hen Clotilde Davenne planted her first vines back in 1992 she did not quite see it as the start of her own domaine. She had just bought a house in Préhy, 7,5 kilometres southwest of Chablis, and selling the grapes was mainly a way to finance the restoration of the house. But her Domaine Les Temps Perdus continued to grow and in 2005 she decided to quit her job as oenologist at Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard after 17 years and 16 vintages.
Today Domaine Les Temps Perdus covers nine hectares and several of the appellations in the Yonne part of Burgundy; Saint-Bris, Bourgogne Aligoté and Bourgogne Côtes d'Auxerre as well as Chablis on all four levels – from Petit Chablis up to Chablis grand cru.
For Clotilde Davenne it all began in the 1980's. At the age of 18 she knew that she was heading for the wine world.
– I'm not from a family of winegrowers, she explains. My father was a farmer. I knew I wanted to work close to nature, but not with agriculture. I wanted to use my senses; smell, taste. So I studied oenology.
– At this time I was a bit of a feminist. This kind of work was dominated by men and I wanted to prove that I could do it as well. Back then it was not very common for women to be oenologists.
Her studies started in 1986 and were followed by a stint in California making sparkling wine. Since oenology only covers the winemaking and not the work in the vineyards she decided to go back to school and learn more about this when she returned to France. She then finished off with marketing studies before she went to Beaujolais to work.
– In 1989 I came to Brocard, Clotilde Davenne continues. I have fond memories from working with Jean-Marc Brocard. He is a very nice guy, very dynamic. I learnt a lot about different terroirs. He also gave me a lot of freedom; I could do pretty much as I wanted.
Jean-Marc Brocard also played an important role in convincing her to create a domaine of her own.
– I think Jean-Marc wanted to keep me in the area, so he tried to interest me in having my own vineyards.
The land that came with the house was part of Burgundy's regional appellation. Planted with chardonnay it produced Bourgogne Blanc. After a while Clotilde Davenne grew accustomed to the thought of being a vineyard owner and started toying with the idea of extending the portfolio.
– I had the opportunity of buying a very nice domaine in Saint-Bris. The guy was very old and did not want to sell the vineyards to the other people in the village so he came to see me. The vines are very old. Part of the sauvignon vineyard is 100 years old. The aligoté is 70 and the pinot noir is 50.
This gave her the varied range of wines and vines that she had been looking for. She wasn't interested in having a domaine that only produced Chablis and Petit Chablis. Instead she wanted different terroirs, different vine ages and different appellations.
2004 was Clotilde Davenne's first vintage on her own. Until then Jean-Marc Brocard's team had taken care of her vineyards. She had her own people for the pruning, but the grapes were sold to Brocard.
– When the grapes arrived at Domaine Brocard we would blend them with other grapes, so I never knew which my own grapes were.
When she left Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard in 2005 after 17 years she was in for a big change. She left a very large domaine that covers 180 hectares in the Chablis and Auxerre areas for her own domaine of nine hectares.
– Yes, she smiles, it was a very big step. Now, when I look back I feel that I should have done it several years earlier. It was time for me to do that and also for Brocard. The young Brocards wanted to have their own expression.
– When I left the big surprise for me was all the paperwork that you have to deal with when you run your own business. It's crazy.
Today she is able to be part of the whole process, from the vineyard to the finished wine. This was not the case before. She enjoys being able to be out in vineyards on a daily basis.
Another change is the focus on Saint-Bris, the only appellation in Burgundy that allows the sauvignon grape.
– A lot of people know me for my work with Chablis wines and the expression of terroir in Chablis. For me it is interesting to show that Saint-Bris has the same qualities. It's a nice challenge.
– Jean-Marc does not like the sauvignon very much. It was difficult at Brocard to get a good sauvignon, because he would always say it wasn't time for harvest etc. But here at my own winery it is. I like these grapes very much.
When it comes to pinot noir and chardonnay in this part of Burgundy she describes these two grape varieties as opposites. And pinot noir is the more difficult of the two.
– With the chardonnay you have to be very careful to let the terroir come forward and have less of chardonnay expression. For the pinot noir it is the contrary. If you let the terroir dominate the pinot noir it becomes to mineral. You have to keep the fruit and the delicacy of the pinot noir and it is very difficult.
For the future Clotilde Davenne sees a development towards a lower alcohol level in her wines. She points out that wine should be enjoyed with food – for the pleasure of the complexity and the flavors, not for becoming drunk and waking up with a heavy head the day after. She also feels that the overall quality of Chablis' wines have improved in recent years.
– Today Chablis is better than 10-15 years ago, because 15 years ago many people planted new vines in Chablis. So back then the grapes came from young vines and the wines were simple. Now the age of the vines is higher and the wines get better structure.
© 2008 Ola Bergman