We are enjoying the fall color as we drive through the rolling hills of Chablis. The leaves look as if they’ve just started to turn although the temps are dropping in the evening accompanied by the usual fog and drizzle. It’s a rare sunny day and we’re looking forward to hearing updates from winemakers on the 2021 harvest.
We exit the A6 and drive through vineyards, many of which contain the Grand Cru legacy. It’s hard to imagine these vineyards last April. A sustained late freeze devastated Chablis with some winemakers losing as much as 70 percent of their crop. The late frost created additional problems for winemakers over the summer. Many had significant problems with mildew.
When frost comes after the vines have flowered or set fruit, vigneron use “candles,” large buckets filled with paraffin they can light at night. The candles can help raise the temperature around the vines by just a degree or two, which can make a difference. Others place large hay bales between the vines and light them on fire, relying on the smoke to create a layer of protection. The photos of these vineyards seemingly set ablaze are dramatic, but a better option than the losses.
Techniques that once were radical moves—like wind fans or even helicopters—would be employed maybe once a decade. Now they are nearly annual occurrences as domaines combat later frosts and more extreme weather. This year, across Chablis and the rest of Burgundy, harvest was so small that many here are concerned they’ll have to raise prices. For US wine buyers, still reeling from price increases due to the 2020 tariffs, Covid, and a massive shipping container shortage, it’s not good news.
The Serein river divides the region and most vignerons will make sure you know if a particular wine is left bank or right bank. The general rule of thumb is that left bank wines are both more austere and more delicate, with the high acidity and sharp minerality that makes magic with oysters. Right bank wines can be more robust. The good news? The 2018s and 2019s are showing beautifully with 2018 shaping up to be a classic (and plentiful) vintages for Chablis.
Domaine William Fevre
This producer’s name is synonymous with Chablis, especially Grand Cru, of which they are the largest single landowner. (They own approximately 16 hectares of about 100 of Grand Cru vineyards.) Known for their light, clean styles, some consider Fevre to be the purest expression of Chablis.
They’ve done a great job with the “full harvest” vintage of 2018 (which they call “supple”) and the very hot vintage of 2019 (which they call “intense”). In 2018, they harvested 550,000 kg of fruit. In 2019, only 175,000. Across the board, these wines are more approachable right out of the bottle, which is good for business, but some will argue not as desirable for a region known for wines that need some time to mature. Still, even these approachable styles will benefit from a few years of laying down.
Here are some highlights:
2018 1er Cru Fourchaume. Easy, relaxed style of wine with good fruit on the nose.
2019 Grand Cru Bougros Cote du Bouguerots. This subparcel of Bougros is vinified on its own, yielding a gorgeous, briney Chablis that still has body and richness and wants to be paired with salty, creamy cheese.
2019 Grand Cru Les Clos. Great balance, smooth, not too astringent with great fruit and big minerality. There’s a great earthiness on the nose.
This 400 year old Chablis house has become a collector favorite in recent years due to their high-quality, elegant wines that last in the cellar forever.
We tasted a good range with winemaker Laurent Pinson. By all accounts, 2020 is shaping up to be a great year—a classic vintage, say some. While he expects to raise prices, his wines, when you can find them, are already in a comfortable range. He’s a grower to seek out if you appreciate an elegant take with polished winemaking technique.
2020 1er Cru Mont de Milieu. This right bank vineyard is right next to a grand cru site and it shows. It’s a real stunner with great fruit but a 100% pure mineral finish that goes on for days.
2019 1er cru Fourchaume. This right bank wine is the total package. It’s big but elegant, with great body and a softness that makes it nearly ready to drink.
2020 1er cru Vaillons. There’s a richness to this wine that still says “Chablis” while letting the best characteristics of Chardonnay come through. Look for a hint of passionfruit on the nose.