After spending part of the morning in Chablis, more or less on the west side of the village, we drove out toward the east, up the road leading to the town of Tonnerre, to see the most highly regarded Chablis vineyards.
These are vineyard plots where grapes that go into making Chablis Grand Cru and Chablis Premier Cru wines — the most expensive Chablis wines — are grown. These need a few years in the bottle to develop their best characteristics.
At the wine cooperative (La Chablisienne) earlier in the morning, the man running the tasting room pointed out to me that since 80% of the wine produced in the area is exported, Chablis wines are maybe better known in other countries than in France itself.
One thing that surprised me a little bit was that so much of the Chablis harvest in done by machines and not by hand, just as in the Loire Valley where we live. Only select vineyard plots are harvested by hand.
Chablis has a cold climate. It's soil and climate are more similar to Champagne's than to southern Burgundy's. Champagne is not very far north, and one of the main grapes grown up there is Chardonnay, as around Chablis. I don't think any sparkling wines are made under the Chablis appellation, however.
The hard chalky soil around Chablis is notoriously hard to work. Late spring freezes regularly damage the vines' new growth and flowers. However, grapes have been grown here, and turned into wine, since the final days of the Roman Empire. Grapes seem to give their best when grown under stressful soil and weather conditions.