Last month I was in Chablis with the AWE (Association of Wine Educators), where we made several excellent producer visits. For me the highlight these was to Domaine Pascal Bouchard, where we met Pascal’s son Romain, who has set up two new enterprises that are both run at the family domaine.
The first, in collaboration with his brother, is called Damien and Romain Bouchard, or simply DRB as it appears on the very smart and minimalist labels and literature. Romain assured me that when coming up with the name they weren’t thinking how close it is to the acronym DRC (just one letter away), which stands for Domaine de la Romanée Conté, the most prestigious domaine in the whole of Burgundy! We decided to believe him. The brothers have a natural split of responsibility that suits them both; Romain is happier outdoors and works the vineyards whilst Damien is responsible for the winemaking. In this new venture they are currently buying in must (pressed unfermented grape juice) from a few growers, as opposed to tending their own vines. As the vineyards are owned and tended by several different growers, DRB can’t yet get the grapes certified as organic, but Romain oversees the growers to ensure their produce meets the standards the brothers demand and the vineyards are as good as organic in all but name. So how were the wines?
Well DRC it may not be, but the wines of DRB were really superb. We looked at two different premier crus from the excellent 2010 vintage, Chablis 1er Cru Vaillons and Chablis 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre. The Vaillons was is left on its lees (the deposit left over after fermentation) for 10 months and aged purely in stainless steel, so it sees no oak whatsoever. The resulting wine was clean, crisp, slightly austere but with great structure, complexity and length. Classic 1er Cru Chablis. By contrast the Montée de Tonnerre is matured for 8 months in old oak barrells before before transferred to stainless steel for another 4 months ageing prior to bottling. This results in a richer, rounder wine that gets body and complexity from the old oak barrels, whilst not becoming overtly oakey, which is something I believe Chablis should not be. Another superb wine. At €16 and €18 ex cellar (ie from the producer) the wines highlighted something we saw time and time again whilst in the region; the great value of the 1er cru Chablis. Regular village Chablis is typically about €5 or so cheaper a bottle, but there is a huge step up in quality to 1er cru. Grand cru wines are then typically about double the price of the premier cru; superb wines but not at the same price/value ratio of the 1er crus. The two DRB 1er crus were both terrific wines; stylistically different, but complementing each other very well, making a lovely pair of 1er crus to buy together. Six of each for me please!
The second enterprise Romain has recently embarked upon, Domaine de la Grande Chaume, is purely his own. It’s a small domaine he took over in 2005 that he farms himself, having the vineyards on a 25 year fermage lease. A fermage agreement is one where the vigneron tends the land and then pays the landowner a fixed share of the crop each year. A very common practice in Burgundy where the land ownership is so fragmented. This means that Romain has complete control of the vineyard and as such he’s recently got the vineyards certified as organic. They are also harvested by hand, which is something that isn’t as common as it should be in Chablis. But how about the wine? Well the Premier Cru we tried was a Chablis 1er Cru Vaud de Vey 2010. This once again showed the quality of the both the vintage and of Chablis 1er Cru from a top producer. 25% of the wine was aged in old oak for 11 months, enough to give structure and body without being obtrusive at all. It was clean and crisp with lemon and green apple flavours but with, richness, complexity and a really long finish. An excellent wine extremely well priced at €18. Six more for me!
Finally we also tried some of the wines of Domaine Pascal Bouchard, which is the ‘father domaine’ of the two new enterprises. Romain’s father Pascal has been making great Chablis for years and continues to do so, although the reins are increasingly being handed over to his two sons. I’m very familiar with these wines and they were once again consistently high quality on this visit, from regular Chablis through to Grand Cru. Although all were very good, it was the 2010 1er Cru wines that stood out for their quality to price ratio.
All in all the visit was both exciting and reassuring about the future of Chablis. With the main family domaine still producing fine wine and two new enterprises also starting to do exciting things, Chez Bouchard is an address to watch.