By Justin Knock MW
Our access to their wines continues to improve and I was able to taste across the entire 2019 range in October 2020 with Benoît. My overall impression is that this is a great vintage that has everything. There is fruit power and pleasure, but nothing over the top. Flavours cover orchard and citrus (when I taste lemons I’m in love) and the hallmark chalk-mineral notes of Chablis (sometimes you swear you can smell oysters or the sea) is there in spades. The concentration in the wines suggest most if not all will improve with 5 years and more in the cellar. Yet Benoît’s wines are always fantastic at any age. In order to simplify the selection we are going to offer them to you in two tranches.
First tranche has the Petit Chablis, 1er Cru Vaillons and Grand Cru Valmur – all of these tend to be the most expressive wines in the range with a wonderful approachability in their youth.
Second tranche details the Chablis, 1er Cru Montee de Tonnerre and Grand Cru Les Clos. Made for the cellar these are more classically structured, with a rich mineral depth and capacity to improve with age.
2019 is undoubtedly a vintage which would sit in the “sunny” category; the fruit character certainly sits more on the “stone fruit” end of the spectrum than the “citrus fruit” end. However, what is so impressive about the 2019s, and particularly those at Domaine Droin, is that there remains a noticeable Chablis mineral character as well as clear imprint of each vineyard. The concentration effect of the vintage has increased the acid levels as well as the sugars, giving wines which are full-on and have Côte de Beaune power and intensity but with a cooling mineral freshness that always brings you back to Chablis. I have frequently spoken of the estate’s preference for machine harvesting many of the vineyards and its benefits in modern vintages where fruit ripens quickly and temperatures at harvest are much warmer, and I feel sure this was once again an advantage in 2019.
After the bountiful 2018 crop, 2019 is much smaller – around 40% down – but the shortage is more acute on some parcels than others, whether because of more impact from the cold weather at flowering, greater sun exposure or shallower soil. Consequently, there is no Blanchot this year, while Mont de Milieu and Valmur are substantially down, as is the village Chablis. After a rare appearance in 2018, the Côte de Lechet is one again absent. It is important to remember that comparisons with 2018 are comparisons with one of the biggest harvests in a generation!
February and March, with budburst coming a week or so earlier than normal on the 25th March. There then followed a period of cold weather, particularly at the start of April, which Benoît felt had an impact on the eventual crop size. In early April there were several successive nights where temperatures dipped below freezing (down to -4°C) and this cold weather continued into May. The cold spell, Benoît explained, stressed the vines and resulted in many having just one bunch of grapes per bud rather than the usual two or three. Hydric stress was also a huge factor, with a dry winter preceding the season and then an unusually dry summer with some heat spikes of up to 40°C in late June, late July and early August. Older vines suffered less because of their well-established root systems, whilst those parcels on shallow or stony soil were more badly impacted. The temperatures fell a little in August, but conditions remained dry. Harvest began on the 11th of September and lasted 10 days, impressively quick for a domaine of 26ha. Overall sugar levels were good, perhaps a touch higher than 2018, but acidities are equally higher thanks to the concentration effect of the drought conditions.
The Droin brothers are the 14th generation of their family to make wine, with a history in Chablis reaching back exactly 400 years, so it’s reasonable to assume they know their business. And with vineyard holdings in almost every Grand Cru and Premier Cru, and significant parcels across Chablis and Petit Chablis they transcend the region like no other producer.
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