Domaine Christophe et fils

Christophe

The Story

Sebastien Christophe is our budding superstar from Chablis. We love his wines, but we also love him, the ultimate underdog. While known for its stolid rigidity, France’s wine culture still allows for a lot of mobility. That’s how a young kid gifted just a couple of acres of average vineyard land in Chablis could rise up seemingly out of nowhere to make brilliant wine from the three most heralded Premier Crus in the region. That happened because he was also gifted with a good bit of moxie and a cranking worth ethic, which will you get far anywhere.What makes Sebastien’s wines so great? Well, as is the case in Chablis, it’s not the winemaking, which is pretty standard for the region, as the goal here is never to showcase cellar prowess, but rather the nature of the vineyard. Sebastien vinifies and ages wine overwhelmingly in stainless steel, as is the general practice of the region. Less than 10% of the wines see elevage in neutral oak barrels, providing a little textural and structural contrast to the bristly energy of stainless steel.

He started with a small half hectare parcel of Petit Chablis from his family and made a run for it. After winemaking school he started to vinify this tiny parcel and has slowly acquired small parcels of village vineyards and a lot of Petit Chablis land. He also rents parcels that he farms entirely himself. Today, he has three premier crus on the right bank of the Serein river, Fourchaume, Mont de Milieu and Montée de Tonnerre. To our surprise, it’s difficult (almost impossible) to find his wines in town on any list. He exports almost everything, save the wines sold to some of the top spots in Paris. Luckily for us, we are the first to work with Christophe in the United States. -TV

Lay of the Land

Despite nearly unequivocally mentioned in the first breath by sommeliers as one of their favorite wine regions, Chablis often appears in books as the “I guess I should make a little room for Chablis in my Côte d’Or Burgundy bible” category. Indeed it’s not as sexy and elite as the Côte d’Or, but there is a lot to say that doesn’t get said enough. So, while we don’t intend to write an entire book out of this section on our website, perhaps we can bring some ideas not often discussed about Chablis, but relevant to better understand the subject—one that is not so expensive a lesson in understanding terroir compared to that Golden Slope, further south. (Maybe Chablis should consider changing its name to the Côte d’Argent, or maybe the Côte de Platine—a little silver or platinum could be a competitive contrast to the gold.

Chablis winters can be bitterly cold and dry. The lack of snowfall can be deceiving when you’re feeling the bite of the wind, and there are precious few easily found and inviting establishments to duck into and shake off the chill with a warming drink. Its semi-continental climate is similar to Champagne’s to the north, with the winds that whistle in from the North Sea. The frigid air that goes straight to the bone is caused by a relative lack of trees, which fully exposes to the elements, making one of the best refuges to warm up a 50-55°F cellar.

The summers are usually dry and moderate, but that’s all changing. While it’s hard to say what each vintage will bring, the extended forecast is clear: it’s getting hotter. The effects of rising temperatures and increased weather volatility are already felt each season. In many more vintages than the past, the tapering of Chablis’ natural acidic snap is becoming more common. Of course, super fresh vintages still come around, but with record-shattering summer heat happening almost every year, the overall composition of Chablis is, on the average, leaning in a little more toward the soft middle road on vibrancy than the extreme for which it’s known.

Today, (in 2019), frost damange is a commonly occurring antagonist caused by unexpected heat spikes late in some winters. Premature budburst is the new norm, followed by a corrective dip in temperature back to cold leaving the vegetation exposed to frost burn. While frost can take out an entire parcel for the year, it can clip the potential yield of others, exacerbating the problem of quicker ripeness due to the smaller yields with a likely imbalance in the grapes. If you’ve made it out of frost season, then comes the invariably destructive force of hail—a terribly demoralizing event that can happen anytime in the summer. The domino effect of climate change is severe in areas like Chablis, the historical limit of where Chardonnay can ripen consistently for still wine production. Recent vintages in Chablis already demonstrate the heat’s softening of its vertical axis, so they’ve become more rounded and less angular.

A perfect area to exemplify Chardonnay’s merits, Chablis is classified from least to greatest (in theory) from Petit Chablis, Chablis, Premier Cru and Grand Cru, and this is based on three factors: bedrock, exposure and historic reliability. The bedrock isn’t going to change, neither will the exposure, except that the variable of that exposure’s impact will. While I may have painted a painful but honest picture of the forecast, the good news is that within our lifetimes there are less well-known vineyard sites today that maintain the right kind of soil for serious Chablis (although they are likely classified as Chablis AOC wines), but are more protected from the extremes of full exposure to the elements. The last two factors, while assets in the past—like the northwest exposition of the Grand Crus and their ability to be less affected by frost because of that same aspect), may become the liabilities of the future—although no one wants to talk about these things, especially those in the more historically prime spots.

