 evaluări / 0 Recenzii
Ce părere aveți?
Evaluare: 0 din 5 stele

Recenziile cititorilor