The Chablis appellation area extends over 20 villages and today the appellation vineyards cover some 4,700 hectares (11,750 acres). Delimiting the Chablis terroir was the work of the Institut National des Appellations Contrôlées (INAO), the French national appellations organisation, work which, over the years, has resulted in the establishment of four different appellations:
· Petit Chablis, on 729 hectares (1,750 acres) : the crop comes mainly from the plateau areas;
· Chablis, covering 3,156 hectares (7,574 acres) on hillside vineyards;
· Chablis Premier Cru, on 767 hectares (1,840 acres), growing on slopes exposed for the most part south-east and south-west;
· Chablis Grand Cru, on 106 hectares (254 acres), harvested from the renowned Grand Cru hillside on the right bank of the River Serein, facing the village of Chablis. The slopes face south-west in the main, though there is a wide range in their steepness and aspect.
Chablis is situated in the north of Burgundy, one of the world’s foremost wine regions. As early as the 14th century, the Dukes of Burgundy claimed that the white wines of Auxerre, Chablis and Beaune were «the best, most precious and most suitable wines of the kingdom, enjoyed by the pope, the king and numbers of noblemen». It is a reputation that has never stopped growing.
The founding of the village of Chablis dates back to Roman times, as do Chablis’s wines. The name Chablis itself would appear to stem from Celtic words meaning «the rope over the ford». In 510 King Sigismond, a Christian, founded a small monastery dedicated to Saint Loup and during the Midde Ages Chablis grew around it. In the 9th century, Benedictine monks from Saint Martin’s Abbey at Tours, fleeing from the Viking invasion, settled at Chablis. Later, at the beginning of the 12th century, the founding of the Cistercian abbey at nearby Pontigny appears clearly as a major factor in the expansion and renown of the vineyards. Donations and bequests received by the two religious orders over the years included vineyards and, thus, the monasteries eventually became large-scale owners. In just a few decades, the reputation of the wine from Chablis spread well beyond the Yonne River and the Auxerre region. A legend was in the making.
A key word at La Chablisienne. Here, the prime aim of our winemaking methods is to achieve the expression of our Chablis terroirs, highlighting all their richness. It is a determined focus underpinned by relatively simple vinification practices : tasting and analysis of all the grape musts prior to a rigorous selection, refusal of a blanket approach to winemaking – thus, each wine benefits from a choice of methods most suited to its particular case, tasting is the touchstone in decision-making, vinification is adapted to each terroir, winemaking and maturing take place in stainless steel and in casks (great care goes into choosing the oak and the barrels), prolonged maturing on fine lees adapted to each selected cru, each wine bottled in one go, without intervals.
Intensity of the mineral touch... this is our commitment as well as the promise of our wines. Indeed, its mineral edge is the outstanding feature of Chablis wine, and of La Chablisienne’s wines in particular. Devotees of Chablis speak of a terroir stamped by white rock, of mineral intensity in the aromas (conjuring up flintstone, mineral salts, chalk, oyster and shell...), flavour (liveliness) and appearance (crystal clear). In the very soil of La Chablisienne’s vineyards this mineral quality shows up in a variety of ways. For winelovers, discovering our vineyards here is always a source of great emotion...
A time-honoured unit of measurement for liquids here at Chablis, the feuillette was derived from an old Parisian unit of volume equal to 268 litres of wine, the muid. Since it took a ‘pair’ of feuillettes of Chablis to make up a muid; in practice this meant a feuillette held 136.8 litres. For generations in the wine trade in the Chablis region, the “sound, local, unvarying custom” was for all business to be done on the basis of 136 litres ‘housed’ in a feuillette. If, when the barrel left the cellars, anything up to four litres was missing nobody complained. But more than that and the buyer would demand a discount. After World War Two, it became the custom to conclude deals on the basis of a 132-litre feuillette whereas the benchmark for official quotations elsewhere in France was the 136-litre “Burgundian” feuillette. Storms a-brewing over the Chablis hillsides: nobody here wanted a 136-litre unit, they all held out for the 132-litre feuillette (4 litres bonus in the pocket!). Since then, the “sound, local, unvarying custom” has been to use the 132-litre unit for all business involving Chablis in casks.
Situated in the heart of the Grand Crus vineyards at the foot of the Grenouilles hillside, the Château Grenouilles estate is an exceptional property unique in Chablis. It has belonged to La Chablisienne since 2003. Its 7.2 hectares (some 18 acres) form one superbly exposed plot facing south-west towards the village and produces the rarest of Chablis Grand Crus: Les Grenouilles. Made from a selection of the oldest vines in the vineyard, the Château Grenouilles (the only ‘château’ from the Grand Crus hill) allies a nose with great definition to an aromatic purity in the mouth, a harmony of power and finesse and a very long finish. Blessed with enormous potential for keeping, it is the expression of what a great Chablis vin de terroir is.
