What's next for Chablis? Interview, Paul Espitalié, president, Chablis Commission

Chablis exports to the UK dropped by around one million bottles this year, owing to a smaller harvest, Covid and Brexit-related complications. Now, with a larger 2022 vintage, Paul Espitalié, president of the Chablis Commission, is on a mission to build back volumes to the French region’s largest export market.

“The UK is the first market for Chablis, so we want to do a lot of promotion because the market accounts for 17% of our sales,” he tells Drinks Retailing

In the 12 months to August 22, Chablis sold 3.8 million bottles in the UK. Espitalié hopes sales to September 2023 will return to the previous year’s levels of 4.8 million bottles.

He outlines plans for a new escape room-style online game, visitor centres across Burgundy - including one in Chablis - and UK tastings, with a focus on Petit Chablis and Chablis, whereas the former focus was on Premier Cru and Grand Cru.

“We had a good crop in 2022, yields were close to the maximum allowance – we’ve got the volumes and good quality Chablis and Petit Chablis.”

He says the 2022 vintage “will soon be released in England because the 21 vintage was very small”.

At this time of recession, when talk often turns to value and less familiar regions or varieties, the focus on Chablis and Petit Chablis will allow Chablis to demonstrate good value for money, believes Espitalié. He also highlights an evolution for the region, lead by the next generation of winemakers.

“We have many more organic producers in Chablis – between 2019 and 2021, the number has multiplied by three. Now, 17% of Chablis vineyards are certified organic,” he says.

Aside from a new generation, Espitalié also points to climate change as a reason for organic certification.

“It is now easier to be organic in Chablis,” he says. “We have very dry, hot summers so we have far less disease and there is less need for treatments.”

Climate change also means earlier harvests, which now take place at the end of August and beginning of September.

“Twenty years ago, the problem was to have enough ripeness in Chablis,” he says. “Now, we have the perfect ripeness and natural balance between sugar and acidity.

“But we must think about the future, because if global warming goes on like this, we will have problems,” he finishes. 

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