The risk of frosts
In the early spring when the sap starts to rise in the vines some of the colder vineyard areas have to take precautions. There is a risk of frosts nipping the buds. A wine region that produces high quality wine such as the Chablis region depends on older vines planted in well drained flinty clay soil (kimmeridgian clay). These older vines send their roots deep, but on the surface the vine is pruned hard back to leave only 6 buds, so that it will produce quality rather than quantity.
The risk is that at the time the buds are about to burst a frost could destroy the vine. These vines could be forty years old, so ‘quelle’ disaster. Vineyards used to light fires to protect the vines, but in these enlightened days this method is frowned upon. Now water from a system of pipes buried under the top soil spray water onto the buds to protect them using latent heat.
The Chablis wine growing region is classified as Burgundy but is quite a way north, being halfway between Paris and Burgundy. The wine is always white and is produced from the early budding Chardonnay variety (or in this region called the Beaunois).
The area is centered around the town of Chablis and the river Serein with the best vineyards just north of the village on a southwest-facing slope. These are the grand crus and there are seven of them Les Clos, Blanchots, Bougros, Vaudesir, Valmur, Preuses and Grenouilles. There are forty Premier Cru vineyards and then many village wines.
This region used to stretch as far as Dijon and has been well known for wines since the 1400s. Its proximity to the ready markets of Paris helped, until the disease phyloxera struck. After phyloxera only the better areas were replanted with vines brought back from the new world. However, since 1970, the area under vine has quadrupled. A new area has been planted, called ‘Petit Chablis’ producing wine that is lighter and less distinguished than the Crus which are wines worth laying down. With their flinty dryness these wines are a perfect match for oysters or Chabichou cheese.