The uncontested best holdings in all of Chablis: Domaine William Fèvre
Our Head of Marketing, Grace Bowler, takes a dive into the history into what many would describe as THE Chablis domaine: William Fèvre.
When thinking of Chablis, one immediately conjures up visions of whites brimming with minerality, rapier acidity and freshness, and, more than likely, you’d be thinking of a wine from William Fèvre. In his book ‘Inside Burgundy’, Jasper Morris MW, introduces William Fèvre as “one of Chablis’ greatest Domaines” and you’d be hard-pressed to find a member of the wine industry who would disagree.
Having only joined Cru Wine a few weeks previously, my first introduction to the Domaine was during a 9am Zoom tasting (courtesy of Covid) in early January 2021 with their masterful winemaker and director, Didier Séguier, as he talked us through the 2020 vintage and their wines. As fresh and zingy as his wines, Didier was full of enthusiasm and knowledge as he explained in detail the 2020 vintage in the region, even including comparable meteorological data! Tasting through the range, it was clear that his encyclopaedic knowledge of the vines and the terroir was unquestionable, and I was hooked throughout.
A modern history
Credited with putting the now renowned Chablis region firmly on the map, William Fèvre has become the benchmark for classic Chablis, crafting wines that epitomise the quintessential characteristics of this renowned terroir.
Atypical to many estates in the region, William was a relative newcomer, producing his first crop in 1959 after setting himself up with a mere seven hectares of vineyards the previous year. Over the years he invested in new technology and built up a prestigious Domaine in the heart of Chablis, purchasing an array of Premier and Grand Cru vineyards and replanting during the 1960’s and 70’s. William Fèvre is now one of the largest landowners in the region with 78 hectares of vineyards, including 16 hectares of Premier Cru and 15 hectares of Grand Cru. With holdings in six of the seven Grand cru appellations, no other producer can claim such a wide selection of Chablis’ finest vineyards.
“No other Domaine comes even remotely close to matching what Fèvre owns and all of it in the original heart of the appellation – it’s literally the best of the best, or perhaps the phrase crème de la crème is more appropriate”.
Allen Meadows, Burghound
With his eyes set on vinous adventures in Chile, William Fèvre sold the business in 1998 to Joseph Henriot, beginning a new era of style and management to the Domaine with the installation of Didier Séguier from Bouchard. Séguier immediately implemented a change in style, switching from William’s love of new to aged oak (and largely reducing this) in both the fermentation and maturation process to instil the freshness and minerality that the Domaine’s wines are now known for. Under his direction, the vineyard management for the village wines is organic and the Premiers Crus and Grands Crus vineyards have been biodynamic since 2020, with the Domaine obtaining the “High Environmental Value” (HVE) status, the highest level of environmental certification.
Although William Fèvre sadly passed away in 2019, his legacy remains strong, and the Domaine continues to create long-lived, top-class Chablis.
In the summer of 2023, it was announced that the Domaine is entering a very exciting new chapter following its purchase by Domaines Baron de Rothschild Lafite, led by Saskia de Rothschild who stated; “Wines from the Chablis vineyards are magical. We really hope we can soon learn from this terroir and ecosystem, whose development we have admired over the years and whose vigneron approach and family style we love.”
Expressing the terroir
The steep, rocky slopes that extend on both banks of the river Serein in Chablis are home to its unique and historic Kimmeridgian soil, an alternating mix of clay, limestone, chalk (the same chalk which makes up our White Cliffs of Dover) and fossilised oyster shells, which gives the wines of the region their characteristic flinty minerality and the counterbalancing acidic spine that maintains freshness. As stated by the Domaine, “everything that can be done is done, whatever the appellation, to achieve the quintessential character of Chablis.“ This includes careful management of the vineyards, limiting yields and harvesting by hand into small crates, allowing for fruit to arrive at the winery in prime condition, ahead of a judicious sorting to only select the very best quality and to ensure the nuances of the terroir are fully expressed.
According to Séguier, much of the success of the Domaine is attributed to this viticulture. The average man hours per hectare in the region is 350 hours; their own average is 500-600 hours, while the steep vines (Côte Bouguerots and bits of Valmur, Vaudésir and Preuses) which are ploughed manually using a winch, can reach 1,000 to 1,200 man hours!
In the cellar, gravity is used to avoid disturbing the wine with pumps and is vinified in stainless steel to focus on those primary fruit and fresh characteristics, prior to a careful barrel élevage between 8–12 months depending on the cuvée, with no new oak.
Didier Séguier has clearly got a great ability to extract the best from the individual parcels. The wines have the unmistakable minerality of Chablis but are imbued with wonderful layers of lemon rind, green apple, classic oyster shell and hints of cream giving them sublime texture. There is always great energy on the palate, with crystalline precision and a long saline finish.
Reinvention and a focus on terroir have been the key to Domaine William Fèvre’s recent success and consistent praise from the critics. There is no doubt that their star will continue to rise, with the big upside that their superb Chablis’ are still priced reasonably in comparison to the high quality the wines offer. We highly recommend snapping these excellent wines up to see what they are all about.