The origins of Chablis village and Chablis wine
The foundation of the Chablis village and its first wines dates back to the Romans. The name "Chablis" might derive from Celtic words meaning "the slope of the ford".
In the year 510, the Christian King Sigismond founded a small monastery dedicated to Saint-Loup, around which the village slowly expanded during the Middle Ages. In the ninth century, the Benedictine monks of the abbey of Saint-Martin de Tours, fleeing the Vikings invaders who sailed up the river Loire, settled in Chablis. In the early 12th century, the foundation, a few leagues from Chablis, of the cistercian abbey of Pontigny, was an other major event for the extension and the fame of the vineyard. Then, vineyards were offered to the religious orders, among other donations. They became important owners.
In a few decades, the reputation of the Chablis wine extended beyond the frontiers of Yonne and Auxerre. The planting of the Chardonnay grape variety in the terroir of Chablis resulted from the monks' meticulous work. Through their impetus, the vine-trade got organized: the wine was exported and mainly to Great Britain. In the same period, it was served to the kings of France.
From the middle-Ages to the Renaissance, the culinary arts became more and more refined and Chablis wines accompanied the most delicate meals. The 17th and 18th centuries were also prosperous times because of the improvement of the means of transport and the development of European trade. The sudden stop to the expansion dates from the late 19th century when phylloxera and mildew destroyed the vineyard.
It was necessary to start again from square one, to exploit the soil, to replant the wine with Chardonnay plants grafted on resistant rootstocks. Then the most prosperous years of the Chablis wine began. It gained an international reputation and took part in the most beautiful stories of the Burgundian wines. In Great Britain, in the United States, in Northern Europe and in Russia, Chablis was synonymous with dry white wine. To meet the great demand of the export trade, the vineyard enlarged and benefited by news viticultural techniques and by protection against the spring frost.
Chablis vineyards extend over twenty villages and 11 614.2 acres. This terroir is the result of a delimitation of the INAO (National Institute for the French Appellations) which defines four different appellations:
- Petit Chablis over 1 71.89 acres harvested mainly on the plateaux.
- Chablis over 7724.66 acres on the slopes.
- Chablis Premier Cru over 1882.98 acres on the slopes facing south-west or south-east.
- Chablis Grand Cru over 249.581 acres, harvested in the Chablis village, right blank of the river "Serein". Most of the slopes face south-west.
The sub-soil gives to Chablis wines a unique character. Its origin goes back to the formation of Paris basin. During the Mesozoic era, the sea abbs and flows accumulated different types of sediment in a small hollow which extended and became a large sedimentary basin. The superposition of the different geological strata formed an alternated structure "in pile of plates". The different geological phases are :
- Kimmeridgian (from – 146 to – 141 millions years) with alternate marls and marly limestone. It corresponds to the appellations of Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru and Chablis Grand Cru.
- Portlandian (from – 141 to -135 millions years) is the terroir of Petit Chablis appellation.
Chablis wines reflect the terroirs they come from. It gives them their extraordinary mineral touch, as well as a remarkable aromatic fineness and a perfect limpidity.
Chablis has a continental climate. The four seasons are very different: hard winters, springs with frost, hot summers and autumns bringing ideal conditions to mature the grapes perfectly.
Chablis is located about twenty kilometres from Auxerre in northern Burgundy. This village of about 2 500 inhabitants is famous for its white wine, unique all over the world.
The genuine Chablis wine is produced in Chablis and surroundings, Chablis vineyards including twenty villages and hamlets. Like the greatest white wines of Burgundy, Chablis wine is produced from only one grape variety: the Chardonnay. The wines are planted on slopes, on each bank of the river "Serein". The sub-soil, the famous Kimmeridgian, consists of marls as well as marly limestone.
In order to marvel at these wines cultivated like gardens, you just have to climb up one of the hills surrounding the village. From the small wood of "Les Clos" area, you'll enjoy the panoramic view on the vineyards, with, on the foreground, the seven plots of the Grands Crus, the finest jewels of Chablis. Many footpaths lead to the wines and enable you to immerse yourself in the vineyard landscape before the wine tasting.