Patrick Piuze- a Montreal native- is a rock star in Chablis, having taken the region by storm when he arrived over decade ago. He worked for Jean-Marc Brocard and Jean-Marie Guffens before starting his own label in 2008, and has very quickly come to be counted among the legendary names of the region. Piuze works with purchased fruit, and his great relationships with the growers of Chablis have allowed him access to choice parcels in all of the great sites.
As for technique, he is a maverick. While 90% of Chablis is machine-harvested, he harvests everything by hand, a paramount factor in the quality of his wines. While most cellars use a pneumatic press, he uses a vertical one because he likes the initial blast of oxygen for the wines in hopes of preventing pre-mox later, a way of thinking also espoused by Jean-Marc Roulot.
While most vintners make one indifferently blended cuvée from mixed sites for their villages wine, Patrick obsessively crafts no fewer than SIX different villages-level wines from six different towns. In our tastings together, he touts them as the qualitative peers of his 1er Cru’s, and with good reason—they are extraordinary. To make wines this way, Patrick has become a walking encyclopedia of the terroir of the area. On our recent visit to his winery, Patrick explained that Chablis is made up of rolling hillsides and valleys. The tops of the plateaus are generally Petit Chablis, north-facing vineyards are generally village-level Chablis and south-facing vineyards are 1er Cru; the Grand Cru hill has direct west/south-west exposure. The vineyards on the left bank of the Serein River generally have more clay and producer richer wines; here you find the villages of Courgis, Chichée, and 1er Cru vineyards: Forêts, Butteaux, and Vaillons. The vineyards on the right bank have much less clay top soil and more limestone – this is where you find the Grand Cru, also the villages of Fleys and Fyé and the 1er Cru Vaucoupin, Montée de Tonnerre, and Fourchaume. The right-bank wines are characterized by an intense minerality and more lean fruit in comparison to those from the left bank.
In the cellar, fermentations start spontaneously. The village level “Terroir” series wines are fermented and aged mostly in tank. And Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines are fermented and aged in used barrels for ten months. The barrels are always from high-acid years, currently 2002, 2004, 2007, 2008, and 2010. Patrick explains that the first year that the barrel is used, there is not only an exhange of oak to the wine, but also of the wine to the barrel. So he avoids barrels that were first used in a warm vintage, thereby avoiding tropical notes from the barrels to his wine. All wines go through malo naturally. Fermentations are allowed to go at their own pace. In 2015, fermentations were mostly finished after 2.5 weeks. In some years, they last three months. The village level wines are bottled in the spring and 1er Cru and Grand Cru wines are normally bottled in July. The wines are bottled with a very gentle clay filtration.