Claire Race at Domaine Denis Race in Chablis.

omaine Denis Race is one of the advocates of non-oak-aged Chablis. In the winery there is no wood to be seen. With one exception. At the far end there are two barrels looking rather lonesome in a sea of stainless steel.

– My sister Marine is a big fan of barrels, says Claire Race. She got a barrel from a friend, but I’m the one making the wine. Our customers are familiar with our style, so they don’t come here looking for wood.

Chablis, Burgundy.Claire Race arrived at the family domaine in 2005. Her sister joined her in 2015. Claire Race finds the experiment with barrels interesting, but points out that it will remain a very small cuvée.

– We needed a rack for the barrel, but my sister bought one that could hold two barrels. And since that wouldn’t look good in the cuverie we had to buy one more barrel, laughs Claire Race.

The wine is village appellation Chablis and the barrels are old, so the wood impact is limited. The first vintage was 2016 and the wine is only bottled in magnums.

– Initially my sister wanted to put our grand cru, the Blanchot, in the barrels, says Claire Race. But since I had never worked with wood before I refused. I’m quite happy with the result, but it’s not what we are about. It’s true that wood adds something to the wine, but it’s not what we are looking for. What we are after is something more natural. Barrels add something we believe a Chablis doesn’t need.

Chablis, Burgundy.The Race sisters are the fourth generation at Domaine Denis Race. Their great-grandparents started out quite modestly. It was not until the following generation that winemaking really took off in the family. At the time everything was sold in bulk to négociants.

Domaine Denis Race in Chablis.– My father was very young when he arrived at the domaine, says Claire Race. He was just 13 years old when he began working here. Later, when he took on the domaine, he was the one who began selling in bottle. That was around 1980–1981. Back then the domaine was just across the street. When my grandmother retired my father moved here.

– My sister Marine mainly deals with the office. She takes care of our customers and handles the export. She also does some vineyard work and drives the tractor. I do the vinification and work in the vineyards. Our father has not quite retired yet. He still works in the vineyards.

Chablis, Burgundy.Close to one third of Domaine Denis Race is Montmains, the premier cru just southwest of Chablis. In total the domaine has 18 hectares, from Petit Chablis up to grand cru.

– We have several parcels in Montmains, says Claire Race. They are in different lieux-dits – like Forêts, Butteaux and Vaux Miolot – but they are still quite close to each other, so there are no major differences in terms of soil. There is more of a difference between our parcels of village appellation Chablis.

Claire Race at Domaine Denis Race in Chablis.The domaine has 30 different parcels of Chablis. The majority are within the commune of Chablis, except for one and a half hectare along the road to Préhy. Some parcels have mainly limestone soil, while others have much more clay. The oldest parcels were planted more than 80 years ago, the youngest 15 years ago.

– All our wines are made the same way, says Claire Race. In the vineyards it is also the same for all appellations. When it comes to vinification we want the terroir to show. And that’s not only for the grand crus. It goes for the Petit Chablis as well. It’s what the vines bring out of the terroir that makes the difference. It’s interesting, because already when you taste the grapes you notice this difference.

– As growers we are very conventional. We are not organic at all. Obviously we don’t spray for its own sake. We do it when there is a need for it, but our goal is to have good grapes. When you have that you don’t need to do much in the cuverie.

Chablis, Burgundy.The Petit Chablis vineyards of the domaine are up on the plateau next to Montmains. In total about one hectare. There is also an old vines cuvée of Montmains, which comes from a single parcel in Butteaux with 60-year-old vines.

– The old vines Montmains is very different from the other Montmains cuvée, says Claire Race. It is complex and powerful, but at the same time very delicate.

There are another two premier crus at Domaine Denis Race. There is a Vaillons from the valley just next to Montmains and there is a Mont de Milieu, one of the right bank premier crus just east of the grand crus.

– Mont de Milieu is more mineral than Montmains, a bit drier. There is more limestone in Mont de Milieu, but other than that there is not that much of a difference. It’s the limestone that brings the minerality.

For the time being there is no grand cru at Domaine Denis Race. Their parcel in Blanchot, the easternmost of the Chablis grand crus, just next to Les Clos, was uprooted in 2015 and they have yet to decide when it will be replanted.

– The vines were not healthy, explains Claire Race. They were affected by the grapevine fanleaf virus. It’s a nematode-transmitted virus. It can survive for several years even if you have uprooted. The longer you wait before replanting the better your chances are. It’s a small parcel, so it doesn’t affect the domaine that much in terms quantity. But still, it’s tough not to have any grand cru.

© 2019 Ola Bergman