Benoît Droin, Chablis

He is the fourteenth generation in his family making wine. It may very well be more than that, but 1620 is how far back Benoît Droin with certainty can trace his winemaking ancestors. That makes Domaine Jean-Paul & Benoît Droin one of the oldest domaines in Chablis.

Today Domaine Jean-Paul & Benoît Droin covers 25,5 ha in Chablis, from the Petit Chablis up to grand cru level. They have a total of eight premier crus and five grand crus. A portfolio like that is one of the positive things about having a domaine with a long history. But that very same history may also put some pressure on the younger generation when it is time to choose a career.

– It would have been difficult to say, "No, I'm not interested", Benoît Droin smiles. I have a brother who is into computers. He doesn't like wine. I have a little sister, but she is not interested in wine either. It would have been a pity if I hadn't decided to become a winemaker.

He stresses that he was not forced into this, but he feels that it was important that someone continued the tradition.

For the time being Benoît Droin is a happy man. He feared the worst for the 2007 vintage, but came out on top. The weather was bad in July and August. At the beginning of September – no change. The grapes were good, but not great, as he puts it. Then on September 6 and 7 the situation changed completely. The sun came out and high temperatures followed.

View over Chabli.

– At the beginning it was perhaps not a catastrophic vintage, but it was definitely not a very good vintage. When we started to harvest it was a fine vintage. Now it will perhaps be very fine or better. I don't know yet. I started to taste some 07's that have finished the sugar fermentation and they are very rich.

Following studies in Beaune and six months at Domaine Laroche in Chablis Benoît Droin returned to the family domaine in 1999. He has not changed much in the vineyards since then. He is not "bio", but very close, meaning that he uses a minimum of chemical treatments.

– For the wine the principal change is the use of oak, he explains. I use less oak than my father. It's the same principle here as in the vineyards; it is important to express each wine's character in the best possible way.

– I use different age of oak and different amount of oak for each wine. All wines are different and I want to describe them differently. At the beginning I changed things every year in order to understand, to have the maximum of what I was looking for. Now I know how to achieve it, so since 2002 I do the same things every year.

Domaine Jean-Paul & Benoît Droin

There is little known about the winemaking at Domaine Droin during previous centuries. Benoît Droin knows that his father, Jean-Paul Droin, changed many things when he took over from Paul Droin, Benoît's grandfather. Apart from that not much is known.

Benoît Droin is very optimistic about the future for Chablis as a region. During his years at the head of Domaine Droin he has seen changes that he describes as exceptional.

– 20 years ago you had perhaps five or ten domaines that were very good, he says. Today you can find 25 or 50. All domaines have found better ways to work and they make progress all the time.

Another benefit of having a well-established domaine is the fact that it makes life a lot easier when it comes to marketing and export. Benoît Droin admits that he is probably not the right person to discuss international competition with, because in his world there is no such thing.

Chablis, Burgundy.

– I'm a bit special in that respect, he says. We are an old domaine and we have been exporting for a long time. We go into new markets every year, but these always come to us. We don't have a person at the domaine that deals with export. It's just me that have contact with importers and journalists. I don't have to do marketing or go to other countries. People come to us, so I'm not very representative.

– For others, with a lot of wine and a new name, I think it is more difficult.

When it comes to drinking wine Benoît Droin admits to being a bit chauvinistic, at least when it comes to white wine and chardonnay.

– For me the best white wines come from France. And the best white wines in France come from Burgundy. And for me the best are in Montrachet. I love Meursault, Puligny and Chassagne, but Montrachet is perfect. I love it!

– I like some chardonnays from California, but when they are good they are very expensive. You can have a good Chablis for 7-8 euros. In California it is impossible to have the same quality at this price.

– For chardonnay it is difficult for me, I love the white burgundies. But for the reds I sometimes prefer other countries than France. I love the Italian wines – Barolo, Barbera, Chianti etc. All these wines are very good, because they are not aggressive.

© 2007 Ola Bergman