Chablis is enjoying a golden moment. Its wines have never been better; consumers—even in the U.S.—are leaning toward lighter, fresher wines; and a growing web of new producers are starting their own businesses and making wines in a broader-than-before style spectrum.
There’s just one thing: it’s getting more expensive to buy Chablis.
Without question, the consistent improvements this small, agricultural community has made to its wines have earned it the right to command higher prices. Yet producers rarely point to their quality improvements as justification for their higher prices. Instead, they point to the costs of natural gas, shipping, inflation, labor and other “It’s not us; it’s them” factors. And some of the worst price increases really do come from “them”: especially in the U.S., the three-tier system creates a shrine to greed where importers and distributors take extravagant mark-ups on these small volume wines.
I spoke with five industry insiders who talked about what they’ve been seeing in the last few years and how their businesses and clients are buying Chablis now.
Burgundy Wine Company
- Chablis has become more popular in the past decade. Its style is friendlier. You don’t have to be a purist to enjoy it anymore. There’s less oak, and it’s lighter and more approachable.
- Pricing has gone up as it becomes more popular. Of course, they can charge more! Besides, prices are going up everywhere. Something I hear producers asking more and more is, ‘Why does my wine cost less? Someone else is getting $X, so why shouldn’t I get the same?’
- Chablis used to sell wildly in the spring and summer, but with prices rising, we’ve reached a point where people are shying away from Chablis. Both random people and Burgundy devotees. Now the Premier Crus are really pricey. It’s hard to find anything in the $30 range, except for Petit Chablis.
- The Grand Crus never sold as well as the Premier Crus. And now there seems to be a resistance to Premier Crus, even from more traditional and serious buyers. If a Premier Cru is in the $60s, they push back.
- The perception is that Chablis Grand Crus aren’t at same level in complexity as the Côte d’Or. People feel that when they are hitting $100, it’s not worth it, unless it is a regular buyer of Chablis.
- Chablis is a short-term wine to most people. Most wine drinkers don’t have a lot of exposure, so they don’t have the experience to know otherwise.
- With younger buyers, I do see a bit of trading up. They don’t have a reference point, and they give me a range that is higher than I would expect. Maybe they are used to restaurant prices or they don’t drink as much, so they don’t mind spending more when they do buy.
- My best values are from a newcomer producer whose wines are really good. They are usually small. They have no track record. They want to get into the market—need a foot in the door. Here, it doesn’t matter what their neighbor charges. But the consumer needs someone they trust to recommend that wine.
Fernando Beteta MS
Marketing Director and Partner
High Road Wine & Spirits
- Here, demand has remained the same but the producers we work with, like Samuel Billaud, are making less wine—especially with recent vintage challenges. They can only give us allocations in the single digits for Grand Crus and Premier Crus. We even get less than a pallet for Chablis AOC now.
- We’ve seen wholesale Burgundy pricing going up 30 to 40% year-over-year for the last few years. Chablis village has reached wine list-only placements. Village wines now go for $80-90 in a restaurant. You can’t pour them by the glass anymore.
- You have to find younger, newer, lesser-known producers doing great things. When Patrick Piuze first arrived, no one knew him. One retailer in Illinois bought the whole state’s allocation, then the whole thing blew up. You have to move onto the next producer. Or, just drink Chablis when you go to France!
- Chablis Premier Crus don’t taste like they used to. They taste more like a Pinot Gris with roundness and almost medium acid. I wish they would promote more Petit Chablis. Today they’re more classic expressions of Chardonnay from Chablis than the Premier Crus. I’m also a big fan of village level wines with a vineyard name attached when it comes to value.
- There are producers like Gerard Duplessis that are very allocated. We get five or six cases a year. We struggle to sell them. But, he’s happy to sit on them if we don’t buy them.
- One good thing is that Premier Cru and Grand Cru in Chablis are replacing Côte de Beaune whites. When I do private tastings for clients and they ask for a $70 to $80 bottle, they can’t even get village level wines from there. So we go for Chablis, wines that used to be just for those that wanted to geek out in consumer tastings!
- Today, the U.S. importer has the power to tell their producer their price. Then they add gratuities, special fees…and Petit Chablis ends up at $90 in a restaurant. Retailers are taking a bit more, but it is definitely the restaurants that tip the scale. It will be interesting to see what happens with mark-up and tipping fatigue in restaurants. Even when we discount to move stock and sell at cost, restaurants still mark-up fully. You ask them why and you get, “My beverage cost has to be below 20%.” Ten to fifteen years ago, that was not even a dream for restaurants!
