Chablis: The Great Divide

Chablis’ historic and international reputation has been both a great asset and a hindrance with regards to the quality level of Chablis production. With such a well-recognised name and a fairly neutral style at the entry-level point, there has been huge demand for cheap Chablis in practically every retail wine sector around the world. When you add in the decimating effect of the frost and hail that has plagued Chablis in the last few years, you have a region under pressure to produce more wine. However, in order for top winemakers to produce world-class Chardonnay, production levels per vine have to be kept low to retain quality.

Quality Versus Quantity

At entry-level, Chablis is one of the most simple, pallid and forgettable wines made – in complete contrast to the vibrant, steely, bracing, mineral-driven, saliva-inducing wines at the top-end of the spectrum. This creates a great divide of quality versus quantity: effectively two completely different wines share the same eponymous label.

Although Premier Cru and Grand Cru status wines provide production limits to retain quality, certain producers’ village wines may nevertheless still outperform in both quality and ageing potential. In Chablis, two domaines remain at the very top of the list in terms of quality: Raveneau and Dauvissat. It is testament to their abilities as viticulturists and winemakers to have remained so consistently brilliant for so long. Yet this begs the question: why has no one else competed at this level when there are so many growers that share the same vineyard sites? Surely there must be tremendous potential for others to compete at this quality level?

Ones To Watch

Thankfully, despite a group of Chablis producers increasing production levels and selling their wines at unsustainably low prices – damaging the reputation of all Chablis producers – there is a growing movement to raise the bar in terms of quality. Whilst Raveneau and Dauvissat are leading the way with regards to quality, a new generation of growers are hot on their heels and represent astonishing value. As Neal Martin attests: “Some oenophiles’ interest in Chablis does not extend beyond [Raveneau and Dauvissat], which is understandable but short-sighted since there is a clutch of growers who are making Chablis on almost the same level, such as Samuel Billaud, Gilbert Picq and Patrick Piuze…”.