La Chablisienne is a cooperative winery. As such, we see it as the extension of our estates, a dynamic facility working to help the member winegrowers. And, indeed, the strength of such a tool, the core of its life and policy, is its men and women... it is always turned towards the future, conceiving projects capable of uniting effort and creating dynamic, sharing responsibilities, respecting people and their commitment to their land, helping young winegrowers set up, fostering a shared conviction that collective organisation is a key factor in penetrating markets and maintaining visibility... these are the values that underlie our life, day in day out.
Our identity changed in 2006: new logo, new colour scheme, new labels and packaging for our bottles. The old designs dated back to 1923! A major shake-up that has maintained continuity while bringing enhanced elegance, refinement and impact: we have kept the principle of handwritten typography but now it’s much more elegant and individual. And, of course, we have not abandoned our flagship icon, La Chablisienne, the great Lady of Chablis who bears our bottles aloft in triumph. Now she is even more striking, noticed at a glance with her new garment, hair a-flowing, a different gait...
Ah! Such joy for a gourmet who savours one of our wines with outstanding cuisine. Our Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis 1st Cru and Chablis Grand Cru go so well with freshwater fish (trout, sewin, perch), with white meat (poultry, veal) and cheese (the renowned Epoisses comes from a neighbouring village). A great Chablis is a marvellous partner for lobster, not to mention pilgrim scallops, frog’s legs, black truffle...
Chablis’s unique character derives from the very special subsoil whose history goes back in geological time to the formation of the Paris basin. In the Primary Era, marine sediments built up in a depression as the sea encroached in successive stages until the depression became a vast sedimentary region. The striking feature of this geological ensemble is its “stack of plates” structure resulting from the superposition of the different geological deposits. The geological timeframe is:
· Kimmeridgian (146-141 million years ago) with alternating strata of clay and clay and limestone. Here is the terroir of Chablis, Chablis 1st Cru and Chablis Grand Cru, characterised by the presence of a small, fossilised crescent-shaped oyster, Exogyra virgula.
· Portlandian (141-135 million years ago), home to our Petit Chablis.
At La Chablisienne, if winemaking transforms the raw material of the harvest, then maturing reveals its true substance. It is a tricky process for which blending and fine lees are clearly factors of prime importance. But La Chablisienne has long understood that time is paramount in revealing that purity, that crystalline clarity and tone of its wines – praise be to slowness! Our wines are wines for keeping par excellence. Three age profiles stand out: the age of fruit (1 to 3 years after harvesting), the age of flowers (4 to 5 years after harvesting for good vintages, more than 10 for great ones), the age of the mineral touch (which can last from the very beginning of a wine to beyond 10 years, depending on the vintage).
Any mention of true Chablis has to mean “mineral”. But this mineral character should not be narrowed down to just the tasting profile and even less so to just acidity. The mineral edge comes through as something tactile which lends structure to the mouthfeel, giving the wine breed and personality. When we talk about this aspect of our wines at La Chablisienne, we often use the terms tension and energy. The mineral touch also conjures up a form of purity, a crystalline spirit to the wine.
Though winemaking practices play an important part in the success of the different selected cuvées, the wines from La Chablisienne derive a large part of their genius from the benefits of maturing (a term that remains one of the most evocative in the wine lexicon...). In this respect, La Chablisienne has always held that “oak” is a means but never an end in itself. To our way of thinking, its use requires great sensitivity and must correspond to a particular goal. The oak should in no way dominate the wine, but nor should it serve as a bolster. At the winery, we speak (in French of course!) of “revealing” or “bursting open”. Certainly it’s a fine line we are drawing but the distinction takes on full significance in our blending. “Burst open” the essential substance, “reveal” the grapes’ potential, “reveal” the facets of terroir that stainless steel insufficiently discloses... over the vintages, we have learnt to choose our cooperage, which amount of charring heat, which provenance of oak best suits the wine we are after. For every blend, the age of the barrels, their percentage in combination, the length of time the wine is kept in them all add up to potential nuances that La Chablisienne takes great pride in composing.
La Chablisienne, always imbued with a spirit of innovation, has never failed to meet new challenges in the vineyards, in the winery, in human relations or in business... Over the years, step by step as work goes on, we have devised a unique mode of development. La Chablisienne has often been described as “France’s best cooperative winery”, which some might see as a somewhat limiting title, but we want to show that La Chablisienne’s operations are only the visible part of a commitment and values that have always underpinned its original mode of development.
Historically unusual for cooperatives, the winegrowers at La Chablisienne have always been “hands-on”, wanting to make the wine. Thus they have their own presses, in the main delivering juice, not grapes, to the winery. As a result, numerous press houses are available to La Chablisienne throughout the appellation area, each one in the heart of the vineyards and adapted to the family estate. This out-of-the-ordinary situation is a real advantage, making for exceptional reactivity and functional efficiency that allows La Chablisienne to avoid compromise at harvest time since the picking and pressing of every vineyard can be individually matched to its ripening process.
