Despite equating to only a fraction of this large Chardonnay appellation, these wines spearhead Chablis' reputation throughout the world. In theory, and of course there are always exceptions, the Grand Cru wines of Chablis consistently out perform Premier Cru rated vineyards and certainly the simple AOC village level wines. All seven of the Chablis Grand Cru climats can be found in the commune of Chablis and on the right bank of the Serein, the river that winds its way through the region to the northeast of the village. These vineyards sit at an elevation of between 100 and 250 meters, each one - Blanchot, Bougros, Les Clos, Grenouilles, Preuses, Valmur and Vaudésir - showcase slightly different characteristics in the glass. Clearly, a producer's process in the cellar will impact on the final style, but when a grower seeks to amplify terroir as much as possible there are clear differences between each. In general, this small stretch of Chablis vineyard delivers the most complex, elegant and long lasting wines in the appellation. As such they carry prices to match. That being said, these wines often represent incredible value alongside the Grand Cru wines of the the Côte d'Or.
As the most easterly vineyard of Chablis' Grand Cru ridge, the very steep, south east facing slope of Blanchot boasts higher levels of morning sunshine than the other crus. The soils here are a brilliant white, containing high levels of chalk and blue clay. Blanchot is generally known as the least powerful of the Grand Crus, consistently offering more subtle mineral influence, elegance and finesse. Naturally, producer style is important, but with the whole cru consisting of just 12.7 hectares Blanchots offers plenty of identity.
At 9.3 hectares Grenouilles is one the smallest Grand Cru. In fact, an unbroken plot of 7.2 hectares owned by Domaine de Chateau Grenouilles covers more than 80% of the Cru meaning it's pretty rare to come across these wines. Nevertheless, a superbly exposed slope that faces south west and in the direction of the village of Chablis gives outstanding wines. Divided into 13 parcels – the oldest dating to 1945, the youngest 1974 - each parcel is treated individually, from the vineyard through to vinification. Over the past ten years, estate director Damien Leclerc and winemaker Vincent Bartement have overseen the stabilisation of yields to around 40-45 hectolitres/hectare, 20% below the authorised yield.
Situated between Valmur on the left and Blanchots on the right, Le Clos is the largest Chablis Grand Cru plot, about twice the size of all the others. It is almost certainly the most well known of the seven, and arguably has the most consistent record over the years. Benefiting from long afternoons of sunshine as well as the appellation's famous marine fossil-rich soils, the vineyard is divided up by multiple producers. Domaine Laroche farm a single hectare here, while Domaine Drouhin Vaudon farm 1.3 hectares.
Situated in the centre of the Grand Cru patch, Valmur is named after its valley shape. Its wines, consequently, are more varied in style and terroir inspired characteristics than other Crus. Slope and aspect change across the plot, as does the depth of clay and limestone soils over the Valmur's predominantly Kimmeridgian marl base. The soil is heavy and is strewn with small fossilized oysters known as “Exogyra Virgula”. Often powerful, the wines tend toward fruity and floral rather than the mineral notes that are easily detected in Blanchots.
Vaudésir, planted with 16 hectares of Chardonnay, sits just above the Grand Cru plot of Grenouilles, on a steep hill to the east of Preuses. Soils here carry the same characteristics as Chablis’ entire Grand Cru ridge, but there is a higher proportion of clay than limestone here. Shaped like an amphitheatre, and divided by a track known as Chemin des Vaudésirs, the site is intriguingly unique. Its vines face south and southwest, and, protected from northern winds by its steep terrain, the summer months can be very warm indeed. As such the wines tend to be softer, rounder and frequently riper in comparison with other Grand Cru sites. Conversely, the threat of frost is prevalent when winter sets in. It is not unusual to see certain producers reference the term La Moutonne; this historical 2.35 hectare plot, the majority of which lies within Vaudésir, is not officially recognised by the appellation, but is sometimes respectfully sited as Chablis’ eighth Grand Cru.