Louis Michel is located in the heart of the village of Chablis, and here they’ve been making wines since 1850. But the family’s winemaking history is even longer, and can be traced back to 1670 in Tonnerre. There’s a lot of historical continuity in this region.
They have a sizeable 25 hectares of vineyards, and produce only wine. This is quite unusual for an old family winery in the region, because most adopted polyculture, with other crops to tide them over when in this frost-prone region the vines bore few or no grapes.
‘This has always been a family of winemakers,’ says Guillaume Michel. ‘When everything used to frost they had nothing else to survive.’ Guillaume has an English wife, Ruth, and I met with them both as well as their vineyard guy, the fabulously named Antoine Angst.
Most of their vineyards are in the historical part of Chablis. The adoption of frost protection in the 1960s and 70s, and the growth of the market, led to the expansion of the appellation from a low of 550 hectares in 1955 to 6000 hectares.
Frost protection is expensive, though. The heat candles, called bougies, cost €8.50 each, and although they claim to burn for 10 h, you are lucky if you get 7 h out of them. You need 400/hectare, but Guillaume uses double that number.
In terms of vineyard work, ‘we have never stopped ploughing,’ he says. He says that herbicides became the norm here from the 1970s. ‘We started to use a little bit as an alternative where ploughing is not efficient or there is no other solution,’ he says, but where he can, he works the soil.
Winemaking is very simple. ‘Everything is vinified the same way,’ says Guillaume. ‘The idea is to let the terroir talk instead of the winemaking.’ No oak is used at all. ‘It’s 100% stainless steel,’ he says. ‘It has been this way for 50 years here.’ He doesn’t add yeast, and all the wines go through a natural malolactic fermentation. They mature the Petit Chablis and Chablis for 18 months in tank, and the other wines get 14-20 months.
2017 is a classic Chablis vintage, he says, but pointed out that production was down 50% (frost), as in 2016 (mildew, hail and frost). ‘In 2016 all the growing season was a nightmare,’ he says. ‘No one wants to talk about it.’
We had a discussion about yields. The maximum for Petit Chablis and Chablis is 60 hl/hectare, and this falls to 58 for premier crus and 54 for Grand Crus. ‘With Chardonnay, you can keep quality even with quite high yields,’ he says. There’s also a mechanism for commercializing an extra 10% of yields, called VCI (volume complimentaire individual). If you have reduced yield, you can use this 10% from the previous year, with lots of paperwork of course. ‘Economically it can be interesting,’ says Guillaume, ‘but the problem is if we use this system people will want to make more, so the quality can suffer.’ There is no VCI on Grand Cru vineyards.
Domaine Louis Michel Petit Chablis 2017
Lovely character here: nice sweet pear and citrus with a juicy grapefruit character. Lovely weight and focus with nice fruit character. 89/100
Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 2017
Made from six parcels, mainly from the left bank. This is compact and fruity with a nice pretty mandarin edge to it and zippy, clean citrus fruit. Pure and beautifully judged with nice fruit. 90/100
Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Montmains 2017
Lots of clay in this vineyard. Delicate and fine with nice bright citrus fruit with some melon and pear richness. Quite delicate with lovely precision to the fruit, finishing with a racy lemony flourish. 92/100
Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Forets 2017
Concentrated and fresh with nice bright grapefruit and lemon notes, and good acidity. Nice precision to the fruit with some flintiness. Very mineral in style, showing good focus. Classic style. 92/100
Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Butteaux 2017
Lively and precise with keen acidity. Nice tension here with real purity to the lemony fruit, and a hint of grapefruit. Butteaux is always more austere when it is young, and I really like this tension and acidity. Needs time to show its best. 93/100
Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Butteaux Vieilles Vignes 2017
More clay here, a sort of blue or grey colour. It takes all the water, making the surface quite dry and causing the vines to suffer. This is lean and a little austere, but in a nice way. There’s vivid lemony acidity with a twist of lime and nice tension in the mouth. Vivid and bright with some pithy notes on the finish. Needs some time. 93/100
Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons 2017
A warmer valley than Montmains, the grapes get their ripeness here first. Ripe with some nice tangerine and apricot notes as well as sweet citrus. There’s a lovely fruit richness here, but it’s also quite tight and expressive. Fruity, vivid and delicious with lovely juiciness. Drinking well already, although there’s potential for development. 92/100
Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Sechets 2017
Officially Sechets is spelt ‘Secher’, and this is part of Vaillons. This has quite dense, complex citrus and pear fruit. It’s linear, bright and fruit focused with subtle grapefruit and pith characters. Fruity and appealing, but with a mineral undercurrent and a fine-grained finish. Lovely wine. 93/100
Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Vaulorent 2017
Some say that Vaulorent should be a GC but it’s in the commune of Fontenay, not Chablis. Just next to Preuses, it’s on the same hill. Nice concentration and focus with a bright fruitiness from the deep red and brown clay. Has a nervy mineral streak with juicy lemons and herbs, as well as a touch of cream. Warm south exposure, which makes it almost Côte d’Or in style. Lovely weight. 93/100
Domaine Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre 2017
The parcel they have is based in Chapelot. Bright, pure and tangy with juicy lemon and herb notes as well as some grapefruit and mandarin. Nicely mineral and quite compact and steely, this needs time for all the elements to find their place. Nice grainy structure and a long lemony finish. Serious effort, but give it a few years. 94/100
Domaine Louis Michel Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir 2016
North facing slope in Vaudesir. Beautiful aromatics with passionfruit, mandarin and even a bit of mango. The palate is open and fruity with pure grapefruit and mango, and a lovely lemony core. Ripe, generous and nicely fruit with lovely depth. The exotic fruits will likely recede and the minerality take over. So interesting. 94/100
Domaine Louis Michel Chablis Grand Cru Grenouilles 2016
At the top of this plot. Just five domains share this, and the Chablisienne coop have 80% of it. This is probably the only Grenouilles without oak. Has a creamy, dairy edge to the nose. Lively, fruit-laden palate with a creamy edge to the attractive pear and white peach fruit. Nice texture here. Needs time to open out. 92/100
Domaine Louis Michel Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2014
Taut and quite austere with subtle wax and nut hints to the nose. The palate is linear and fine with subtle cabbage notes and amazingly taut lemony acidity. Such precision to this wine, with a bit of pithiness on the finish. Very expressive and needs more time still. ‘Les Clos is never ready,’ some people say. 93/100
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