‘I will not be the president who takes Chablis out of Burgundy,’ said Christian Paly, the head of France’s national appellation committee, last week.
Some had feared the worst. More than 450 winemakers protested outside the offices of the national appellation body, INAO, at plans to remove access to the generic Burgundy appellation name in 64 communes, including those in Chablis, should they ever wish to use it.
The INAO has now backed away from this plan, which was also opposed by the Burgundy wine council, the BIVB, and led to a petition with 6,000 signatures.
Nobody believes the matter is finished, however, and the bigger question at stake is where the boundaries of Burgundy should be drawn.
A key flashpoint is pressure from the south, where some Beaujolais producers are believed to be keen to regain access to the ‘Bourgogne’ appellation name.
Both the BIVB and INAO will work on a new plan.
In the meantime, Chablis has seen its status in Burgundy reaffirmed.
Yet, the area is also separate. The INAO has previously pointed out that many Chablis-based wineries made no mention of ‘Bourgogne’ on their bottle labels.
Some observers have highlighted, too, that these well-known Chardonnay wines at Burgundy’s northernmost tip are naturally forged in different conditions to those further south.
‘This hallmark terroir wine is best understood as a unique wine kingdom of its own,’ wrote Decanter’s Andrew Jefford in his column, ‘the Chablis difference’, in 2018.
Without downplaying the differences between Chablis vineyard sites and individual producers, Jefford argued that there is a greater level of stylistic consistency between wines in this area than elsewhere in Burgundy.
At a basic level, one of the best-known aspects of Chablis is that it is commonly either made without oak or with only sparing use of oak influence, which tends to bring the wines’ mineral freshness, crisp acidity and fruit to the fore.
And yet, Chablis is also clearly part of Burgundy winemaking history and tradition, containing seven grand cru vineyard sites, or climats, and around 779 hectares of premier cru vineyards across 40 climats; see Andy Howard MW’s excellent guide to Chablis Premiers Crus.
Top wines may rarely use their access to the generic Burgundy appellation name on labels, but there is a symbolic quality at play.
Access to the Burgundy name can also have important commercial value for wines further down the hierarchy, beyond the top vineyard sites.
The debate over rights to the Burgundy appellation name look set to continue for much of 2020.
For the BIVB, the objective is a careful balancing act between preventing ‘dilution’ of the Burgundy name but also protecting access to it.