La Chablisienne is the only cooperative in the region, but it’s an important player here. Regions are well served if they have a good cooperative, because these are often the first wines that the average consumer meets. If the coop is doing good work, this protects equity in the regional brand.
Despite a recent bout of food poisoning, I was on time for my morning appointment here with the cheery Hervé Tucki.
He began with a bit of chat on the soil, explaining that Chablis has two distinct sorts of limestone. There’s the Kimmeridgian, which is the basis for the Chablis wines, and then the Portlandian, which has a new name – Tithonien – and which is where Petit Chablis is grown. The valley of Chablis used to be a sea bed, and it was formed by erosion, after the Portlandian era when the sea left Chablis. As well as the limestone content, the clay is critical in terms of the character of the soils, as it regulates the water availability.
La Chablisienne has been a Chablis wine producer since 1923. ‘Since then, the region has changed a lot and the wine world has changed a lot,’ says Hervé. ‘Today we are the largest producer of Chablis wine, representing 25% of the total area, with 250 producers. The most beautiful collections of terroir are present in La Chablisienne.’
The coop’s policy is to work every day with the producers. ‘We don’t just wait until harvest time,’ he says. ‘We consult and give advice and help the producers.’
‘Once the grapes are in 80% of the work is done; we don’t think winemakers are magicians. They can make good grapes into good wines.’
Hervé makes clear that La Chablisienne is not a negociant, and never buys wines. ‘We work only with the grapes of the Chablisienne producers.’ If you belong to the coop, it is all or nothing. Members can’t make their own wines.
Interestingly, the coop doesn’t receive the grapes. Instead, the members press their grapes and the coop receives the must. If the coop received grapes there would be 3 km of tractors queuing up at vintage time, says Hervé, and with the big presses they’d need, the coop would have have to mix all the plots from the same vineyard. Also, it is easier to measure the quality of must than it is with grapes at reception time.
‘We don’t speak quantity,’ he says, ‘we do contract by hectare, and there’s a 10 year contract then a rolling 5 year contract.’
The growers don’t know what they are going to be paid immediately; this depends on the market for the wines. ‘We love to take time, it’s not the same as in Burgundy and Champagne where people know the price, here it is an image of the market.’
Each member has one vote. ‘If you have half a hectare you get one vote; if you have 50 hectares you get one vote. But for the winemaking the team, decisions are not democratic: we don’t vote on how to vinify.’
‘I don’t like the Chablis made in a Chardonnay style,’ Hervé explains. ‘This is our vision. We don’t like to vinify at low temperature, and we love long ageing on fine lees. We also like the oak contact.’
La Chablisienne are a believer in extended élevage for the top wines. ‘We don’t bottle to order, we bottle when it is the right moment,’ he says. ‘Many wines are bottled between one and two years – for example, we are just finishing bottling the 2017 vintage. Long ageing for white wines in Chablis is a real secret.’
In addition, they don’t make special cuvées. ‘One climat is one vision,’ says Hervé. Everything, even private label, is bottled here.
Of recent vintages, he says that 2017 is a ‘very beautiful year, very Chablis, very dynamic, but I think 2018 has more of a potential for me.’ In 2016 they were down half in volume, and in 2017 they lost 30%. ‘You often see a beautiful harvest after two short years. I remember some discussions in the summertime – it is so warm and dry – but finally with a beautiful season it was perfect. For the quantity of grapes naturally produced, we had physiological maturity. 2018 looked like 1982 in Chablis. I tasted some Grand Cru 1982 and if the quality of the 2018 is anything like that then it’s exciting. 1982 was not a small year and it wasn’t so acid – it had perfect physiological maturity.’
Hervé has worked here since 1985. ‘Two things I have learned,’ he says. ‘A great vintage is not only a matter of acidity. It is when you get three maturities in a good window: aromatic, sugar and physiological maturity. When you have these three elements you have a natural balance. The second thing is that Chablis needs long ageing. You will never make a good Chablis in six months.’
The cooperative makes three Petit Chablis, five Chablis, 12 Premier Crus, and 6 of the 7 Grand Crus (not Valmur). These are very good wines, and I can’t think of a coop doing a better job than this.
