Thirty-five years ago, Jean-Claude and Christiane Oudin returned to their roots in Chablis. They had good jobs in Paris, but they were stressful, and the thought of building up a domaine and being winegrowers was very appealing. Christiane’s father had a couple of hectares in the small village of Chichée, just south of Chablis. They built the domaine up to its current size of 10 hectares, and it’s now run by their daughter Nathalie, with help from her sister Isabelle. ’35 years ago you could create a domaine,’ says Nathalie, ‘but that’s not possible now.’
Nathalie had left France to study biology at Leeds in the UK. ‘Then I tasted some wine, fell in love with it and came back,’ she recalls, going on to study enology before returning to Chablis in 2007.
Her parents wanted to do viticulture their own way, so they decided to stop using chemicals and ploughed the soil, something that Nathalie has continued. But she doesn’t farm organically. ‘For me it is not good for the environment to do organics here because of the copper,’ she says. ‘If we go every three days to spray copper that is not good.’ She uses no herbicides and uses composts (based on animal manure).
‘I work with my sister,’ she says, ‘who came to help 6 years ago.’ Nathalie had found that running the domain while bringing up two small children was difficult without some help. ‘We spend over 90% of our time in the vineyards. We have one third massale selection, over 70 years old. And my parents planted quality clones. Now we are going back to the massale selection again.’
They prune short, because they are not after high yields. ‘The maximum-allowed yield is 60 hl/ha but since I arrived, 2018 is the first year we reached that,’ she says. ‘The average is 45 hl/ha.’
We had a chat about viticulture. The normal planting density in Chablis 6500 plants/ha. They are pruning some of their vines with the Guyot poussard technique, which respects the sap flow the vine and helps alleviate trunk diseases. ‘It’s something people forgot,’ she says. ‘They were doing this over 40years ago but people just forgot about it.’
Chichée is 3 km south of Chablis, and Nathalie says that there are lots of stones in the soils, and not too much marl (clay). It’s the last layer of the Kimmeridgean. North of Chablis there are more sandy soils and it’s a bit hotter in the summer.
She went to enology school. ‘I learned a lot of things there, but I’m not doing them at the domain,’ she says. ‘I wanted to make reds, and wherever I travelled I had to do the whites.’ That’s what happens when people know you come from Chablis.
All the grapes are machine harvested, which Nathalie says is good for Chardonnay, but would be terrible for Pinot Noir. The machine results in nice round berries going into the press. The other thing that’s good about machine harvesting is timing. ‘With a machine you can wait; you can’t do this with hand pickers.’
Winemaking is standard. There’s natural settling, without protecting the juice too much, for 12 -24 h. ‘I want juice you can’t see through if you put it in a glass,’ she says. ‘We need all this texture.’ Then she fills the tanks, and allows fermentation to start. It can take two months to finish, and all the ageing is done in stainless steel. ‘My father tried working with barrels but even with old ones there was some aroma of the wood. The lees are really good, and help keep the freshness, and in cold years add some roundness.’
Some years they do fining, but not all years. ‘Chardonnay is pretty rich with protein so some years we have to,’ says Nathalie. ‘We do natural cold stabilization in the cellar, with simple, light filtration before bottling.’ Some SO2 is added at bottling, and the other times they add it are after second fermentation, and some years at the press stage if the fruit isn’t ideal.
Domaine Oudin Chablis 2017
From 15 different parcels. This has lovely fresh acidity with great precision to the lemony fruit, as well as a bit of passionfruit exoticism. Very nice tension here with purity and an attractive stony minerality. Nice weight. 91/100
Domaine Oudin Chablis ‘Les Serres’ 2017 (tank sample, will be bottled in August)
Very poor soils. This is a single parcel that makes amazing fruit, so it is kept separate. Complex, intense and textural with some hints of jasmine and toast, as well as lovely grainy structure. Has taut, crystalline citrus fruits with a bit of peachiness and nice spice notes. Complex and distinctive. 93-94/100
Domaine Oudin Chablis 1er Cru Vaugiraut 2017
Part of Vosgros, in Chichée. Two parcels, 40 and 70 years old. Vivid and fresh with nice lemony notes and some green tea detail. Lovely ripe fruit here with a supple mouthfeel and some herbal notes. Pretty, floral and expressive. Lovely flourish on the finish with good acidity and a nice lemon, grainy end. 93/100
Domaine Oudin Chablis 1er Cru Vaucoupins 2017
One old parcel planted in 1950. Facing south in a hot part, and with very stony soils. Massale selection. Linear and focused with good concentration to the citrus and pear fruit. Has some pretty pineapple notes and good acidity. Needs lots of time to develop. Lovely brightness on the finish: good acidity, but well integrated and not at all harsh. 94/100
Domaine Oudin Chablis ‘Les Serres’ 2014
Complex, a bit waxy, taut and with some nutty hints to the lively, driven citrus and pear fruit. Has some green apple, too, and a bit of pith. Dense and quite austere with firm acidity and hints of cabbage and herbs. Lots of interest and detail here. This has a lot of potential. 93/100
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