The Grand Cru of Vin Jaune
|Since ancient times, vines have covered most of the hillsides around Château Chalon. Their high quality
wines were so appreciated by the Romans (including Pliny the Younger and Martial) that an edict from the
Emperor Probus in the year 280, declared that many more vines should be planted on the favourable
hillsides of Sequanie (the ancient name for the Franche Comte).
The history of the vineyards and the wine of Château Chalon, is indivisible from that of the Abbey that crowns
the famous hilltop. The oldest reference yet found to the abbey is a deed from King Lothaire in the year 869.
The abbesses had to prove noble birth for at least four generations to be admitted to the abbey, and this
helps explain the renown of the wine of Château Chalon amongst noble and royal families throughout
Europe. This wine was appreciated by kings and emperors - Henri IV famously drank two bottles when
signing his treaty with the Duke of Mayenne, and it was drunk at the enthronement of Tsar Nicholas II.
|1895: Hot, dry year. Grapes harvested from October 14. Small harvest, the last before phylloxera. Exceptional year.
1915: Storms and hail. Low yields (15h1/ha). Great year.
1921: Dry and beautiful spring. Very healthy vines. Very hot summer. Low yield (20 hl/ha). Exceptional year
1926: Rather hot and dry. Great year.
1929: Very cold winter. Beautiful spring. Beautiful summer. High yields. Very great year.
1934: Mild climate generally, but hail on June 3. Good yield. Exceptional year
1935: Some hail, but good yields. Otherwise good weather. Exceptional year
1937: Rainy winter and spring. But dry summer. Many diseases on the vine. Low yields. Very great year.
1938: Very severe frost in April. Mildew. Low yields. Average year.
1942: Much snow in spring. Severe frosts in May. Then very dry and hot. Average yields. Very great year.
1943: Beautiful spring. Very dry and hot thereafter. Good yields. Great year
1945: Superb and dry spring. Very dry in summer. Very early grape harvest. Good yields. Very great year.
1946: Very dry spring. Then cold and rain, especially in August. Good yields. Great year.
1947: Very cold and dry in spring. Then hot with very little rain. Early grape harvest. Good yields. Exceptional year.
1948: Much rain. But hot in Autumn. Good year.
1949: Cold spring. Then largely dry. Average yields. Very great year .
1950: Very uneven weather, first very dry, then excessive rain. Very large yields, many vine growers do not manage to harvest everything
successfully. Good year.
1951: Unhappy year. Hard frost on April 30. Mildew. Poor year, except in Château-Chalon.
1952: Early harvest. Very hot in summer. Rainy autumn. Low yields. Good year, very good in Château-Chalon.
1953: Very severe frost on May 11. Then good weather. Low yields. Very great year.
1954: Cold spring until the end of May. Rainy and cold September. Low yields, high acidity in the grapes. Average year.
1955: Rain in winter, dry spring. Normal summer. High yields. Very great year.
1956: Winter and spring both very cold . Rain in summer and autumn. Small outputs. Average year. No AOC Château-Chalon.
1957: Early spring. But freezing on May 5 and cold thereafter. Very wet summer, then dry. Low yields. Great year.
1958: Cold and snow until April, then very hot. Terrible hail mid-May. Hot summer. Hail mid-August. Low yields. Good year.
1959: Mild spring. Then dry from May to September. Large harvest. Very great year.
|It was the Emperor Napoleon who, when sharing a drink at Schloss Johannisberg with the Prince de
Metternich, declared "Here, you serve the best wine in the world". "Sire," replied the Prince "the best
wine in the world is not from Johannisberg, but it is found in a small town in your empire, at Château
|Château Chalon, in great vintages seemingly immortal, has nonetheless had a tumultuous past, and the flickering flame of its renown has
come close to being extinguished on several occasions. The French Revolution dispersed the abbey vineyards, then various diseases of the
vine - mildew, oidium and above all the devastating phylloxera plague in the late 1880's - meant that the entire vineyard, including vine stocks
many hundreds of years old, had to be replaced.
In the more recent past, two World Wars and ongoing rural depopulation led to the further decimation of the vineyards, which only survived due
to the will and sheer obstinacy of a handful of winemakers and their wish to see their appellation recognised. This finally happened in 1936.
|Terroir and viticulture:
Château Chalon, like all great wines, is the product of a unique terroir. Situated between 250 and 400 metres above sea-level, the vineyard
soils are a blue and gray limestone marl further augmented by limestone outcrops that form the higher cliffs. These in turn help warm the
micro climate, which enables the grapes to ripen fully. The slopes are orientated South to South-West, which gives the best exposure to sun,
and the optimum protection from wind. In particular, the limestone cliffs that dominate these vineyards protect the vines from the prevalent
northerly and easterly winds, allowing this vineyard area to retains its warmth long after the surrounding areas have cooled down.
The vines are all planted on slopes, some very steep, reaching up to 45%. This has made it necessary for the winemakers to develop certain
skills, for example; working with tracked vehicles, replacing soil that has washed down the slopes, building terraces, etc. A land tax
adjustment which was introduced in 1977 has brought a lot of additional improvements by channelling water and facilitating the construction
of better access tracks to the vine parcels.
The total surface area of the Grand Cru appellation is 19 ha 64 a 42 ca (48.5 acres), traditionally split into 4 sections, Sous-Roche, Puits
Saint-Pierre, Croix Sarrant, and Les Niods.
Grapes and winemaking:
The only grape variety used to make Château Chalon, along with all Vin Jaune, is the Savagnin, which amongst other names used to be
called "Le Naturé" or "Fromentin". Its origin is mysterious. From a botanical point of view, it is closely related to the Klevener d'Heiligenstein
grape which is cultivated in Alsace and is part of the Traminer family. Legend has it that the grape variety is Hungarian in origin, or perhaps
Spanish, but there is no firm evidence for these claims. Historic documents suggest that savagnin was already being cultivated in the 13th
century. It is characterized by an upright habit, crinkled leaves with a downy underside, small pips and a thick skin which allows late ripening
and is well resistant to rot.
The savagnin is harvested in October, usually two weeks after the chardonnay. The grapes are picked by hand, crushed and then pressed, the
juice drawn off and fermented. At the end of fermentation, the wine is put into oak barrels for a minimum period of six years and three months
(bit sometimes as long as 10 years). The barrels of 228 litres are then put into cellars characterised by their dry atmosphere and a noticeable
temperature difference between summer and winter. During this time, the barrels are never topped up to compensate for the evaporation or
"angels share" that is lost, as is the practice in Burgundy and almost all other winemaking areas. The wine develops a layer or "voile" of flor
yeast on the surface, which works away in the darkness of the cellars to produce its own unique character, and to make it one of the great
wines of France.
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