Dilek Caner MW
Dallas Wine Education Center and Tasting World
- I used to open a lot of Burgundy for classes. I even opened some high-level wines for certain classes…now, I only use it when I have to. We tiptoe around Burgundy. It gets off of your radar in that way—it’s so expensive. You don’t think about it. Then you keep not thinking about it. Then people forget about Burgundy.
- Recently, I was looking for a New World, unoaked and crisp Chardonnay. I bought the Davis Bynum River West Vineyard Chardonnay from Sonoma. My retail price is $19. People loved it! I couldn’t keep it in stock. How do I convince people to buy $35 Bourgogne Blanc when it is similar in style and is at the same quality level?
- What I find really quite frustrating is that we don’t have a solution for this. The demand is so inelastic because there will always be a small group of people that will pay. The good stuff only gets rarer and rarer. And even the wines that aren’t good are still expensive.
- Still, Chablis is good to show in classes and in our restaurant training service because it is different. I still work with some village-level Chablis wines, but not Premier or Grand Cru. I am always surprised that so often the absolute wine beginners—that are young—like Chablis…. There are people who like it—really love it—and come back for it. And, they are mostly young women! Young women are totally open to new experiences, whereas young men here aren’t necessarily.
Head French And Italian Wine Buyer
Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods
- Buying Chablis, as well as most French wines, in the last few years has been caught up in a perfect storm of everything. The Trump taxes [25% on most French wines and many other European wines] were a start. COVID followed with its shortages of everything. Then came the invasion of Ukraine, which impacted glass prices. Plus, there were a lot of really short [low harvest volume] vintages mixed in, too.
- The progression of Chablis prices has trailed the Côte d’Or. The latter’s prices have been rising steadily for the last four to eight years. Chablis has really only been rising the last three years.
- We used to sell La Chablisienne—a really solid producer—Chablis Pierrelée village at $28-$29 in 2018. They changed importers to Demeine Estates recently, and now it’s at $38. My local HEB grocery store has it at $40!
- It’s important to point out that it isn’t just Chablis. I’ve got producers in the Mâconnais whose prices have gone up 50% to 80%. But fewer people are buying Chablis. The people that were going to spend money on Grand Cru will still do it, even if they are a bit grumpier.
- In a three-year span when a $30-35 Premier Cru has risen to $50 … well, the prices break people. People will take $30—or even $50-plus—Sancerre instead. But, what is wild is that Sancerre is even worse than Chablis in its percentage price raises!
- With Côte de Nuits or Côte d’Or in general, their pricing is high enough where bottle costs, aluminum capsules and corks really won’t change the final pricing. In Chablis, it hits harder. But, people are still buying Petit Chablis. At least it literally says Chablis on the label.
- I’ve got a Burgundy importer specialist whose producers aren’t releasing 2022 prices until after harvest this year. But, Séguinot-Bordet [in Chablis] is one of his largest producers, even if not his largest in Texas. Jean-François’ price increases are reasonable. He’s not asking for €15 to €20 or—even worse—€23, which is just too much.
Corporate Beverage Director
The Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group
- BT: Chablis prices have been on the rise for the last five-ish years, like everything else in Burgundy.
- SB: But, Chablis has not gone up as much as the rest of Burgundy. Comparatively, it’s a value, even if it is set to explode the same way that Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet have. It won’t be 30 years before that $100 Grand Cru will be $500.
- SB: People are also gravitating toward more discreet [less oaky and less alcoholic] wines. So, the Chablis wine style is more in line with current tastes. Chablis is age-worthy and it offers good value, too. Granted, the 2021 prices went up due to small volumes, and the 2022s will, too.
- BT: The style of Chablis shifts as you move up the quality chain. Usually there’s a bit more oak, but it depends on the producer. It’s versatile enough that maybe a California Chardonnay fan can get into Grand Cru Chablis.
- BT: Chablis is an adventure when you open the older wines especially. You have to see if the guest is up for it, but some are really excited to go on the journey with you.
- SB: If I sense that someone is nervous about older Chablis, I talk to them about my experience with the Daniel-Etienne Defaix wines. He still makes and releases Chablis the way it was done decades ago, releasing them when they’re supposed to be drunk [at least ten years later than all other producers today]. I thank him for continuing this tradition. I never would have known that as a young wine professional until I discovered his wines.