La Chablisienne Petit Chablis ‘Pas Si Petit’ 2017
‘We vinify this like Chablis: this is not a primeur wine.’ This has nice presence with bold pear and citrus fruit, a hint of dairy and some fine spicy notes. Lovely presence with plenty of flavour and a nice acidity. 89/100
La Chablisienne Petit Chablis ‘Pas Si Petit’ 2018
First bottling. Fruity and bright with nice freshness and some grapefruit hints as well as some fresh lemon notes. Very linear and bright. This is an early bottling for volume reasons, but the next will be a bit more complex. 88/100
La Chablisienne Chablis Dame Nature 2017 (tank sample)
Just in tank. Organic. Has a linear character with some matchstick reduction. Very linear and bold with lovely intensity and focus. Tight, lemony finish. This has lovely acidity and detail. 90-91/100
From here onwards there is some oak used for all the wines. 85% of the wines from La Chablisienne have some oak contact.
La Chablisienne Chablis ‘Le Vénérable’ 2017 (tank sample)
Selection of old vines, not the same parcel every year. Alcoholic and malolactic in tank and part aged in oak. Fresh, tight and linear but with some nice creamy, pear and peach depth. Has a smooth mouthfeel with some oak influence. Lovely fruit intensity here with some harmony. 90-91/100
La Chablisienne Chablis 1er Cru Côte de Lechet 2017
This vineyard is the limestone style of Kimmeridgian. This has lovely richness and intensity, with melon and mandarin notes. Quite exotic but also very fresh with a tapering lemony finish. Fabulous minerality under the exotic fruit, suggesting this will develop in interesting ways. 93/100
La Chablisienne Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2017
This is 95% Butteaux. This is the clay side of Kimmeridge. Foret and Montmain are more lime and stone; Butteaux is more clay. This is focused, linear and intense with keen lemony acidity and nice brightness. Mineral and fine with lovely intensity. Fine grained with a hint of pepper. Such a lovely electric wine. 94/100
La Chablisienne Chablis 1er Cru Les Lys 2017
This is in Vaillons, and is one of the two wines they make from this 1er Cru. Pure Kimmeridgian marl, facing north east, which is unusual for a 1er Cru. Taut and fresh with bright pear and lemon fruit. Quite pure with a smooth mid palate and no sticking out bits. Dense, smooth, quite cool-tasting. 91/100
La Chablisienne Chablis 1er Cru Mont de Milieu 2017
This is a bright, linear wine with keen acidity, and harmonious pear and peach fruit with some citrus fruits. This is a very warm site with good soils, and you can taste the warmth. Compact with great acidity, and very subtle creamy notes. Very expressive. 92/100
La Chablisienne Grand Cru Blanchot 2017
The only grand cru that is south east exposure (the others are south west), so it gets the morning sun. This is concentrated and quite restrained, showing rich, fine pear and peach fruit, with white flower notes. Has a nice stony minerality and a little toasty note on the finish. Very expressive and pretty, but also a wine for keeping. 93/100
La Chablisienne Chablis Grand Cru Grenouilles 2017
9.4 hectares with seven owners, La Chablisienne have 7.2 hectares directly owned. Old vines, 12 parcels. Just 12 hl/ha in this vintage because of frost, so this is quite a rare wine. Such concentration and refinement with a lovely mineral core to the dense citrus and white peach fruit. The concentration and maturity are perfect with a lovely acid line. Such potential here: a really fine wine showing great precision. 95/100
La Chablisienne Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses 2003
In 2003 they added a little tartaric acid to the must and not a crazy amount. Most of it precipitated out. Very dry, warm year, with small yields. Lots of drought stress this year. Began harvesting at 4 am and stopped working late morning. No malic acid in the grapes. Lovely aromatics with nice toast and herb, and some ripe peachy fruit. The palate is powerful and toasty with wax and peach, some tinned pear, and lovely freshness. Baked bread and some mineral. It is not the acid that has preserved this wine, but the structure and mineral character. Such a distinctive wine, and a real surprise. 94/100
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