Exploring Montmains on a Scooter with Raveneau

By | 11 April 2024

A two-wheeled tour of some of the leading Chablis producer’s top terroirs.


Sarah Marsh MW

Sarah Marsh MW takes an unconventional tour of three climats in the Chablis premier cru of Montmains in the company of Isabelle Raveneau—before enjoying a vertical tasting of Raveneau’s flagship cuvée, Montée de Tonnerre.

The scooter was a hefty bit of kit—large and alarmingly powerful. When Isabelle Raveneau suggested scooting around her Chablis vineyards I envisaged a motorised version of a kid’s scooter. During a practice run behind the domaine, the beast leapt forward at speed before I located the breaks. It was a shaky start, but Isabelle reassured me that Bernard Raveneau, who is over 70, had recently enjoyed a ride out. Bernard was clearly amused by our expedition, so there was no backing out. I buckled up my helmet and followed Isabelle towards the left-bank premier cru slope of Montmains where Domaine Raveneau has vines in all three climats—the eponymous Montmains, Butteaux, and Forêts.

Our first destination was the Montmains area which is situated on a softly sloping east-facing incline. Near the town, it is almost leveled and catches the late afternoon sun, and we were graced with a magnificent evening. As Isabelle clarified, “This area is often wind-swept and ripens later, but is the first among the three wines to be reachable. It possesses a more aromatic quality, although it is less mineral than Forêts.”

In the joint premier cru of the slope of Montmains, the climat of Montmains is the most revealed. It’s flatter and chiller than Forêts and Butteaux, imparting a typical fruity flavor with an earthy robust impression; however, Raveneau’s variety offers more subtlety.


We progressed uphill beyond the upper reaches of Forêts towards Butteaux, quickening as I acquainted myself with the dynamics of the scooter that could hit a speed of 50 km an hour. Though, I had no intention of moving at such a high speed.

We arrived on the bank, catching sight of a gigantic tractor equipped with spray tools that resembled folded-up spider limbs. This was operated by Isabelle’s cousin, Maxime Raveneau. The two of them took over the complete management of the 10ha (24 acres) domaine during Covid, Maxime taking care of the vineyard and financial matters, and Isabelle being in charge of winemaking and marketing, a division of duties reminiscent of their parents’ roles. Isabelle frankly states her disinterest in engaging in tractor operation, making a light-hearted comment about it being a masculine thing.

Maxime halts his work briefly to communicate with Isabelle. At the start of the day, he’d experienced some mechanical issues with the tractor, but even after its repair, he discovered that the spray solution had settled and required stirring. It was proving to be a long day of scant progress with an imposing task list. Moreover, with a rainy forecast looming, it was critical to safeguard the vineyards. The domaine, not being entirely organic, makes use of one or two systemic sprays—with only a single one employed in 2022—reducing their dependency on copper and sulfur sprays and preventing excess soil compaction.

Upon reaching the peak of the Butteaux vineyard, we disembarked. The southern end of the slope marks the highest point and steepest gradient of the hill, although not the entire vineyard as the land reduces into the valley. The character of Butteaux is challenging to define; it demonstrates the greatest savoriness and frequently the most intensity amongst the three climats. In some domains, this savory trait is coupled with a certain expansive punch, while in others, Butteaux proves quite straightforward. The diversity within this climat likely explains this difference. This makes Butteaux distinct from other sections with a more uniform east/southeast exposure. Additionally, everyone characterizes the soil of Butteaux uniquely, but a significant percentage of white clay is generally agreed upon. As for Domaine Raveneau, they regard it to be the most mineral-rich, but also the densest and most potent among the Montmains premier cru.

Isabelle shares that their specific portion is at the zenith of the climat, thereby possessing the coolest micro-climate. The soil here has a greater abundance of white clay, getting sticky when wet and becoming solid when dry. However, the vines, which are around 55 years old, are resilient and not particularly affected by this condition.

