Domaine Francois Raveneau Chablis 2012
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
The 2012 Chablis Villages was only the sixth iteration of Raveneau's communal appellation bottling, and it's drinking very well today, mingling aromas of ripe lemons and crisp green apple with hints of beeswax and oatmeal. Medium-bodied, ample and fleshy, it's charming and open-knit—the young vines making themselves felt a little—but underpinned by racy acids, concluding with a delicately mineral finish.
The most sublime and the most celebrated estate of Chablis, the wines of Domaine Raveneau are a rare find—exceptional because the vineyard holdings are almost entirely made of grand cru and premier cru fruit, painfully finite as so few are produced, outstanding because of their tremendous quality and consistency, and unusual given the modesty of the vignerons who create these world-class wines.
The domaine was created in 1948, when François Raveneau consolidated his holdings with his wife’s family’s vineyard parcels. Though his father had spent years selling off prime parcels, François was doing his best to bring new ones back into the hands of the domaine. The reputation of this elusive and somewhat stoic vigneron spread quickly, as his style was easily recognizable as far superior to the growing trend of innocuous, somewhat uniform Chardonnay. The domaine’s production has always been miniscule, and Kermit fought in vain throughout the seventies to add these wines to his portfolio. As an ardent practitioner of natural wines, François was extremely skeptical about shipping overseas, fearing that the wines might suffer during the ocean voyage. Assured by friends that Kermit was very familiar with natural wines and only shipped in refrigerated containers, François finally agreed (see Adventures on the Wine Route). The relationship started with the 1979 vintage and has continued solidly ever since. Today, François’ sons, Bernard and Jean-Marie, direct the domaine, yet stay true to their father’s philosophy in both the vineyards and the cellar.
The Brothers Raveneau are a dream team. They carry the family torch with pride, yet with a reserve, pragmatism, and humility that is more likely found among true farmers than the artists they are. There is no set division of labor between the brothers, just “all hands on deck,” as each one brings his own expertise to the mix. Jean-Marie attended the Lycée Viticole in Beaune, and has been with the domaine since 1978. In 1995 when François retired, Bernard finally joined his brother at the domaine after years of working for a négociant. Together, they farm nearly eight hectares of land, including three grand cru vineyards (Blanchot, Les Clos, and Valmur) and six premier crus (Montée de Tonnerre, Les Vaillons, Butteaux, Chapelot, Mont-Mains, and Forêt). In a cool climate like Chablis, vines find their strength in the rich clay and chalky limestone of the Kimmeridgian chain.
From vine to glass, the Raveneaus continue to do things the old-fashioned way. Although François passed away in 2000, Bernard’s daughter, Isabelle, joins them today, assuring fans that Domaine Raveneau will continue into the next generation.
The source of the most racy, light and tactile, yet uniquely complex Chardonnay, Chablis, while considered part of Burgundy, actually reaches far past the most northern stretch of the Côte d’Or proper. Its vineyards cover hillsides surrounding the small village of Chablis about 100 miles north of Dijon, making it actually closer to Champagne than to Burgundy. Champagne and Chablis have a unique soil type in common called Kimmeridgian, which isn’t found anywhere else in the world except southern England. A 180 million year-old geologic formation of decomposed clay and limestone, containing tiny fossilized oyster shells, spans from the Dorset village of Kimmeridge in southern England all the way down through Champagne, and to the soils of Chablis. This soil type produces wines full of structure, austerity, minerality, salinity and finesse.
Chablis Grands Crus vineyards are all located at ideal elevations and exposition on the acclaimed Kimmeridgian soil, an ancient clay-limestone soil that lends intensity and finesse to its wines. The vineyards outside of Grands Crus are Premiers Crus, and outlying from those is Petit Chablis. Chablis Grand Cru, as well as most Premier Cru Chablis, can age for many years.
One of the most popular and versatile white wine grapes, Chardonnay offers a wide range of flavors and styles depending on where it is grown and how it is made. While it tends to flourish in most environments, Chardonnay from its Burgundian homeland produces some of the most remarkable and longest lived examples. California produces both oaky, buttery styles and leaner, European-inspired wines. Somm Secret—The Burgundian subregion of Chablis, while typically using older oak barrels, produces a bright style similar to the unoaked style. Anyone who doesn't like oaky Chardonnay would likely enjoy Chablis.