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Like others, we have long worshipped at Raveneau’s throne, reveling in the glory of their transcendent Chablis.
Not only does the Raveneau family own many of the finest sites in the appellation, but their wines have a steely magnificence that captures the essence of Chablis’ distinctive terroir. The greatness of Raveneau’s Chablis has even led some to suggest they deserve an appellation of their own.
Raveneau wines are famous for their longevity. In fact, many believe that a top Raveneau Chablis doesn’t hit its stride until it’s at least 8 to 10 years old. At this time, the wines not only acquire even greater richness, but layer upon layer of previously hidden flavors are revealed.
Along with René and Vincent Dauvissat, Raveneau pioneered the use of Côte d’Or winemaking in Chablis, including barrel fermentation and extended lees contact. The gentle oxidation of time in barrique serves to round out the wines’ acidity.
But as everywhere else in the world, the real secret to Raveneau’s quality is in the vineyards. During the 1960s and 1970s, François Raveneau—who died in 2000 and whose wife was a Dauvissat—assembled a domaine boasting one breathtaking parcel after another. Each is a tiny jewel, most no larger than a suburban house lot. In hectares: Les Clos is .5; Valmur .8; Blanchots .6; Chapelot .2; Vaillons .4; Montmains .4; and Forêts .4. Only Montée de Tonnerre and Butteaux are more than a hectare in size: 2.9 and 1.5, respectively.
Raveneau’s premier crus are nearly as revered as its grands crus. In fact, some would argue that Montée de Tonnerre—from the same south-facing slope as the grand crus—is one of Chablis’ top dozen wines. And Chapelot—from a privileged section of Montée de Tonnerre—may be even better. Certainly, with its tiny production, it enjoys a devoted cult following.
Viticulture is largely natural, with the old vines severely pruned in winter to reduce yields. After hand-harvesting, the fruit is pressed immediately and settled for half a day. Fermentation is largely in cuve, and the malolactic proceeds at its own pace, followed by a year’s aging in small oak barrels called feuillettes.
The feuillettes, about half the size of a barrique, are one of the keys to the expressiveness of Raveneaus wines. Averaging seven to eight years in age, they don’t contribute new oak aromas and flavors, but serve to gently open the wine during the élevage. This enhances the wonderful perfume and creamy texture that are the hallmarks of these wines, particularly when they are mature.
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