Raveneau is presently co-operating with ten domaines, including William Fèvre, Laroche, Vincent Dauvissat, and Long-Depaquit to produce a Chablis massal selection. “The collaboration between larger and smaller producers is beneficial since we all have old vines that we can contribute to a collective pool to generate a diverse collection of genetic material from Chablis vineyards,” comments Isabelle.

We navigated the hefty scooters down the steep incline of Butteaux, between two rows of grapevines, occasionally passing plot sections with no plantation. “These create a barrier against erosion,” Isabelle enlightens. “It’s an essential factor during rainfall, although it’s not a common practice.” Our journey continued on the valley’s base towards neighboring Forêts.

“Forêts has a lighter, crumblier soil compared to other parts of Montmains,” she educates. “The soil deepens at the mountain’s base and due to the amphitheater-like location, it’s generally warmer.” There was no sign of a breeze on June 16th at 7.30 pm, in this particular section, and the warmth was palpable.

Even though Raveneau’s parcel is situated in the relatively warmer spot of Forêts, it still presents the lightest and most floral expression of Montmains. Though, it occasionally presents ripened lychee notes during warmer vintages such as in 2022. It stays true to the delicate and floral characteristics of Forêts.

We had scheduled a tour across the entire domaine. However, due to my inability to scoot and the advancing hour, we rushed back to the domaine. We still needed to sample a short vertical of Montée de Tonnerre.

Raveneau owns ten parcels spreading over three hectares of Montée de Tonnerre, which comprises a third of the domaine’s property. Half of this land is positioned in Chapelot, the most favourable location due to its sunny exposure, while the rest lies in Pied d’Aloup. “Even though Chapelot is faced towards the south, it doesn’t produce a warm wine,” notes Isabelle. “Our biggest cuvée and crowning glory is Montée de Tonnerre, we only set Chapelot apart in considerably large vintages, the last being in 2018. Montée de Tonnerre always yields a very sapid and grippy wine.” Yet, as shown by the following wine, its nobler traits can emerge with time.

Raveneau Chablis, Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre 2021

Restrained. A slight hint of pea shoot. Firm and tight. Exhibits a gravelly grunt, tension, and vibrancy. Saltiness characterizes the finish. 2026-30+

Raveneau Chablis, Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre 2020

This creation shares some similarities with the vintage of ’22, boasting of opulence and profound intensity. A firm and potent punch, dense with substance and vigor. It brings an intense freshness with a mineral finish that is pleasurable in its longevity. Best to be enjoyed between 2027-40.

Raveneau Chablis, Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre 2014

A vibrantly fresh and spirited aroma of butter-mint takes the lead. It surges and grips the palate substantially with its zesty, pure, and minty character. The wine exhibits a restrained, energetic, and lively taste. It’s a wine that expresses clarity, like a crystal, and runs across the palate to a swift, well-sustained ending— a serious standout. Best enjoyed over the next ten years.

“This is still a baby. So fresh,” remarks Isabelle. “The nose is not very expressive. There is lots of potential and it shows how Montée de Tonnerre can evolve. Still a little austere. It will age 20 years without problem. I am sure in 10 days this bottle will still be crisp and fresh.” I bore this off to taste over the next few days during which it remained zesty and youthful developing slightly salted almond notes, while becoming more delicate and refined.

Raveneau Chablis, Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre 2007

A bouquet of freshly mown hay and flowers. It was a cold vintage and yet the expression now is so honeyed with sweet hazelnut notes and still some citrus fruit. Silky and elegant. Cool and pure. A fine steely core carries to an energetic finish. Gorgeous now. “Honeyed with a waxy note, and very delicate mushroom. Nutty. Not so strong. So shiny,” says Isabelle.

Raveneau Chablis, Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre 1996

Rich hazelnut and lightly buttered toast on the nose, while the palate is super fresh, vibrant and saline. After a grippy attack it cuts a slice across the palate and whips on a salty line. Still quite severe—whiplash Chablis. I can’t see further bottle age adding anything more to this wine, so I would decant and drink.

“The acid in the ’96 is very there! From the smell you expect it to be round and rich, but the palate is sharp and Chablis. When it was young it was undrinkable and now most of it is gone!” says Isabelle.

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