Chablis is an isolated wine region of northern France, arguably the most northerly region in Europe producing high quality, still table wine. World-famous for its production of food-friendly dry white wines from Chardonnay grapes, it should display mouth-watering acidity, restrained fruit flavours and so-called mineral characteristics. The region is divided into four Appellations d’Origine Protégée (AOPs), based on the perceived quality of the land for growing and ripening Chardonnay.
The area of vineyards in Chablis has expanded enormously since 1970. Then there were only 757 ha in production, but over the next 40 years this increased almost seven-fold to reach 5,043 ha in 2010. By 1995, Chablis Grand Cru and Chablis Premier Cru were both at, or close to, their maximum delimited areas. Additional growth since then has been of the less well-regarded Chablis and Petit Chablis AOPs. The Chablis AOP had a production area of 3,318 ha in 2010. Since the maximum limit for the Chablis AOP, as designated by the INAO, is 4,420 ha, there is still room for considerable future growth. Similarly, Petit Chablis’ 2010 vineyard area of 843 ha still has some way to go before the INAO limit of 1,562 ha is reached.
The increasing amount of grapes being grown in Chablis has allowed producers to ramp-up wine production. In the early 1970s, total Chablis wine production was ca. 20,000 to 40,000 hl. By 2006-2010 wine production had climbed to between 270,000 to 290,000 hl. Prior to 1970, genuine Chablis (as opposed to, say, Gallo’s “Chablis” from California) was available to only a limited number of wine drinkers. Now Chablis AOP and Petit Chablis AOP wines are produced in sufficient quantities to make them widely available in a variety of domestic and export markets.
In addition to increases in vineyard area and production, wine yield (expressed as hl/ha) has also shown a long-term upwards trend before levelling off at between ca. 50-60 hl/ha over the past 25 years. Year-on-year climatic variations certainly play a role in determining the harvest size and complicating this picture, though perhaps not quite so much as might have been anticipated. Following a series of poor harvests in 1977, 1978 and 1981, the Chablis region had a pretty good run until the heatwave vintage of 2003.
Although wine yield is but one of many factors influencing wine quality, it is often cited by wine critics and educationalists as being a critical one. You might expect that within the Chablis region, wine yields within the AOPs would be arranged such that Chablis Grands Cru AOP would have the lowest yield and Petit Chablis AOP the highest. Over the past quarter century Chablis Grands Cru AOP has indeed had the lowest wine yield, but there has been precious little difference between the wine yields of the Pemier Cru, Chablis and Petit Chablis AOPs. Are producers of Petit Chablis AOP over-performing, or is wine yield not so relevant here? WineStats hasn’t been to sufficient Chablis tastings to have a view on this one.
WineStats would like to thank Cécile Mathiaud and Virginie Valcauda of the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne (BIVB) for kindly supplying some of the data used in this posting.