Through Heat, Rain, Frost and Hail … Success in Chablis

Guillaume of Louis Michel

Guillaume Gicqueau-Michel

Writing about the vintage in Chablis the past five years has been…well, for those of us who have gotten to know the women and men who grow and make these classy, dry, and mineral-laced Chardonnays, perhaps “depressing” is the best word. Frost, scorching heat, ill-timed rain, and – again and again – severe hail have struck Chablis with mind-numbing regularity.

In the words of the late, much missed, Roseanne Roseannadanna, “It’s always something.”

A Rush to Harvest
Vintage 2015 started out so well! The growing season started in early April and flowering happened on schedule under clement skies in early June. Despite some very hot weather in late June (109 degrees on June 24!) and a very dry July and August, a touch of refreshing rain in mid-August got the vines going. As growers went to bed on the night of August 31, they were expecting a great harvest and Louis Michel expected to start picking on September 6.

At 1:30 am on September 1, the bottom fell out. Hail pelted almost all of Chablis for an hour or more, leaving leaves shredded and some of the fruit damaged. At Louis Michel, everything went on overdrive, with every available picker and harvesting machine (including some borrowed from growers less impacted by the hail) pressed into service to get the fruit off the vines and into the winery before rot set in. By September 4, all fruit impacted by hail was in the winery, pressed, and ready to ferment.

Then – the Magic of Doing Nothing
Louis Michel ChablisWhen you taste the Louis Michel 2015s, the question you’re going to ask is, “What magic did winemaker Guillaume Gicqueau-Michel work in the winery to make such great Chablis under such challenging conditions?” The answer: Nothing.

Because “nothing” is what Guillaume does. The pressed juice went into stainless steel tanks and then…sat there until the yeast living in the winery air decided to start bubbling away. The only two winemaking decision Guillaume made was a) to keep things cool (as always) and b) to rack the finished wine off the fine lees a bit earlier than usual.

Louis Michel Montee de Tonnerre BottleWas acid added? Nope – correctly grown grapes keep their acid even in hot seasons. Sugar added to increase alcohol? Nope – the fruit came in at a just-right 12-13%. Lees stirred to add richness? Nope – older vines and warm weather gave all the richness you’d want. Oak used to shape or intensify the wines? Nope again – the only oak barrels in this winery have been cut in half and have flowers growing in them!

As in the past few harvests, the hardest part of Guillaume job after the grapes came into the winery was calling customers around the world to tell them they couldn’t have all the cases they wanted, because the hail and heat reduced the crop by 20-30%. Next year, we’ll tell you how even more severe hail brought yields down 30-40%. The year after, we’ll have to talk about how 2017’s bitter spring frosts cost the Domaine half its fruit.

For now, though, we have once again secured an above average allocation of these very much above average wines. Enjoy them while you can!

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What We’re Drinking

Diane enjoyed a glass of one of this past weekend’s featured wines, the Brovia 2008, a blend of four of their vineyard sites using younger vines, with a few slices of Piave, a delicious semi-firm Italian cheese.  It was a fantastic pairing, and brought back memories of her recent trip to the estate.  Brovia is a Barolo estate for Burgundy lovers – rather than power, the wines all put elegance and purity of fruit front and center – as you can see from those large casks, these wines are not about oak and flash!  The 2008 is perfumed, accessible, sweetly-fruited, and just plain delicious.

alex sanchez

Randy enjoyed the Grammys with a celeriac soup, swirled with creme fraiche and topped with a few chiles.  With this delicious concoction, he pulled out a bottle of the 2010 Louis Michel Chablis 1er Cru Forets.  Subtle, elegant, with intense minerality, this is a wine that has a long life ahead of it, but is delicious now as well.  Stay tuned for news on the 2011 single-vineyard releases from Louis Michel – they are not to be missed!  We’ve got the 2011 village Chablis in stock if this has got you itching for a preview.

Last night Doug opened a relatively new wine for us, the Joseph Puig 2011 Montsant, and reports that it was a cheery companion to steak sandwiches with caramelized onions, charred red peppers and swiss cheese.  The flavors are juicy and uncomplicated now, but this will be peaking just in time for hamburger grilling season.  We can’t wait!

So, what are you drinking?