I’ve always wondered how Chablis as fine as Dom des Malandes could always remain so…well, to be blunt: cheap! It’s not like the estate is new or unknown. Lyne and husband Jean-Bernard Marchive formed Malandes in 1986 with vines farmed by her father and grandfather making up the core of the estate.
The wines have earned critical praise from the outset, with Master of Wine and Burgundy expert Clive Coates awarding Malandes a two-star rating in his landmark book The Wines of Burgundy. To put that in context, that’s the very top rating for any Chablis estate, the same awarded to William Fevre, Vincent Dauvissat, and Domaine Raveneau. And yet wines from those three estates sell for at least three-times the prices of Malandes.
What’s more, the wines have gotten even better over the past decade under oenologist/winemaker Guenolé Breteaudeau. As the leading Burgundy critic working today, Allan Meadows (“Burghound”), said last year, the team at Chablis-based Domaine des Malandes “continue to drive the quality of the Malandes wines to new heights. Readers who are not familiar with the wines owe it to themselves to try a few bottles; moreover the prices are reasonable and thus the wines offer excellent price/quality ratios.”
But why are the prices so reasonable – even before we slash them further with our direct import savings?
… Priced With Modesty and Practicality
Spending an afternoon and evening with Lyne in Chablis last February helped me understand. Lyne’s family – the Tremblays well known in Chablis – have been living, farming and making wine here for a long time. They have always been practical business people – Lyne said her grandfather was one of the first growers in Chablis to stop selling to the co-op and bottle and sell all his own production starting in the early 1900s. Bottled wine was more of a risk, but turned a much better profit.
Entrepreneurial ambition has always been tempered by the realities of trying to make a living the cold, stony, soils of Chablis. Lyne explained that it was simply impossible for a small grower to make a living from grapes and wine in Chablis until the mid-1970s. Frost in the spring, vine-killing cold weather in winter, summer hail, and ill-timed rain near harvest conspired to wipe out nearly 100% of Chablis production in two to three years per decade. Lyne remembers the brutal stretch of 1952, ’52 and ’54 when her father had no grapes (and not much grain) for three consecutive years. In 1954 he was forced to leave home and pick grapes in Beaujolais to make enough money to feed the family.
By the mid-1970s growers in Chablis had learned frost and winter cold management techniques from their neighbors in Champagne (Chablis is closer to Champagne than Burgundy’s Beaune), opening the doors to the potential to making a living from wine. So Lyne took over from her father and, with husband Jean-Bernard Marchive, created Domaine des Malandes.
Innovation in Wine Growing … and Marketing
Even as she prepares to retire and hand over the estate to her son and youngest daughter, Lyne remains an innovator. Hail has been a problem in Chablis for years and seems to be intensifying with global climate change. Some of Lyne’s vines grow in what is basically a thunderstorm channel – a valley between two hills that captures storms and funnels their maximum impact right on the fragile vines.
After the disastrous 2016 storm season, Lyne decided she’d had enough. Although it took nine months of intensive studies, legal filings and lobbying, two months ago she received a permit to test Chablis first ever hail netting system. No other grower has been brave enough to step up to try it, so she’s rolling it out as a test with a mix of protected and unprotected rows. As she says, it’s very expensive – but then so is losing the entire harvest to hail.
“No one else was willing. So I decided I must go ahead by myself. I believe it’s what we must do to make good, good, good, Chablis.”
As Neal Martin of Wine Advocate said after a blind tasting of Lyne’s 2014 and 2015 Chablis last year, “I was very impressed by the consistency here. Proprietor Lyne Archive, with winemaker Guenolé Breteaudeau, crafted some really quite superb Premier Crus that shone out. It’s great to see this well-known name in Chablis doing so well – long may it continue.” We think it will.
The Extraordinary 2016 Chablis of Domaine des Malandes
As Allan Meadows (“Burghound”), said last year, the team at Chablis-based Domaine des Malandes “continue to drive the quality of the Malandes wines to new heights. Readers who are not familiar with the wines owe it to themselves to try a few bottles; moreover the prices are reasonable and thus the wines offer excellent price/quality ratios.”
Once again, that’s true for Malandes’ 2016 releases, which are coming to us direct at simply unbeatable savings. The steep losses during the challenging growing season means we weren’t able to get any 2016 Grand Cru Les Clos, but we do have a tiny bit of 2015 available. The 2016 Villages cuvee is a fantastic “house white” for now and 3-4 years to come. And both 1er Crus are classic bottlings you won’t want to miss.
Below you’ll find our and critics’ notes on all four wines. Please note that Alan Meadows – aka Burghound – tasted the 2016s at a very awkward moment of their evolution, either right after pre-bottling sulfuring or, worse, right after bottling. The reduction he complains of has resolved and all of the wines are clearly even better than his reviews suggest. Happy hunting!