omaine Oudin in Chichée, just outside Chablis, is the result of Jean-Claude and Christiane Oudin becoming tired of the hectic Paris life in the mid-1980s. With two hectares of vines coming from Christiane’s father they decided to start a new life as winegrowers.
– Our mother grew up in Chichée, says Nathalie Oudin, who runs the domaine nowadays together with her sister Isabelle. When our parents started in 1985 they managed to find a couple of parcels in addition to those two hectares. Over the years the domaine has grown to cover 9.5 hectares.
Chichée is just a few minutes drive southeast of Chablis. It is a village of some 350 inhabitants and a dozen or so of winegrowers. All of Domaine Oudin’s vineyards are close to the village. A maximum of 10–15 minutes if you go by tractor. There are four wines made at Domaine Oudin. Two village appellation Chablis and two premier crus – Vaugiraut and Vaucoupins.
– After they had moved here our father continued to work in Paris for another ten years, continues Nathalie Oudin. During the weeks he would work there and then return to Chichée for the weekends to be on the tractor.
– He wanted quality of life, for himself and for his family. In fact, he was more motivated moving here than my mother, who grew up here.
The first years all grapes were sold to négociants. The cash flow was needed in order to buy equipment. After three years they began bottling a small part of their production. Today most is bottled at the domaine. Only a small part is sold off.
– Our grandfather wasn’t a winegrower. He was a stonemason. But like everybody else at the time he had some vines that he tended on the weekends. He had his two hectares and most of the harvest was sold off to négociants. He just kept a small portion for his personal consumption.
Nathalie Oudin arrived at the domaine in 2007. Initially she had no intention of becoming a winegrower. The parents had never tried to persuade their daughters to take on the domaine. The important thing was to let them make their own choices.
– At university I started with biology. Towards the end of my studies I was down cells and proteins. At that point I realized I didn’t want to devote the rest of my life to a protein. I wanted something more tangible. So I changed course and graduated as oenologist in 2006. After that I went to Australia, Bordeaux and Côte d’Or, mainly to gain experience in making red wine.
Her sister Isabelle decided to give tourism a go and eventually ended up working as a secretary for another Chablis domaine. After some time she began working part-time in Chichée with her sister.
– After a while she joined me full-time, says Nathalie Oudin. At first she wasn’t sure if she would be able to work in the vineyards, but it turned out to be OK. So now she spends half of her time in the office and half in the vineyards. A secretary who drives the tractor – she’s perfect!
In total Domaine Oudin has 15 different parcels of village appellation Chablis. Depending on the year two or three of these go into the Chablis, Les Serres cuvée. The rest goes into the straight Chablis.
– At harvest I pick out the best parcels, the ones which will go into Les Serres, explains Nathalie Oudin. It is not necessarily the old vines parcels. In the past it was a young parcel my father chose to vinify separately, a parcel with small, wonderful grapes. Old vines are nice, but if the terroir isn’t the best the age doesn’t matter. The same work is done in the vineyard and in the cellar for both our Chablis cuvées. The difference is that Les Serres gets an elevage that is twice as long as the other cuvée, two years instead of one.
– Les Serres is the name of the cuvée, but we also have a parcel in the lieu-dit called Les Serres. But the grapes from there do not always go into the cuvée Les Serres. I know, it is a bit peculiar. It was my father who chose to name the cuvée Les Serres.
The two premier crus of Domaine Oudin – Vaugiraut and Vaucoupins – are distinctly different in character.
– I’m lucky to have two very different premier crus, so I don’t have to spend time explaining the difference, smiles Nathalie Oudin. Vaugiraut is always very floral in character, with notes of lime tree blossom. Vaucoupins is richer in character, more sun, more mineral. Of the two it is usually Vaugiraut which opens up first.
The Vaugiraut comes from two parcels. One which is 60 years old and one which was planted by the parents. Vaugiraut is a sub-climat of Vosgros, which means wine from both parts may be labelled as Vosgros. Wine from Vaugiraut may be labelled as Vosgros, but not vice versa. Domaine Oudin is one of the few to put Vaugiraut on the label.
– Vaucoupins is the hot slope of Chichée, says Nathalie Oudin. It is facing straight south, so the vines are exposed to the sun all day. Our parcel is not very steep, but there are parts of Vaucoupins that are so steep you can't go there with a tractor. In those places all work has to be done by hand. It is very stony. When you plant new vines there you get the feeling you are just placing the roots between some stones. But somehow it works. The vines’ roots manage to find their way down in the ground. The vines are 65 years old and it is a very mineral premier. Always ripe, never a problem there.
© 2016 Ola Bergman