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. Defaix’s village Chablis 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 ferments spontaneously and ages on fine lees for 10 months in glass-lined tanks. Compared to the wine above, the older vines translate to more character, depth and classical restraint—not to mention supersized minerality and ozone salinity. It’s a ripe, poised and vibrantly fresh Chablis with juicy nectarine, mixed citrus fruit and stony, pithy freshness running the length of the palate. A terrific, super seductive Chablis and another outstanding-value wine from Domaine Bernard Defaix. We encourage you to take Jasper’s advice! 

“Complete harmony, a certain amount of nuance, lifted finish thanks to acceptable acidity. Bottled July. Pale lemon colour, a little more flesh on the nose, pleasingly rounded, very stylish. Buy this without question. With time in the glass the Chablis minerality shows as well as the pleasing flesh.”
89 points, Jasper Morris MW, Inside Burgundy
“More open again, clean and mineral with a little inviting energy too. Larger scale, certainly not a direct wine to start, but one with a lot of minerality. Lovely texture and volume here – again with a peak of finishing flavour that’s full of salinity – simply excellent Chablis too!”
Bill Nanson, Burgundy Report
Domaine Bernard Defaix Chablis 2022
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Domaine Bernard Defaix Chablis 1er Cru Côte de Léchet 2022 (1500ml)
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Domaine Bernard Defaix Chablis 1er Cru Côte de Léchet 2022 (1500ml)

Screwcap. Much like the rest of Burgundy, Chablis’ finest vineyards have (for better or worse) become synonymous with a symbolic grower. This is the case with the Côte de Léchet and Domaine Bernard Defaix. With eight hectares of vines, the domaine is the largest holder within this 1er Cru, and its cellars sit at the base of the Léchet hill. Didier Defaix is, therefore, the vineyard’s emblematic vigneron (and the site’s only certified-organic grower). A quarter of the fruit fermented and matured in old, neutral barrels (which previously housed Defaix’s old-vine Reserve Léchet bottling).

“Five star wine. Mid lemon colour, the bouquet has fineness here. Wonderful vibrations, mostly white fruit, a sensation of white pebbles in a white soil. Delicate but with a fine backbone and excellent length. Iodine finish. Not a wine to gulp but to take time over. Drink over 2027-2035.”
92-94 points Jasper Morris MW, Inside Burgundy
Domaine Bernard Defaix Chablis 1er Cru Côte de Léchet 2022 (1500ml)
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Domaine Bernard Defaix Petit Chablis 2022
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Domaine Bernard Defaix Petit Chablis 2022

Screwcap. Unusually for a Petit Chablis, which generally comes from the lower-lying sites on Portlandian limestone, the lion’s share of this cuvée is drawn from a parcel of Kimmeridgian-based soil. Yet it’s not necessarily the type of limestone but more the location that makes the difference. The small Defaix parcel is very well situated on the slopes above Milly and Vaillons, a cool site that comes into its own on warmer vintages. In recent years, two small parcels in Poinchy and Beines have been added to the roster to flesh out some volume. Fermented with indigenous yeasts and raised in glass-lined tank, it’s a terrific vintage for this wine: nicely ripe yet mouth-wateringly bright with textured orchard fruits and a hint of quinine on the snappy finish.

“Grown on kimmeridgian soil above Vaillons. Pretty pale yellow. The fruit has a slight yellow character as well, a ripe Petit Chablis but not one of the over opulent ones we saw in 2018 and 2019. A little bit of almond paste behind, very good acidity, another smart wine from Didier Defaix. Sun on the stones at the back. Good length.”
88 points, Jasper Morris MW, Inside Burgundy
“Less impact, more airy but rather complex too – it’s a nice aromatic invitation. Direct, mineral, growing in intensity – hmm, there’s salinity and even a little licorice too. Excellent, possibly great PC!”
Bill Nanson, Burgundy Report
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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