Wine tasting is an arduous activity, especially when visiting Burgundy and particularly in Chablis. The village is densely packed with winemakers and surrounded with rolling hills covered in vines, almost acting as a “wall” and not letting you out! Eventually your palate needs a rest, so taking a rest day like the riders on the Tour De France is called for, even though you may be a highly tuned and extremely fit wine tasting athlete! A cultural walkabout is called for, giving you the chance to observe and reflect on the architecture, history and people of this most famous village …… time for a bit of mindfulness.
There always seems to be a Roman emperor involved when I begin writing a bit of history and this time it’s Emperor Domitian who pulled up the vines (!) before winemaking was revived by Emperor Probus from the 5th Century, but there appears to be traces of life here going back to Neolithic times. Regular readers will also know from my earlier article that the soil in the area is Kimmeridge limestone formed in the Jurassic period.
Written evidence of Chablis dates back to 510AD when Sigismond, the first Christian king in Burgundy built a monastery here and then later Charlemagne built the Sainte Marie church. But as usual it was the monks who really developed winemaking for personal drinking but also for shipping to the market of Paris which was accessible from the port of Auxerre via barges. By 1118AD the Cistercian monks of Pontigny Abbey had been granted rights to grow vines over 45 acres of land, and by the mid 15th Century they were shipping wine to Flanders and England too. Around the same time France’s 5th Printing House was located in Chablis and the population had risen to a staggering 4000!
Sadly however Chablis got caught up in the religious wars of the early 1600s, when the village was “burned, pillaged and plundered” by the Huguenots. The Huguenots were Calvinistic Protestants who had been granted greater freedoms by Catherine de Medicis which didn’t go down well with the Roman Catholic Guise family and the Chablis massacre became known as “Black February” locally. This is probably why a lot of the buildings seem to date from just after this episode. Nevertheless a walk around the village can be done easily in a morning with a picnic lunch maybe above the Grand Cru Les Clos vines where there are a few picnic tables in the woods. Enjoy!
So where is YOUR favourite wine village, what do you do there in between wine tastings, have you been to Chablis or any other French wine region?