Chablis’ soils are a combination of Kimmeridgian limestone marls and Portlandian limestone scree with various topsoil mixtures of clay and rocks derived from the limestone bedrock—classically Burgundian in general bedrock type and topsoil constitution. These rock formations have influence on the shape of the hills. Those capped with the harder Portlandian rock have more steep, resistant ridges resulting in a more concave hill shape below, like Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits. This deeper inward belly captures more soil such as clay, Portlandian scree and underlying Kimmerigian marls—this is what largely defines the right bank, home to the Grand Crus and much of the fleshy right bank 1er Crus. The hills without a Portlandian limestone cap rock are more convex and maintain less topsoil (mostly on the left bank), similar to the hillslope shape of the Côte de Beaune. Wines on these hill shapes typically have more straight lines, overt mineral nuances and less excess body fat.

As a large generalization, the vast majority of the left bank Chablis 1er Cru vineyards have much less marne (clay and limestone mixture), and a shallower soil depth than those on the right bank. This often results in left bank wines leaning more toward verticality and expressing stony, minerally nuances and textures, while the right bank wines tend to be more corpulent and horizontal (within the context of Chablis, not Chardonnays from further south in Burgundy), with mineral nuances tucked further inside, or simply overshadowed by the denser body. These differences are also somewhat easy to find in Chablis AOC wines or Petit Chablis made exclusively from one side of the river, or the other.

A final thought from our geologist friend, Brenna Quigley, who joined me on a trip to Chablis in 2016: “It’s also important to note that the change from Kimmeridgian to Portlandian is a very transitional one, and can occur over a distance of several meters. Even geologists cannot always agree on clear boundaries between the two—hence some of the arguments over what counts as true Chablis, or true Grand Cru.” -TV

1er Cru Mont de Milieu

Domaine Christophe et fils - 2017 Chablis, 1er Cru Mont de Milieu Magnum

Price: $129.00
Size: 1500ml
Availability:

1 in stock

Type of Wine: White
Grape(s): Chardonnay
Style: High acid, Mineral
Please note that shipping cost for Magnums is double the price than a regular bottle.

The Wine

The Mont de Milieu is perhaps the most ethereal of the Premier Crus crafted by Sebastien Christophe. It’s shy with its talents at first but given the proper time to show its range of complexities it's regal, polished and strong mineral drive becomes apparent. It graces the glass with a lovely balance of discreet flowers and sweet lime, etched with mineral and aromas from the sea that all rest on a sturdy but fine frame.

Despite its size, Mont de Millieu is one of the more rare premier crus bottled in Chablis. Located south of the Grand Cru slopes and arguably the appellation’s top premier cru, Montée de Tonnerre, it’s perhaps one of the most versatile premier crus in Chablis. On this side of the river it is easy to see (though not much talked about) slopes that have a tremendous amount of the Portlandian stones that have made their way down the hills and are set in place by the sticky marne soils (calcium rich clay). These have some influence over the wines from this side of the Serein River, often displayed as more palate weight and roundness than wines from the left bank. By sight, it’s sometimes difficult to find the well-known Kimmeridgian marls (lithified miniature oyster shells deposited some 150 million years ago) amongst these harder limestone deposits on top. Mont de Milieu has a great range of qualities imparted by these two limestones on somewhat shallow topsoils for this side of the Chablis 1er Cru spectrum, deeper than what is found with most of the premier crus across the river (like Vaillons, Montmains and Foret, but not deeper than the profound soils of Montée de Tonnerre, or the even deeper soils of the Grand Crus. Sebastien’s parcel of vines planted between the 1980s and 1990s is in the center of the hill facing precisely south on a very steep section.

This wine is naturally fermented in a mixture of 20% 228-liter oak barrels (new, 1, 2, 3 year old barrels; total new wood for the entire wine is 7%) and stainless steel. Malolactic fermentation is completed in all of Christophe’s wines and bottling takes place after twelve months. It’s fined with bentonite (a natural clay) and filtered with diatomaceous earth (fossilized sedimentary algae with a silaceous skeleton).

INFORMATION DISCLAIMER

Terroir: 80% Inox and 20% in oak barrels (new, 1, 2 and 3 year-old), 7% new barrels, natural yeast, 2 battonage in tank, tank settled for 1 day before fermentation, ferment takes 1-2 months depending on vintage, max sometimes the mL starts during and finishes during the fermentation–the risk is that bacteria eats sugar and creates volatile acidity. First SO2 after the press before ferment, second addition is made after fermentation, checked at bottling to adjust if SO2 if needed. Barrel rotation is made a lot during cold vintages, hot less (3-5 times)–done by smell.

