Friday, 20 May 2016

Cool climate and clay soil = Chablis?

The truth, I have learned, is that cool/cold areas are best suited for white wine production for a variety of reasons. Whites generally ripen earlier, and they are more forgiving, flexible and adaptable. It is easier to make a good wine from a wider range of maturity than reds. So cool regions that have shorter seasons may still produce acceptable and even excellent white wines. That is not so true of red wines.  Red grapes need a long season of hot weather to mature to just the right sweetness.

Where we live is not really that cold, but it is reasonably cool and the summer season, though prolonged in daylight hours, remains cool throughout.  Actually, we've noted that the sun is really hot while the air is really cool. So as soon as the sun sets, the temperature drops.  I'd say that will not bode well for reds.

I came across this article about cool/cold by Mark L. Chien, statewide viticulture extension educator for the Penn State Cooperative Extension based in Lancaster, Penn. He said he is often asked about the effects of climate change and he has noted that the extreme events are becoming more severe. Sharper frosts are increasing in the eastern US. 

A ongoing study of cold climate cultivars is quite interesting. They are even testing methods for reducing acidity in cold years. But we don't get so much cold in Ireland and our climate is actually not experiencing extremes in temperature. Our extreme events are more wind oriented.  

So perhaps if white wines are more likely to work out in cooler climates, then our location is suitable. And we have clay soil. So what type of white grape should be pick?  My choice would be the chardonnay grape from which to make Chablis style wine. Apparently, it's the clay soil that is responsible for the distinctive crispness and nose of a great Chablis. 

From wikipedia:
"Chablis lies about 10 miles (16 km) east of Auxerre in the Yonne department, situated in Burgundy's heartland roughly halfway between Côte d'Or and Paris. It is closer to the southern Aube district of Champagne than the rest of Burgundy. Of France's wine-growing areas, only Champagne and Alsace have a more northerly location. The region covers 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) x 20 kilometres (12 mi) across 27 communes located along the Serein river. The soil is Kimmeridge clay with outcrops of the same chalk layer that extends from Sancerre up to the White Cliffs of Dover, giving a name to the paleontologists' Cretaceous period. The Grand Crus, the best vineyards in the area, all lie in one small southwest facing slope located just north of the town of Chablis."

Now that's fascinating. One small slope gives rise to all the Grand Cru. So Chablis is a region of chalky clay soil that is planted with chardonnay grapes to make the distinctive wine. It is not a grape variety, nor can there be Chablis from elsewhere. The French are now trying to correct the situation. 

Interestingly, it was early American wine marketing that destroyed Chablis in the 1980s and '90s. Almost anything that was white wine was called Chablis when wines were first marketed intensively in the US. When I was growing up, Chablis is what we drank, regardless of what grape it was made from and where it was grown. Chablis was synonymous with white wine. California Chablis can be made from any grape or combination of grapes that can be grown anywhere. There are no regulations controlling what goes into a bottle of California Chablis. Such wines are typically sold in 1.5 liter bottles and cheap. Exactly what an 18 year old is attracted to. They have nothing in common with real Chablis other than the name. It was tasteless awful sweet stuff, it was cheap and it destroyed the Chablis market, making the French very angry. 

So why do I want to attempt Chablis in Ireland from chardonnay grapes when the motto is ABC, 'anything but chardonnay'?  I like a good story. Shall we give it a shot? 

Grand cru appellation  

  • Blanchot
  • Bougros
  • Grenouilles
  • Les Clos
  • Preuses
  • Valmur
  • Vaudésir