The small vineyard with a big reputation

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This August marks the centenary of the legislation laying down the first principles of appellation d’origine contrôlée. Since 1919 the wine growers of Chablis have had legal rights to use the name. But Chablis is a complex region and many arguments regarding the appellation’s strict definition ensued – which villages could use the name, was it essential that wines were made exclusively from Chardonnay and how important was it that vines were grown on the distinctive Kimmeridgian limestone soil?

In The wines of Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois Rosemary George MW explores the intricacies of the wines of this region, taking an expert look at a wine many of us may believe we know well. Some have even been known to decry the region’s wines as ‘boring’, perhaps believing that the limitations of variety and soil in such a small appellation result in a lack of diversity. George argues that on the contrary there are myriad versions of the wine, to the extent that wines grown by different vignerons will display distinct differences even when grown on the same plot. George notes that if pushed she would have to admit that Chablis is her favourite wine, saying: “I have been visiting Chablis and drinking Chablis regularly for 40 years and have never tired of the wine. It defies description.” The defining Kimmeridgian soil gives flavour and depth to these wines, making them unique amongst Chardonnays. Wines from the two lower classifications, Petit Chablis and Chablis, drunk young, have completely different characteristics to aged wines from the pre- mier and grand cru vineyards. In an enlightening chapter on the characteristics of these latter vineyards George details the flavours and qualities of each.

Aside from the constants of soil and grape variety there are other significant factors in the evolution of Chablis. Wine growers are in a constant state of high alert for inclement weather – both frost and hail can obliterate crops and climate change has led to greater unpredictability. But it is notable that in a region northerly enough to make grape-growing challenging, many vignerons have in recent years chosen to reduce their reliance on pesticides and fertilisers. Whether that means converting to organic or biodynamic farming or simply practising lutte rai- sonnée, or sustainable viticulture (and which is best is an ongoing discussion among the region’s growers), there seems to be a move to preserve the soil and create wines that express their terroir. As more than one grower points out, “How can you talk about terroir if your soil is dead?”

As ever with Rosemary George’s books it is her amicable interviews with such producers that form the backbone of the book. The insights each offers regarding their approach to growing, creating and selling their wines make it an eye-opening picture of Chablis and the neighbouring Grand Auxerrois region at the end of the century’s second decade.

About the author

Rosemary George MW (1979) is the author of thirteen books, she has been a freelance wine writer since 1981 and has been visiting Chablis regularly for 40 years. Her very first book, Chablis and the Wines of the Yonne, published in 1984, won both the André Simon and the Glenfiddich awards; a second edition followed in 2007. In this third edition, she writes about the grandchildren of the wine growers in her first book. For The Classic Wine Library she has also written Wines of the Languedoc and The wines of Faugères. She contributes to various magazines including regular features in Languedoc Living, and writes a regular blog, www.tastelanguedoc.blogspot. com. She is the current President of the Circle of Wine Writers.

The wines of Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois was published by Infinite Ideas on 30 June 2019.  www.infideas.com

We will be running a draw for a free copy of Rosemary’s new book soon.