Domaine Bernard Defaix

Love Milly, Divine: An Excellent Source of Organic Chablis

This is exactly the kind of estate with which we love to work. One that is always searching for better ways of doing things, searching for ways to improve. Defaix managed its vineyards organically since 2009 and was first certified in 2012—something that is beyond rare in Chablis, even today.

Having great terroir is one thing. Making the most of what you have is an entirely different matter. Among the vineyards of France perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in Chablis where so much wine is farmed ‘conventionally’ and cropped very high; where searingly high acid, green wines have become so typical that they are often reviewed by wine critics as ‘classic’ or ‘mineral’.

The Defaix brothers spend much of their time in their vineyards and this makes them far from typical in the Chablis AOC. When we visit the Defaix cellars in Milly, at the foot of the slanting Côte de Léchet, it is most often Hélène Defaix who greets us, her husband Didier or his brother Sylvain often being out in the vines. They soon turn up, windswept, with ruddy cheeks and raw fingers. Their detailed care for their vineyards is clearly a labour of love and the results regularly deliver a quality of raw material and a level of intensity that is not easy to find in the region.

The domaine was established in 1959, with a modest two hectares, by patriarch and namesake Bernard Defaix. Today the Domaine has grown to 27 hectares of vines, most of which lie in the Serein Valley and half of which are 1er Cru. Bernard’s two sons, Sylvain and Didier now run the show alongside Didier’s wife Helene. Sylvain oversees the cellar, and Didier works in the vines while Helene manages les affaires with commanding efficiency.

Much like the rest of Burgundy, Chablis’ finest vineyards have (for better or for worse) become synonymous with a symbolic grower. Mention the 1er Cru Montée de Tonnerre to any Chablis lover and the first name that comes to mind is Raveneau. The same goes for the 1er Cru La Forest with Dauvissat, and so on. And so it is with the Côte de Léchet and Domaine Bernard Defaix. This is a vineyard of which Andrew Jefford has written “which seems to give some of the most 'mineral' Chablis of all,” and with nine hectares of organically tended vines, the Domaine is the largest holder of this 1er Cru. In fact, the Defaix cellars sit pretty at the base of the Léchet hill.

Their vineyards are some of the most flawlessly tended, and their natural approach always results in wines that remind us why Chablis can be such a great drink: all purity, freshness, texture and, in some cases, screwcap closures. In the vineyards, a totally organic approach is adopted, with the total exclusion of herbicides and pesticides, and now biodynamic trials are now underway in those vineyards closest to the domaine. The little fertiliser used is organic compost, and ploughing has become the norm, thus avoiding compacting the soil to encourage biodiversity. Yields are kept low and fermentations wild, bringing a crystalline intensity and great texture to the finished juice.

The Range

Domaine Bernard Defaix Chablis 2022
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Domaine Bernard Defaix Chablis 2022

Screwcap. Certified organic. Defaix’s Chablis Villages is drawn from four parcels of mature, 30-plus-year-old vines situated around Milly and Poinchy, on the left bank of the Serein River. The wine was fermented wild and aged on fine lees for 10 months in glass-lined tanks. 

Domaine Bernard Defaix Chablis 2022
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Domaine Bernard Defaix Petit Chablis 2022
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Domaine Bernard Defaix Petit Chablis 2022

Screwcap. Certified organic. The lion’s share of Defaix’s Petit Chablis is drawn from a parcel of Kimmeridgian-based soil, unlike most Petit, which generally comes from the lower-lying sites on Portlandian limestone. But, it’s not necessarily the type of limestone, but more the location, that makes the difference. This small parcel is very well situated on the slopes above Milly and Vaillons; in recent years, two small parcels in Poinchy and Beines have been added to the roster to flesh out some volume. 

Domaine Bernard Defaix Petit Chablis 2022
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“They might be described as traditional Chablis in the best sense of the word and all-in-all, represent excellent value-for-money compared to other growers.” Neal Martin, The Wine Advocate

“The improvement at this estate has been nothing short of phenomenal... Chablis fans should add the Defaix brothers to their short list of rising stars.” Allen Meadows, Burghound

“I’ve noted this before, it bears repeating. The quality of the Defaix wines now puts the domaine among the top 10 in Chablis.” Allen Meadows, Burghound

“An excellent source.” Jasper Morris MW, Inside Burgundy

Country

France

Primary Region

Chablis

People

Winemakers: Didier and Sylvain Defaix

Availability

National

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