“The fruit is to wine as disco is to music” In sum, it’s important but not dominant, explains Michel Chapoutier. In an interview given to Wine Spectator from the November 2012 issue, the “King of Hermitage” gives a complete testimony– defending his values, evoking his history and proving to be a true disciple of “terroir.”
THE FAMILY HISTORY
The vineyards of Michel Chapoutier represent about 360 hectares of cultivated vines in France, Australia and Portugal which produce 5 million bottles per year and employ 150 individuals. This grand empire did not form overnight, but its origins span over a century of history.
It all began in 1808 when Michel’s distant ancestor, Polydor Chapoutier, was the first in his family to buy vineyards, thus gaining the status of winegrower/merchant.
Michel Chapoutier is the great-grand-son of Marius Chapoutier. The two men never knew each other, but their commonalities are striking and not to be missed: Epicureanism, dynamism and passion for wine. Marius, a wine merchant in Tain l’Hermitage, was the original founder of the house. In love with the Rhone Valley, he had the ambition to produce quality wine during the period between the wars, an exception to the rule at that time, and was conscious of the great terroirs in the region.
Following disagreements with his father, Michel, dynamic and teeming with ideas, repurchased the “company in distress” from his grandfather. That was in 1990. Michel was 25 and the company turnover at the time was 2 million euros. Today, this figure has multiplied by twenty in as many years.
Very quickly, the daring young winemaker began a policy in favour of the expression of each soil within the appellation of Hermitage (Ermitage) – of which the company owns the largest parcels –from which they expanded rapidly by acquiring vineyards in the Northern Rhône (Cote Rotie, Condrieu, Crozes-Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, Cornas) and then expanded south to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Coteaux d’Aix, the Coteaux de Tricastin, Côtes du Roussillon and Banyuls.
But, what sets Chapoutier apart are his “Sélections Parcellaires,” or wines made from specific selected single plot vineyards. It is a drastic choice in a commitment to excellence – one that releases his wines from being bound to the dictates of blending. Thus, the policy of parcel selections intends to restore the supremacy of terroir over man.
Through plot selection, wines are made with each type of soil embodying the singular expression of Syrah, Viognier, Marsanne and Grenache, all grown with a philosophy of respect for living beings and using biodynamic farming methods; a choice he made long before the trend of “green” wine making became popular.
Today, Michel Chapoutier has made his mark: “We should always first recognize the style of the appellation and then that of the winemaker.”
The pioneer of soil, as he is qualified, replied: “It’s easy to make a large bottle of Hermitage for 150 euros. But to make large bottle for 20 euros from a lesser known appellation? This is entirely different”