A Flawless Range from a Chablis Artisan

In this day and age, finding quality growers in Chablis without representation is like finding gold dust. So, how does an outstanding, traditional domaine such as this remain under the radar in 2022? A domaine that The Wine Advocate’s William Kelley heralds amongst his top six in the region? One that is rated three stars in France’s leading wine guide (with only three domaines rating higher)? Perhaps Evelyn Tremblay holds the answer. “We like to stay behind the scenes,” she told us on our first visit to the domaine, “we make a point of staying quiet”. With apologies to Ms. Tremblay, I think those days are numbered.

Giving up an early career as a jazz drummer, Romain Bessin, rake thin and with an impressive Woodstock-era head of hair, joined the family business in 2015. The origins of the domaine dates to the late eighties, when Romain’s parents, Jean-Claude Bessin and Evelyn Tremblay, took back the vineyards of Evelyn’s father, who had been working with the local co-operative. Neither had any experience as a vigneron—Jean-Claude was an architect and his wife a pharmacist—but it seems Bessin was something of a natural.

Before his retirement in 2021, Jean-Claude Bessin laid down particularly strong foundations for the next generation. Traditional, pre-war Chablis was his thing—a style of wine harking back to a time when growers really farmed, yields were a fraction of what they are today, and machine harvesting was the stuff of fantasies. The arrival of Romain Bessin heralded a shift towards organic viticulture and the domaine was certified in 2019. From here, Romain has begun to trial biodynamics ‘in principle’, a progression he believes is bringing even more vitality and energy to his fruit. One senses that Romain, without wanting to reinvent the wheel, is keen to bring a touch more silk and texture to fill out his father’s famously taut, structured style.

“Bessin, as he puts it, loves the acidity and tension of Chablis on the condition that it’s paired with substance and flesh, a philosophy that’s admirably translated into practice in the form of wines with cut and concentration, texture and definition.” William Kelley, The Wine Advocate

It’s always a good sign when a grower turns up for your meeting in a tractor. Bessin’s vines are some of the most fastidiously tended in Chablis and the work could be summed up using Andrew Jefford’s phrase, referring to the family’s adherence to “simple reverence for raw materials and methods of the past”. They plough between rows to encourage the vines to establish deep root systems. With a large proportion of old vines, yields are already on the low side, although Bessin does not push too far, stating “we want to drink the wines not eat them”. Harvesting is done by hand, and Bessin employs native yeasts and long aging on fine lees (up to 18 months) in neutral oak—enabling the wines to gain in density, complexity and flesh as they age. The wines are only lightly filtered if necessary (using bentonite) and the domaine uses the barest amount of sulphur.

Based in the hamlet of La Chapelle-Vaupelteigne, north of Chablis, the domaine farms 12 hectares of predominantly old vines, with any replanting undertaken using massale selections. The villages Chablis covers five hectares (all within La Chapelle-Vaupelteigne), with over half of those designated to Bessin’s emblematic Chablis Vieilles Vignes. For the 1er Cru, there is Fourchaume and Montmains, from which (since 2006) a La Forêt has been bottled separately. A special, old vine cuvée of Fourchaume is labelled as La Pièce au Comte. Finally, Bessin has a precious, well-sited two-hectare slice of Valmur, where the oldest vines date back to 1947.

The quote on the right of this page gives you an idea of the style of wine crafted here. Towards the end of our tasting, Evelyn Tremblay frets that, lest our clients are surprised when they open a young bottle, they should be well-informed of her family’s chiselled, age-worthy style. We don’t think she has anything to worry about.

The Range

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“As I’ve written before, this estate really deserves to be talked about more, as it belongs among Chablis’s top half-dozen domaines. Jean-Claude Bessin and his son Romain produce some of the finest wines in Chablis at this 12-hectare domaine in La Chapelle Vaupelteigne.” William Kelley, The Wine Advocate



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Winemaker: Romain Bessin



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