The law of May 6,1919 first gave protected status in France to the geographic origin of appellation wines. Thereafter, the widespread diffusion of “Chablis” flooded the market with wines whose quality was quite unpredictable. This was so because more than 80 villages could then claim to produce Chablis, regardless of whether it came from Kimmeridgian soil or even from the Chardonnay grape. Our cooperative, La Chablisienne, was founded as a response to this abuse: our ‘start-up’ members decided to group together to gain recognition for the unique quality of their wines. So it was that on May 1, 1923 La Chablisienne was born. And the fight goes on...the producers of Chablis are committed to the idea that the name of their appellation must remain attached to its place of origin and we at La Chablisienne take the same position. We back the move to rid the marketplace of phoney Chablis and other half-baked copies that harm our efforts and damage the reputation of our wines.
The great renown of Chablis can be ascribed to its unique grape variety: Chardonnay.
It is here in Burgundy, its original homeland, that the grape’s character emerged to become a synonym over the centuries for wine in all its great splendour. On the slopes of Chablis along the Serein valley, the Chardonnay has found over the generations an ideal fit with its native terroir. On the Kimmeridgian soils, its expression is unusual, with less walnut in the flavour than a Meursault or a Corton but with less flamboyance too. Finely balanced and with lush roundness, its finish is often incisive with a mineral edge of great finesse.
This perfect match derives largely from the inspired insight of Cistercian monks from Cîteaux, who founded Pontigny Abbey in the 12th century, and continues to this day to underlie the association of Chardonnay with the terroirs of Chablis.
The work these monks accomplished is crucial to an understanding of today’s wines. The long process, year after year, of identifying the finest terroirs, selecting the best plants to set apart for propagation, perfecting suitable viticulture, experimenting with winemaking methods vintage after vintage – such is the inestimable contribution made to our wines by this monastic tradition.
A Chablis wine, whichever it may be, is an offspring of the Serein valley. The river, which rises on the Saulieu plateau and flows into the right bank of the Yonne at Bassou, runs through Chablis and the whole Chablis vineyard area. 186 kilometres long, it is well-named: slow and leisurely, Serein means serene in French. Never overflowing, it threads it way with discretion and finesse, just like our wines...
Believe it or not, our cooperative winery was born on May 1, 1923 – Labour Day in France! A chance occurrence, no doubt, but hard work remains one of our company’s basic values. Work in the vineyards, obsessive and all-consuming, often delicate and demanding; work in the cellars, its precision and slow passage of time; the work of everyone devoted to the wines, in short the contribution of one and all, daily, indispensable, unending...
Strength in union: the men and women united in effort, of course, but beyond them are the organisations and structure that form the shared basis of their projects and -let us not forget it- there are the values they hold in common. La Chablisienne belongs to the Union Blasons de Bourgogne which groups five cooperative wineries: Les Caves Bailly Lapierre (Yonne), La Chablisienne (Yonne), La Cave des Hautes Côtes (Côte d’Or), Les Vignerons de Buxy (Saône-et-Loire) and Les Vignerons des Terres Secrètes (ex-Caves de Prissé, Saône-et-Loire). Together, we have had the courage to take a collective decision, to share our projects and patiently build up through united effort ongoing success and a common future.
La Chablisienne groups together some 300 winegrowers who bring devoted commitment to their vineyards in the twenty villages of the Chablis appellation area. Since 1923, working together under the banner of La Chablisienne, their meticulous care has given birth to wines whose magnificence is amplified by the passage of time. Such wines bear witness to the unstinting effort made by the growers in the vineyards as well as to the passionate involvement of our winemakers. Working in harmony with each other, their subtle interaction enables our wines to display their much-sought-after distinction.
From London to Tokyo via New York, Copenhagen, Montreal, Moscow and a thousand other places, the wines from La Chablisienne cross sea and continent to delight winelovers the world round. As a result, La Chablisienne today achieves more than 70% of its turnover in exports and our wines are served at tables boasting the world’s finest cuisine...
XXth Siècle (XXth Century)
The story begins in the first quarter of the XXth century, back in 1923, when a number of winegrowers, faced with the economic crisis of the times, grouped together under the leadership of the Abbé Balitrand to found a cooperative winery in Burgundy, in the heart of the Chablis vineyards, as a way to sell their wines. La Chablisienne has outlived the old century without in any way compromising its values.
Chablis lies in the Yonne, the département numbered 89 in these administrative divisions of France. Its chef-lieu, or «capital», is Auxerre. The département gets its name from the River Yonne which crosses it from south to north before flowing into the Seine at Montereau-Fault-Yonne (in the adjoining département of the Seine-et-Marne). The Yonne covers 7,427 km 2 and has a population of 350,000. It comes as a surprise to discover that the French name for the inhabitants is the Icaunais but the appparent mystery can be explained by the word’s etymology: the pre-Latin name for the area was Ica-Ona or Icauna. Apart from Chablis, the Yonne produces other appellation wines such as Irancy, Saint-Bris, Bourgogne Vézelay, Bourgogne Tonnerre... not to mention the Crémants from Bailly-Lapierre.
One must know how to « forget » our wines, putting them aside in the depths of the cellar for time to work its marvels, keeping them until they are ready to be enjoyed in all their finesse and complexity. Sooner or later, they will reach their apogee and aspiring to such a zenith for the wines is a mark of the respect we naturally feel for the men, women and soil which bodied them forth.