elcome to the sunny side of Chablis. Or at least to the slightly warmer part of the Chablis area. Lignorelles, one of the many villages of the Chablis area, always harvest early.
– The vineyards around Lignorelles warm up quite quickly, explains Stéphanie Michelet at Domaine Jean-Claude Courtault. The grapes on this hill ripen earlier than the rest of the Chablis area. Often as much as a week earlier.
Lignorelles is a 15-minute drive northeast of Chablis itself. This small village with its 190 inhabitants sits on top of a plateau, with the vineyards facing south or southeast. The only appellations are village Chablis and Petit Chablis. No premier or grand crus.
– For the Petit Chablis these conditions mean that we can always achieve a good maturity, continues Stéphanie Michelet.
The domaine is in fact two – Domaine Jean-Claude Courtault and Domaine Stéphanie et Vincent Michelet. The former was created by Stéphanie´s father, Jean-Claude Courtault, back in the 1980’s, while the latter is a more recent creation by Stéphanie and her husband Vincent.
Jean-Claude Courtault arrived in the village in the mid-1970’s, where he worked as vineyard manager at Domaine de l’Orme for twenty years. Domaine de l’Orme covers 50 hectares, but sells close to nothing in bottle. Most of the grapes are destined for the négociants.
– My grandparents were winegrowers, but not here in Chablis, says Stéphanie Michelet. They lived in the Vallée du Cher, in Touraine. They only had five or six hectares of vines and they had other crops as well. My father felt there would be more opportunities for him if he moved to another region.
– At the end of the 1970’s and at the beginning of the 1980’s there was a big demand for Chablis on the export market, especially the US and the UK. Much less was planted back then. Only about half of the appellation was planted. Today it remains less than 1000 hectares which have not been planted. Much of it is areas difficult to access, areas which have never been planted or areas simply too steep.
Since Stéphanie Michelet’s parents arrived in Lignorelles in 1974 much has changed in the Chablis area. All the vines planted at the time have reached a respectable age.
– Now when we have plantation rights it is difficult to create something new by planting vines, says Stéphanie Michelet. When my parents started planting you could plant two or three hectares per year. With today’s regulations you are only allowed to plant a tenth of that.
After having worked at Domaine de l’Orme for ten years Jean-Claude Courtault got the opportunity to buy some land. During the following years, up to 1994, he collected close to twelve hectares, all planted by himself. He had begun selling quite a lot of wine in bottle and eventually decided to create something of his own.
– My father quit his job at Domaine de l’Orme and built this, a modern winery, says Stéphanie Michelet. My husband and I arrived here in 2007 after having worked in Alsace for four years, which was a completely different experience. Different grape varieties, aromatic grape varieties. Then in 2004 we got the chance to buy a parcel of village Chablis in Beine, just south of Lignorelles.
The two domaines – Domaine Jean-Claude Courtault and Domaine Stéphanie et Vincent Michelet – today cover twenty hectares. Vincent Michelet is in charge of all the vineyards and there is not really any division between the two. All three – Jean-Claude, Stéphanie and Vincent – work with both domaines.
– Vinification is pretty much for the two domaines, explains Stéphanie Michelet. What makes the wines different is mainly the different parcels they come from. The vines of Domaine Courtault are generally older and mainly located around Lignorelles. The Domaine Michelet vines are mainly around Fyé and Beine, which produces more mineral wines.
Of the 20 hectares of vines tended by the Courtault-Michelet family roughly half is Petit Chablis and half village Chablis. The production of premier cru Chablis – Beauroy and Mont de Milieu – and grand cru Chablis – Valmur – is minuscule.
– For the premier crus we buy the grapes and vinify ourselves. We produce about 3000 bottles of each. We have been buying from the same grower since the beginning. It keeps the continuity going. We are familiar with his way of working. 2013 we stared buying grand cru must from Valmur.
– Mont de Milieu is close to the Chablis grand crus. You have the grand crus. East of them is the premier cru Montée de Tonnerre. Just next to it is Mont de Milieu. Beauroy is on the other side of the river and like Mont de Milieu it is exposed straight south. On the right bank, the side of the grand crus, the wines often have more minerality. On the left bank the wines have a bit more power.
With the exception of a few demi-muids, large barrels, for the premier crus this is an all-steel domaine.
– We try to vinify at 18°C for two to three weeks, which is fairly long, says Stéphanie Michelet. This results in a more complex wine and it keeps the freshness.
© 2015 Ola Bergman