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Domaine Francois Raveneau Chablis Valmur Grand Cru 1997
Critical AcclaimAll Vintages
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 and tactile, and yet uniquely light and 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 Grand Cru vineyards are all located at ideal elevations and exposition on the acclaimed Kimmeridgian soil while most of the vineyards in the outlying spots are referred to as Petit Chablis. Chablis Grand Cru, as well as some Petit 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’s grown and how it’s made. In Burgundy, Chardonnay produces some of the finest white wines in the world, typically tending towards minimal intervention in the winery and at its best resulting in remarkable longevity. This grape is popular throughout the world, but perhaps its second most important home is in California, where both oaky, buttery styles and leaner, European-inspired wines enjoy great popularity. Oregon, Australia, South America, South Africa, and New Zealand are also significant producers of Chardonnay.
In the Glass
When planted on cool sites, Chardonnay’s flavors tend towards grapefruit, green apple, minerals, and white stone fruit, while warmer locations coax out richer, more tropical flavors of fig, melon, and pineapple. Oak can add notes of vanilla, coconut, and spice (as well as texture), while malolactic fermentation can impart soft, buttery acidity.
Chardonnay is as versatile at the table as it is in the vineyard. The crisp, clean, Chablis-like styles go well with simple seafood, light chicken dishes, and salads. Richer Chardonnays marry well with cream or oil-based sauces.
Since the 1990s, big, oaky, buttery Chardonnays from California have enjoyed explosive popularity. More recently, the pendulum has begun to swing in the opposite direction, towards a clean, crisp style that rarely utilizes new oak. These Old-World style wines have been dubbed the “New California Chardonnays,” and anyone who claims they do not like Chardonnay should give them a try.