Leola Watts is a woman who has had to suffer through one of the most imaginable losses – her son passed away at the tender age of 34. She said, “I was lost. I was literally lost. He was my baby.” In the face of a great tragedy it can seem impossible to go on, and some do decide to crawl into a hole and die, but others find a way to take that deep pain and turn it into love, then give that love to those that desperately need it.
Chablis is a designated wine area that is in the most northern area of Burgundy; actually it is closer to Champagne than to the rest of the designated Burgundy wine areas such as Côte d’Or. Recently, many of you might have heard about the extreme frost Chablis received in the beginning of April or even more shocking were the photos that flooded the internet showing icicles on the vines, or the beautifully tragic photos of tin containers filled with a flammable substance burning for many hours during the night trying to protect the delicate buds. Well, unfortunately this threat of frost is starting to become a common experience and Didier Séguier, William Fèvre’s Cellar Master, said that they lost “50-70%” of their yield in some of their Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyards during another spring frost in late April of 2017.
Leola Watts decided to take the path of turning her sorrow into love by volunteering for The New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA)’s Foster Grandparent Program. She is currently assigned to the first grade class at Montclair Elementary School. According to NYSOFA, “Foster Grandparents offer emotional support to children who have been abused and neglected” and Leola gives her heart to each child – the entire student body calls her “Granny”. The other teachers found out that Leola was anonymously buying the kids much needed gloves, hats and scarves during the wintertime as well.
In the same way that a devastating loss can be an opportunity to give affection and kindness to kids that desperately need it, it is like the grapes in the Grand and Premium Cru vineyards of William Fèvre that become rich and generous since, in many cases, over half of the buds were lost in the spring of 2017. There was a lot more energy in the vines than grapes to give it to, and so, an immense amount of vitality and potential went into each grape. And William Fèvre, despite going through difficult times, is striving to find greater expression in their top sites. Didier Séguier noted that they are using “natural yeasts for Premier Cru and Grand Cru sites” and sometimes for their village wines as well, if the grapes are pristine. Also, they started biodynamic practices in 2010 on the right bank of Chablis with all their Grand and Premier Cru plots, and all of their vineyards are organic. Didier talked about the importance of this sense of place by stating, “the expression of Chablis is the expression of the soil. We don’t make Chardonnay, we make Kimmeridgian soil wine.”
Investing in Potential
It can be crushing to be given such a horrible blow in life; many times, the only way to go on is to find how one can turn tragedy into purpose. Of course, William Fèvre is trying to find the best ways to deal with highly destructive frost, as well as hail, but they also realize the importance of investing in the health of the vines, making them stronger, better able to handle the ferocity of life. Leola Watts said that the Foster Grandparent Program “saved my life” but I’m sure that she is not only giving comfort in the form of winter clothing to those six year old kids, she is strengthening their potential with love, and I’m certain she is saving some of their lives as well.
***All of the above photos are credited to William Fèvre
Tasting of 2017 William Fèvre Grand and Premium Cru Chablis Wines on March 6th, 2019
The term “Domaine” notes that it is a vineyard owned by William Fèvre. Also, William Fèvre owns 15% of the Grand Cru vineyards in Chablis. And for those who don’t know, as it can get a little confusing, all Chablis AOC wines is made with 100% Chardonnay.
Didier Séguier said about the 2017 vintage “We started harvest the 4th of September and very small yields with 15-25hl per hectare; but perfect grapes because the weather was perfect. We decided to harvest a week earlier for acidity.” Also, “The wind the last two weeks before harvest reduced the yields and concentrated the sugars and acidity.”
–2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Premier Cru Fourchaume: Citrus zing with concentration and good acidity, citrus peel and has a real mineral backbone.
-2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Premier Cru Montmains (Domaine): This Montmains Premier Cru vineyard is known for its upfront minerality, which it did display along with an energetic, quince flavor that had a long finish of lime blossoms.
-2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Premier Cru Vaillons (Domaine): This Premium Cru represents all the different types of Chablis terroir within its vineyards. Tropical, juicy fruits with hints of chalk and white flowers with marked acidity that lifted the richness.
-2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre (Domaine): The oldest vines they have are in this plot, planted in 1936 – over 80 years old. White peach skin with crumbled rock that had a rich, creamy body with a stunning purity on the persistent finish. This really over-performed as a Premier Cru.
-2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru Bougros (Domaine): Delicious generosity of ripe nectarines with enchanting nose of lemon verbena with a thrilling vitality on the focused palate.
-2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru Bougros ‘Côte Bouguerots’ (Domaine): These vineyards have a very steep slope with a gradient of more than 30%. This was an outstanding wine that had fierce, steely acidity yet an intense richness of multilayered fruit flavors that was laced with saline minerality.
-2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru Les Preuses (Domaine): A textured Grand Cru with upfront minerality with hints of lemon confit and dried flowers that finished with an incredible finesse that made it powerful with its shear beauty.
–2017 William Fèvre, Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos (Domaine): These vineyards have soil mixed with fossils and stones (lots of Kimmeridgian soil) with 31.5 inches of limestone as well as the majority of vines were planted by William Fèvre’s father in the 1940s. An exotically spiced wine that had golden apple and honeysuckle flavors with an oyster shell edge that danced in my head for the next hour. These wines warmed my heart with their generosity while still keeping their elegance and sense of freshness and place. Chablis does not need to be austere to deliver nobility, if anything, the addition of rich fruit and lack of hardness makes these the type of fine wines that are felt by the heart.
Extra side notes:
-They harvest in small baskets
-Vinify plots separately and then blend
-These wines that I tasted above were only bottled two and a half months earlier
-William Fèvre vinifies 30% in used large barrel for six months for texture while the rest is vinified in stainless steel
-Many of the vines were planted by William and his father during the 40s and 50s – so lots of old vines – small yields
-Chablis is the only place that makes still Chardonnay wine from Kimmeridgian with England making sparkling wine from Chardonnay in Kimmeridgian soil
-William Fèvre has been practicing sustainable growing in their vineyards for nearly ten years now and they have just obtained High Environmental Value (HEV) status
-William Fèvre is not the largest producer of owning Chablis vineyards overall but they do own the most amount of Premier and Grand Cru sites: around 130 different plots