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Chablis, October 2023

Miserable weather, for the most part, but wonderful wines; Chablis is in a good place. Like the rest of Burgundy, the cellars are full after good yields in ’22 and better than good yields in ’23. From this latter harvest just passed, people are telling stories of fruit falling off the back of trucks as they made their way to the winery and the streets of Chablis being covered in grapes and juice! Some have even suggested that this was done on purpose, as the vines were carrying yields well above the legal limits! Regardless, after several years of low yields, there are now full barrels stacked high in every cellar (even in the cellars of quality growers who work with reasonable yields). So, everyone is smiling!

In general, three things drive the disposition of growers, who, let’s not forget, spend their entire year working to produce a crop and worrying about the weather. The first is the weather and what’s predicted by the Météo (France’s national meteorological service), although this is barely relevant at this time of year. The second is the quality of the recent harvest, and the third is the quantities they have in the cellars (there will be bills to pay, after all!) In 2022, they have both of the latter, while in 2023, they have at least quantity, and the signs are also good for at least reasonable quality. Of course, it’s too early to talk of the quality in 2023, but I’ll make some general predictions when I report on Burgundy and Champagne. In other good news, the turn of weather has now brought much-needed rain.

To get back to 2022, the general quality is seriously impressive. Again, I do like the delicacy of ’21 Chablis, but the ‘22s are next level. Yes, it was another hot, sunny year, but unlike 2020, it wasn’t dry, and that has made a staggering difference. Tasting the wines from the producers below, you would be hard-pressed to guess that it was a sunny vintage. Even if the wines are generous and intense, they have great brightness, terroir expression and energy. And they are nearly always brilliantly fresh and mineral. In general, there will be a lot more volume of quality Chablis on the market. After so many short years in recent times, this is a relief. Didier Defaix told me, “Tell your team and clients that there are finally some volumes coming!” Music to our ears!

News from Domaine Bessin-Tremblay

Put simply, the ‘22s are the best set of young Chablis I’ve tasted in 30 years: depth, vinosity and excellent mineral freshness and drive. Big call, I know, but judge me when you’ve tasted the wines! As a number of critics are noting, this producer is doing something very special. The thoughtful, highly intelligent Antoine Bessin has now joined his (equally intelligent) brother Romain. Antoine has already had a career in biochemistry, where he specialised in the microbiology of soil life as well as plant-based therapies. Not a bad addition, then, for a biodynamic domaine that seeks to maximise vine health and life in the soil!


News from Domaine Bernard Defaix

The lovely and passionate Hélène and Didier Defaix presented us with their excellent 2022s. These are very much in the classic house style but with an extra dollop of fruit generosity. The Chablis ’22 and Petit Chablis ‘22 are already in stock and are simply wonderful value. The 2022 1er Cru wines will be a lot of fun when they arrive. And, as suggested, we should have good volumes for the first time in a while!

Regarding changes, we made some comparative closure tastings with Hélène and Didier, and we have decided to move the Côte de Léchet bottling we receive to Diam closure (rather than screwcap). Diam is now the closure that Bernard Defaix is using for all other markets; it performs just as well, and it will give us more flexibility with ordering. For now, we’ll keep screwcap for Chablis AC and Petit Chablis, but I think we’ll likely also move these to Diam at some stage for the same reasons.

Hélène and Didier have also been running some very careful, no-SO2 trails and have produced excellent, zero-SO2 Côte de Léchet and Chablis bottlings from 2022 (and these really are zero—none added at any stage). Both these small bottlings are very good, precise and fresh, and it’s clear that a lot of work and thought has gone into getting them right—there is no interest here in making a wine that deviates from the purity of classic Chablis. The goal, rather, is to learn more about their terroirs, vintages and SO2 usage. They won’t be making these wines every year, only in vintages where they feel the wine has the natural resilience to work without sulphur, and only in small batches. We will ship small quantities of the ‘22s to see how they travel. To be clear, these bottlings are in addition to the regular bottlings with SO2. So, they are additions to the existing range.

In other news, Adrian, the son of Didier’s brother, Sylvain, has returned to the domaine and is working full-time in the vineyards and cellar with Didier and the team. He studied in Beaune and then Mâcon. Finally, I am sometimes lucky enough to taste some older vintages when I visit, and this year, we drank a Chablis Vieilles Vignes 2007, a Vaillons 1995 and a Côte de Léchet 1989. I won’t give detailed notes except to say that all three were superb. It may surprise people to know, as the wines are so delicious young, that it’s only really with 10 years or more bottle age that the wines of Domaine Bernard Defaix start to peak. If you have the chance to hold some bottles in good condition (even the basic Chablis for 5-10 years), you will be amply rewarded!

News from Domaine Moreau-Naudet

It’s been wonderful to see what Virginie has achieved with this estate since the sudden passing of her husband, Stéphane, in 2016 (when many wondered if it would be the end for Moreau-Naudet). What she has done has been nothing short of heroic! We heard praise from a number of local restaurateurs and producers for her incredible resilience, her wines and her commitment to the vineyards. We tasted through the range of wonderful ‘22s with Virginie and her daughter, Nell. It’s the kind of quality and style that a follower of this domaine would expect from an outstanding vintage. The wines have Burgundian texture and yet are super mineral and racy. Just so seductive, juicy and damn delicious! And yet serious!

Virginie continues to drive the domaine to greater heights while adapting to the changing climate. Virginie told us that she is searching for more freshness and precision in the face of climate change and is therefore being very careful with oak aging. The Valmur, for example, is now exclusively raised in tank (and it tasted very, very good). There is also a new cuvée in 2022, 1er Cru Beauregard, a lovely, delicate and floral wine from 18-year-old vines in the Courgis area (south of the Montmains slope). It’s the first release, as Virginie was waiting for the vines and wine to reach a level of quality she was happy with. Get excited for the 2022s here.

News from Domaine Goisot

It’s never a short tasting with Guilhem Goisot (pronounced ‘Gillem’; easy to get this wrong!) There are so many cuvées and so much to discuss! He is a grower’s grower, so there were the recent seasons to discuss in detail, evolutions in the vineyard practice and anything else that was news. We went down multiple rabbit holes, including different approaches to compost and the various camps of biodynamics that battle each other today, like the schisms of a medieval religion! (This latter is my interpretation, Guilhem.)

Next up, we will have the ‘22s for the entry levels and ‘21s for the top cuvées—Goisot has always favoured long lees aging, so the wines are released late and are all the better for it. Both 2021 and 2022 offer a return to cool, racy wines. They will make for quite a contrast to the chewy, deep wines we have in stock from 2019 and 2020. The latter are fabulous biodynamic value Burgundy sitting in the warehouse! If you would like to taste them, don’t hesitate to ask. On a final point, Guilhem Goisot is searching for ever greater finesse with his reds, and it’s working. In fact, this was the finest set of reds I have tasted at Goisot, and I will certainly be putting some in my cellar!

The next diary posts will come from Champagne, where there is much to report!