“Fac et Spera” – “Do and Hope” ∼ Chapoutier Family Motto
I will never forget my first trip down the Rhône Valley. Traveling from Lyon we made our first turn into Côte-Rôtie and glaring in full majestic sight was the grand Chapoutier sign nestled into the hillside. The Chapoutier family is one of the oldest wine producing families in the Rhône region, dating back to 1808. Today it is Michel Chapoutier leading the family and the brand to new heights. His story is quite remarkable.
Chapoutier spent much of the early 1980’s traveling across France and California learning about winemaking. Returning home, he was extremely dissatisfied with the wines his father was producing, upset that the wines he was producing did not reflect terroir. Chapoutier wines were not selling and the company was on the verge of bankruptcy. Michel Chapoutier went directly to his grandfather and threatened to leave if he was not given reigns of the company. He grandfather agreed and in 1990, Michel Chapoutier took over the company. At 26 years old Chapoutier was a young visionary and had big dreams.
Michel revitalized the struggling company and the reputation of its wines. He set out to develop a world-renowned brand. Chapoutier rapidly expanded by buying properties throughout the Rhône and around the world. Chapoutier transformed his vineyards and by the mid 1990’s all his vineyards were certified organic and biodynamic. His vines have no herbicides, pesticides, and there are florals planted throughout the vines. Chapoutier takes into account the cycles of the moon, sun and earth when growing grapes and harvesting.
Michel Chapoutier gained fame and recognition as he was one of he first winemakers in Hermitage to make small production, single vineyard, small parcel wines, similar to Burgundy. Chapoutier was a trailblazer as he lowered yields, made use of new French oak, and farmed biodynamically; which all seem common today but were innovative for 1989.
Chapoutier is most passionate about terroir, he says three factors contribute to terroir: soil, climate, and humans. To some degree Chapoutier says vintage also plays a role in terroir. Chapoutier has an unwavering commitment to making terroir driven wines. He says he does not try to make the best wines possible but rather make wines that are best representation of their terroir. Chapoutier has minimal intervention in the cellar, he says, “The quality and potential of a wine is always on the vine, not in the cellar. The work done on the vine creates the potential.”
Chapoutier not only makes wines in the finest terroirs of the Rhône Valley but also produces wine around the globe, such as Alsace, Roussillon, Portugal and Australian. Maison Chapoutier produces great wines at various price points with the best wines coming from his single vineyards Hermitage wines.
Chapoutier was recently named the King of the Hill(referring to Hermitage) by Wine Spectator, where he owns 25% of the land. I have elevated his status to King of the Rhône, as he is the only producer to make fabulous wines in each of the AOC’s of the Rhône.
Chapoutier is one of the most highly regarded winemakers in France and quite possibly in the world. The best way to fully understand and appreciate Chapoutier is to drink his wines. Below are notes and background on some of his best wines.
2012 M. Chapoutier “Monier de La Sizeranne’ Hermitage $144
Michel Chapoutier takes great pride and joy in the terroir of Hermitage as he says it is the only place in the world where you see four geological ages in one vision. To the east of the hill you have granite from the primary era and further down you get the secondary, tertiary and quaternary era all in one visible area.
The La Sizeranne has a very special place in Michel’s heart. Michel Chapoutier has always argued that terroir is not only a function of soil but also of the people. His family bought the winery owned by Comte Monier de la Sizeranne, at the age of 9 their son Maurice de la Sizeranne was blinded in an accident. Maurice is known to have perfected abbreviated Braille which is widely used today in France. Paying homage to Maurice de la Sizeranne and the history of Hermitage, Michel Chapoutier printed all his wine labels in Braille.
This wine is a flagship wine, representing a pure expression of Hermitage’s terroir made with 100% Syrah. There are notes of granitic influence with intense minerality. The wine is concentrated, rich, and structured, with notes of blackberries, pepper and blackcurrant, after a bit of decanting you get floral aromas as well. The wine is round, elegant with classic flavors of licorice, violets, and blackpepper. The wine has a soft tannins with a long lingering finish.
2015 M. Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage “Les Meysonniers” Rouge – $44
The wine represents the quality and prestige of Chapoutier wines. Made with a 100% Syrah, the wine is deep garnet in color. On the nose you have expressive aromas of pepper and blackberries. The wine is made from 25-year-old vines and is cultivated organically. The Crozes-Hermitage is reminiscent of La Sizerranne but slightly lighter in body and texture.
2015 M. Chapoutier Chateauneuf-du-Pape “La Bernardine” – $60
This Southern Rhône wine is made with 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah. The wine has notes cherry and black pepper. The pebbly stones of the terroir add a flintiness to the wine. On the palate there is a touch of cherries, peppers, and violets. The wine can be drunk now or aged in the cellar.
2016 M. Chapoutier Luberon “La Ciboise” Blanc – $16
La Ciboise is the name of Michel grandfather’s home in Hermitage. This new wine from Chapoutier is meant to celebrate everday life. Luberon is located in the southeastern area of the Rhône and is one of Europes oldest wine regions going back to 750BC. The wine is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Ugni Blanc, and Roussanne. It is a light pale straw color. Beautiful floral aromas as well as citrus notes hit the nose and palate.
THE FRENCH WINOPHILES
March was all about the Rhône Valley and Maison M. Chapoutier. For more stories check out their links below.
Gwendolyn Alley at Wine Predator tells us about “Duck à l’Orange with M. Chapoutier’s Biodynamic, Organic Rhone Wines”
Jill Barth from L’Occasion writes about “Braille on the Label: A Pioneering Chapoutier Moment”
J.R. Boynton from Great Big Reds writes about “The Dark Side of Syrah, with Domaine Fondreche Persia 2012 (Ventoux)”
Jeff Burrows from Food Wine Click shares “Northern Rhone Wines and My Steak Tartare Disaster”
Susannah Gold at Avvinare writes about “Rhône Gems from Chapoutier in Chateauneuf, du Pape, Crozes-Hermitage, and Luberon”
Nicole Ruiz Hudson at Somm’s Table tells her story of “Cooking to the Wine: Les Vins de Vienne Gigondas with Gratinéed Shepherd’s Pie”
Michelle Williams at Rockin Red Blog writes about “Maison M. Chapoutier: Expressing Terroir Through Biodynamics”
Lauren Walsh at The Swirling Dervish writes about “France’s Rhône Valley: Mountains, Sea, Wind, and Wine”
Payal Vora at Keep the Peas tells us about “The Rhône: A Taste of Terroir with the Winophiles”
March hosted by Liz Barrett at What’s In That Bottle writes “Get to Know the Rhône Valley with Michel Chapoutier #Winophiles”
Please join us Saturday March 17th to discuss Maison M Chapoutier and the Rhône Valley tomorrow at 11 EST on Twitter using #Winophiles.
*Wines included were part of media samples. All opinions expressed are my own*