Domaine Daniel-Etienne Defaix

Burgundy, burgundy France

Said to be the oldest domaine in Chablis, tracing its origins back to 1610, this estate is now run by Daniel-Etienne Defaix, 14th generation of the Defaix family. Daniel-Etienne took over from his father in 1978 and started making wine "as (his) grandfather had done". This involved keeping the wine in tank for a protracted period and putting it through a monthly bâtonnage, a practice he retains to this day. As a result, he has only recently released his 2006 Premier Crus. "My grandfather’s generation used to keep the wine for so long in order to protect themselves against frost, to ensure they would always have wine to sell," he explains. This is a unique approach to winemaking in Chablis and we‘re delighted to have a source of mature Chablis on our list.

The domaine has just over 28 hectares of vineyard, almost all of them around the village of Milly, on the left bank of the Serein. Daniel-Etienne has 14 hectares in Chablis and another 14 across the Premier Crus. Grapes from his younger vines, accounting for about half the crop, are sold directly to négociants at harvest. Aside from a small holding in Blanchots, the whole crop is machine harvested so he can pick when the grapes are perfectly ripe. As a result, harvest never lasts longer than a week.

He ferments in tank with natural yeast, where malolactic also takes place. The Chablis Vieilles Vignes (from 45 to 50-year-old vines) is left in tank for a minimum of two years, the Premier Crus for four, during which period they undergo a monthly bâtonnage. "The fine lees break up during bâtonnage and release glycerine, which acts as an antioxidant," says Daniel-Etienne when asked to explain the reasons behind his long ageing. Instead of being bottled immediately, the wines are kept in tank to retain freshness.

The wines have a lovely evolved character that adds complexity to their freshness. The Côte de Léchet ("considered a Grand Cru in the middle ages," he says) is on a steep, southeast-facing slope above the village of Milly. Its orientation means it gets the morning sun, so the grapes ripen more slowly, giving a wine with a lovely linear character and a vibrant acidity. The ‘Les Lys’ is a deeper gold in colour with a nicely evolved character on the nose, waxy with a hint of butter. The wine has good depth and texture on the palate with great acid that gives it superb length. Les Lys is at the top of Vaillons and was owned by the French crown at one point, hence the name Lys, with its association with the royal family. Les Lys can also be sold as Vaillons, but Defaix gives this great vineyard an identity in its own right.


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