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August 26, 2021

2020 in Chablis – a solar vintage?

At the heart of 2020 in Chablis is a contradiction between a hot, dry summer with an early harvest but wines with a tremendous tartaric acid profile and potential longevity. Just how this happened might have been a fluke, or it might point to one of the paths Chablis might take as we head into an era of ever-increasing temperatures and unpredictability.

Average monthly temperatures in Burgundy in 2020. 

Early in the year, the weather was warmer than average, with plentiful precipitation leading to an abnormally early bud break in mid-March. Such occurrences instill a sense of dread in Chablis, as frost can devastate a harvest. Such was the case in 2021, but 2020 escaped widespread frost damage. The flowering and fruit set remained several weeks early under favorable conditions, with yields expected to be greater than normal.

Average rainfall in 2020 with a strong start to the vintage, followed by drought, then normal rainfall returning in August.

Then in June, dry weather set in, and the temperatures steadily increased with a heatwave striking at the end of the month and lasting into early July. Had this spike in temperatures occurred later in the growing season, this would have resulted in fatter and richer wines, but coming at the start of summer, it caused the vines to slow the ripening process and kept the clusters and individual berries smaller than normal and with thicker skins. August remained warmer than average, but a few rain showers nudged along ripening.

Average sunshine in 2020. Rather than classify 2020 as a warm vintage, early vintage, or dry vintage, the most distinctive characteristic is that it was a solar vintage.

Harvest commenced on August 24th, usually a hallmark of a hot vintage, but in the case of 2020, it already had a two-week jump-start with an early bud break. Sites with eastern exposures or on more pebbly soils were harvested first as they showed more stress from the heat and drought of the vintage. By mid-September, the harvest was complete. Picking the right time to harvest was an individual decision with growers like Benoît Droin, preferring to emphasize the tartaric-rich profile of the vintage by erring on the side of earlier rather than later. Despite the large fruit set earlier in the year, the yields were slightly below average due to the dry conditions.

At the cellar, sorting was necessary to remove sun-damaged grapes, but overall, the fruit’s health was obvious. Fermentations were speedy and uncomplicated. If you’re curious about the character of the vintage, both the 2020 Chablis and Chablis 1er Cru have been available since late spring, and if you put them in a lineup, you’d be hard-pressed to definitely say that they are from a hot vintage. Of course, we’d chalk it up to Benoît’s enormous talents, but we would say that, wouldn’t we? In any regard, we will be eagerly following the evolution of this contradictory vintage to see if it is as long-lived as we suspect.