Chablis is known for high-end white wines created by the chardonnay grape. // © 2016 Brooke Sager
Feature image (above): The French village of Chablis is at the north end of Burgundy wine country. // © 2016 Brooke Sager
The sky was barely hinting at dawn as my feet hammered against the scrappy dirt road. On either side of me were endless undulating fields of green grapevines that gave way to a sky swathed in dark blue with a thin vein of pale pink at the horizon. My breath puffed out in front of me in cold bursts as I tried to catch it, both in amazement at where I was, and in pure exhaustion.
I was just outside the French village of Chablis, at the north end of Burgundy’s wine coast. I was out for a run before sunrise, trying to shake my hips of the added wine and cheese that had begun to cling, thanks to an obscenely decadent weekend in Paris. I had just kicked off a three-day wine tour of boutique wineries in Burgundy as I drove south toward Nice. Day two was just starting, and I was in for a wine-soaked adventure.
Chablis is known for its eponymous high-end whites crafted from the chardonnay grape. The tiny village is as provincial and quaint as any you could find in a storybook, with beige-colored buildings topped with black-and-pink roofs, and windows with small wrought-iron gates overhung with vines.
It was here I met with Franck Chretien, proprietor of Chablis Vititours. We hopped into his van and drove to the crest of a hillside for a bird’s-eye view over one of the most coveted pieces of real estate in all of France: the seven grand cru vineyards of Chablis. A grand cru is the highest attainable level of wine and is dependent on everything from sunlight and soil to the daily unpredictability of the weather. But Chablis is known for its seven grand crus, and Chretien is incredibly passionate about each. His tour continues into the village to a winery, goes through the steps of wine production and ends, of course, with a tasting.
Among the highlights of a trip to Chablis is the local flavor you encounter along the way. I checked into Domaine Gueguen, the estate of Celine and Frederic Gueguen. Their century-old farmhouse sits on a small hill between the Auxerrois and Chablisian vineyards in the nearby village of Prehy, just 10 minutes from Chablis. Celine is from a family of winegrowers, but after 13 years working for her father she decided to forge ahead on her own, and today she is producing some of the most delicious boutique wines in the region.
In the basement of the couple’s home is a small wine cellar where Celine holds tastings and teaches visitors about the wines she produces. The small attached guesthouse where I stayed has its own entrance. The stone building is straight out of a period French film, with vineyards that practically knock on the door, white linens drying on a line out back and nothing around but the rooftops of nearby farmhouses and miles upon miles of vines.
Inside the one-bedroom guesthouse is a lofted bed area with a shower, a small refrigerator and a welcome bottle of Celine’s wine. It is small and cozy, but decidedly modern. Celine is in the process of building a separate villa space on the property with its own kitchen, which will be available for guest bookings.
For dinner, I ventured back to “downtown” Chablis to visit Au Fil du Zinc. The new gastronomic concept, which opened last year, is bringing a touch of chic to the quaint French village. The modern menu is a five-course tasting endeavor, with codfish, corn soup, foie gras and salmon, all paired with wine. You can see why I was up running before dawn.
But the joke was on me. As I returned to the Gueguen’s farmhouse feeling proud of the calorie crushing I’d done, I was greeted by a long wooden table strewn with pastries, fresh cheeses, baked breads, jams and juice. My eyes were spinning, and suddenly I was hungry again. Oh well, I thought. Vive la France.