Chablis (13) La Chablisienne

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.

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. He explains that 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 gthe 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 decide it’s 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.’

No presses in this winery, but lots of tanks

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…

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