Poor soil - the neutral, ready to sing about terroir Chardonnay loves it! As a result of a beautiful serendipity, in Chablis I paid a visit to a winery which name translates exactly like 'poor soil'. Domaine des Malandes and my wine trip to Chablis for your attention below. (You may want to start from my article with an overview of Chablis wine region first :)
The family run Domaine des Malandes
I love wineries with a story behind. To be honest this is what influences my choice while travelling and even while drinking wine. It's not specifically about how 'old' is the winery, how many generations originate from this village... Sometimes it's about rapid development, like at Domaine des Malandes.
Everything started with André and Gabrielle Tremblay and their first harvest in 1949. As I mentioned above, until 60-70's mechanization was minimal and very often spring frosts were leaving almost nothing to harvest.
Amandine, their granddaughter, said that her grandfather was very charismatic and innovative. He brought the first straddle tractors to Chablis - that were lightweight and able to go above the vine rows.
The couple grew their vineyards to 7 ha and Lyne Marchive, Amandine's mother, established Domaine des Malandes in 1973.
She continued extending the vineyards and modernizing the winery, but also traveled a lot and spread the word about Domaine des Malandes all around the world. With only 200 000 bottles a year (a quite low production volume for Chablis region) they have an impressive worldwide sales coverage today.
Organic winemaking in Chablis
Now the winery is managed by Lyne's children - Amandine and Richard. They're now focusing on the next wave of innovation - going organic and preserving the biodiversity of Chablis soils. Amandine told me that in order to do that they have to go out to the vineyard for ploughing and cutting grass three times more than they would if used chemical weedkillers and pesticides. It's much more work, but it pays back on all the fronts:
their workers' stay healthy as they don't have to spray the vines with harmful not only for nature, but for human, chemicals
the environment, soil, biodiversity is preserved and nourished
ploughing encourages grapevine root development, longer roots get more nutrition from the rocks (= minerality) and don't get 'thirsty' during summer heat waves (= acidity)
So even the quality of wine gets higher thanks to chemical-free winegrowing.
So what about rot and mildew? The Bordeaux mixture based on copper doesn't help, even though some people keep showering their vines with it. Amandine said that the only thing that helps is careful vineyard management - more pruning and even stripping all the leaves before harvest.
As for the rot, there is not much a winegrower can do, whether organic or conventional. Eliminating rotten berries, strict sorting before vinification. Although with white wine it's less crucial, as the must has very limited skin contact time.
Trunk disease is another issue faced by all the winegrowers globally. At Domaine des Malandes they apply curettage* pruning in order to cure the old vines, instead of uprooting them.
* Currettage - a re-discovered technique from the 19th century. Trunk is being opened by small chainsaws, the parts affected by the esca disease are removed. The plant is then detoxed and reinvigorated, and can bear fruit at its full productivity. Currently this technique is actively promoted by Simonit & Sirch (Pruning Guys), their success rate is around 90%.
Tasting Chablis at Domaine des Malandes
Saint-Bris Sauvignon 2018 - for this cuvée they purchase Sauvignon grapes from their friends from Saint-Bris. The reason why the cuvée appeared in Domaine des Malandes portfolio is not the best - 2016' and 2017's harvests were so bad, that there wasn't enough wine to sell to distributors. As these years were tough for all winegrowers in Chablis, prices rapidly increased, and there wasn't any entry-level wine at a budget price.
But it's great to see how an unlucky situation turned out to be a success. I tasted 2018's vintage and it was a beautifully ripe Sauvignon with lots of exotic fruits and lovely minerality. The wine is fermented and aged in stainless steel.
Chablis 2017 - a blend of 9 different plots of 15 ha, most of them comes from very limestone rich soil. This is a classical Chablis - it has a pure expression of grapefruit and lemon with a hint of salt, the minerality is tense and lively with a pleasant round finish. Actually, 2017 was the perfect year in Chablis. Very high sugar and high acidity, no mildew in summer, and no rot before harvest. Winegrowers could really wait for the perfect time to harvest. The only problem was spring frosts - so very low production, but exceptionally balanced wines. Again, vinified and aged in tank.
Chablis 1er Cru Côte de Léchet - this wine comes from a very steep, east-facing slope. Lots of rocks, thus very stony wine. Because of this flinty terroir expression they decided to go for stainless steel again. If the wine is more stone than fruit, then you better preserve this unique characteristic. A very pure and linear wine, like a sharp arrow.
Chablis 1er cru Vau de Vey - not a very known Premier Cru as the slopes are 40% steep. People weren't planting vines here until the right machinery was available. In the beginning there were only 5 producers on Vau de Vey, including Domaine des Malandes. It's a very powerful and persistent wine, has higher acidity, more saltiness and a hint of oak. The fermentation was in 70% stainless steel and 30% old oak.
Chablis Grand Cru Voudésir 2017 - Voudésir is like an amphitheater, and Domaine des Malandes is lucky to have plots on both sides - a north facing and south facing. This way the finesse elegance from the north-facing vineyards is combined with rich ripeness of the south.
This wine was fermented and aged in oak solely.
It's a great wine that lasts long in mouth, has lots of sweet spices, but it needs 5-7 years of ageing to fully open its' bouquet.
Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2017 - a half-hectare vineyard that is right at the exit from the Chablis village. That's where I picked a Kimmeridgian stone to take home as a souvenir. The vinification is the same, solely in oak, just as ageing. A wine to remember. Vanilla, lychee and a buttery texture - definitely a wine to age.
Another lovely winegrowing family that will stay in my heart as advocates of Chablis terroirs.
Join the waiting list for my upcoming wine tours to Burgundy. Organic and biodynamic Bourgogne producers, small, family run wineries and very hard to find outside of Burgundy wines!