Vinification: The grapes are picked by hand, pressed and then settled and racked off the heavy sediments after one day before beginning its low temperature, 1-2 month natural fermentation in stainless steel (80%) and 228-liter oak barrels (20% of new, 1, 2 and 3 year-old wood). Battonage (stirring) is sometimes made in stainless steel, depending on the vintage—warm vintages almost nothing and colder vintages no more than twice total. The first SO2 addition is made after the press before fermentation and the second (and sometimes the last) after both fermentations have finished.

Aging: 12 months in 20% old oak (new, 1, 2, 3 year-old 228-liter barrels, 7% new wood in the total blend of the wine) and the rest in stainless steel.

(Subjective and based on young wines)

General Impressions:

Mineral, Fine, Sweet Citrus, Ethereal, White Flower, Marine: Oyster Shell, Ocean Spray, Iodine

Mineral Impressions:

Lightly SaltySaltyMetalMineralWet StoneFlintGraphiteReductivePetrol

Ageability:

Drink YoungShort-Term BenefitsLong-Term BenefitsUnknown

Technical Precision:

NatureModerateNurture

Intensity:

SubtleVigorousElectric

Core:

LitheMediumDense

Acidity:

LightMediumFullElectric

Texture:

LitheMediumDense

Body:

LightMediumFull

Tannin:

NoneLightMediumFull

Finish:

FrontMiddleBack

Wood Presence:

NoneSubtleNoticeable

The Vineyard

Soil:

Kimmeridgian limestone marl and marne (limestone rich clay)

Farming:

SustainableOrganic CertifiedBiodynamic CertifiedUncertified Naturalist

Irrigation:

ForbiddenNeverSometimes

Vine Age:

Planted between 1980-1990

Altitude (meters):

190

Aspect:

S

Slope:

Steep
(typical numbers; not vintage specific)

Enological Additions:

Sulfur Dioxide. It’s fined with bentonite (a natural clay) and filtered with diatomaceous earth (fossilized sedimentary algae with a silaceous skeleton)—both are natural products.

Total SO2:

None AddedVery LowLowMediumHigh

Alcohol:

12.2-13.0

pH:

3.10-3.25

Titratable Acidity:

N/A

Residual Sugar:

Dry

Notes compiled in 2019 by Ted Vance (The Source) and Sebastien Christophe

About The Wine

The Mont de Milieu is perhaps the most ethereal of the Premier Crus crafted by Sebastien Christophe. It’s shy with its talents at first but given the proper time to show its range of complexities it’s regal, polished and strong mineral drive becomes apparent. It graces the glass with a lovely balance of discreet flowers and sweet lime, etched with mineral and aromas from the sea that all rest on a sturdy but fine frame.

Despite its size, Mont de Millieu is one of the more rare premier crus bottled in Chablis. Located south of the Grand Cru slopes and arguably the appellation’s top premier cru, Montée de Tonnerre, it’s perhaps one of the most versatile premier crus in Chablis. On this side of the river it is easy to see (though not much talked about) slopes that have a tremendous amount of the Portlandian stones that have made their way down the hills and are set in place by the sticky marne soils (calcium rich clay). These have some influence over the wines from this side of the Serein River, often displayed as more palate weight and roundness than wines from the left bank. By sight, it’s sometimes difficult to find the well-known Kimmeridgian marls (lithified miniature oyster shells deposited some 150 million years ago) amongst these harder limestone deposits on top. Mont de Milieu has a great range of qualities imparted by these two limestones on somewhat shallow topsoils for this side of the Chablis 1er Cru spectrum, deeper than what is found with most of the premier crus across the river (like Vaillons, Montmains and Foret, but not deeper than the profound soils of Montée de Tonnerre, or the even deeper soils of the Grand Crus. Sebastien’s parcel of vines planted between the 1980s and 1990s is in the center of the hill facing precisely south on a very steep section.

This wine is naturally fermented in a mixture of 20% 228-liter oak barrels (new, 1, 2, 3 year old barrels; total new wood for the entire wine is 7%) and stainless steel. Malolactic fermentation is completed in all of Christophe’s wines and bottling takes place after twelve months. It’s fined with bentonite (a natural clay) and filtered with diatomaceous earth (fossilized sedimentary algae with a silaceous skeleton).