The Geography


Chablis as seen from the Grands Crus Grenouille    
Chablis is a village of 2.600 inhabitants situated 160 kms southeast of Paris and 150 kms northwest of Dijon. The village gave its name to the surrounding vineyards which stretch west for about 15 kms on both banks of the river Serein. The area under vines is about 4.300 ha and encompasses about twenty villages.


The characteristics of Chablis : the soil

The Kimmeridgian soil

The Chablis region was once covered by a sea which laid down calcium sediments containing vast numbers of shells, the majority of which were small oysters in the shape of a comma (Ostrea virgula). At the end of the Jurassic period, the sea disappeared and the following ice age channelled out valleys in the sedimentary rocks that forms the topography that we see today.
This geological age is called The Kimmeridge in reference to the Bay of Kimmeridge in the south of England whose sub soil has the same characteristics. This type of soil is only found in these two places in the world.
It is this very special soil which gives Chablis wine its typical mineral quality. The Chablis soils are in fact alternate layers of very compact limestone interspersed with soft layers of clay which holds the fossilised sea shells.

 
The valley of the Vaudésir


The Portlandian soil

We can also find in the Chablis area portlandian soil which is a layer found covering the kimmeridgian and dates from the Cretatious period. This layer is high in calcium, but with little clay and fossils. It produces wine that is more supple and fruity rather than mineral in character. The wines produced from this soil are principally classed as “Petit Chablis” and less often as a “Chablis”. All other appellations are grown on Kimmeridgian soil.

 
The Chablis climate

View on the vineyard of Grenouilles    
Chablis, the most northern vineyards in Burgundy, has a continental style climate with hot summers and cold winters. Along with Champagne, Chablis is the wine growing area which is most susceptible to frosts in France.



The vines of Chablis are subject to spring frosts in April and May for three out of every five years. If the new buds freeze it destroys any hope of a good harvest and many vignerons, discouraged, abandoned their vines because of this hardship. The area under vine cultivation was smaller than that of today which increased the destructive impact of the frosts.
However since the 1950s, the means with which to reduce the effect of the frosts have been widely developed. There are two principal methods which, in principal, are contradictory : the heating and the cooling of the buds.
The first method consists of placing heaters between the vines which are lit when there is a frost. This increases the temperature around the vines by a few degrees and is enough to protect the vine.

 
Heating system against frosts

 

The second method consists of spraying the vines with a fine mist which forms an ice capsule around the bud. This has an exothermic reaction in which the bud releases heat and thus protects it from freezing. This is a very efficient method but requires a large amount of water near by which is often the limiting factor.

 
Drenching system against frosts

 

The cost of protecting the vines against frost is quite high which means that only 450 ha are protected, prioritising the Premiers and Grands Crus.
These methods of protection have allowed the vineyards to develop as the vigneron is no longer hesitant about planting new vines as the harvest is to a large degree assured.


Vine


The only grape variety planted in Chablis is Chardonnay (also known as Beaunois). The grafting stock used is : 41B, 161-49, 3309, So4 and Fereal.
The vines are planted at 1.60 m intervals between the rows and 1 m apart. This represents about 6.000 vines per hectare.

 
Pruning

Pruning    
Since 1920, double guyot pruning has been used in Chablis. (2 shoots with 7 buds and one or two spurs) As much old wood is conserved as possible which allows the sap to circulate more slowly and regularly thus reducing the rupture of the grape caused by excess sap.


Harvest

Harvest    
Mechanical picking is allowed for all the appellations but harvesting by hand is necessary when accessibility is difficult or for old vines which are more difficult to harvest.


Production and commercialisation.


Chablis produces the most white wine in Burgundy.
The volumes produced have been constantly increasing over the last 20 years.
25 500 hectolitres were produced in 2001 and about a third of the wine produced goes to La Chablisienne, the wine cooperative, which was founded in 1923. Another third sells their wine unbottled to local or regional trading houses and the remaining third is sold by the producers under their own label.