“Wine is the combination of two forces — the magnetic force of the earth and the cosmic force of the sun. The winemaker’s art consists of encouraging the accumulation of these two energies with the grape up to the point of harvest.”
M. Chapoutier — Founded 1808
Tain l’Hermitage, Rhône Valley, France
No name is more closely associated with the greatness of the Rhône valley than M. Chapoutier.
The history of the Chapoutier family stretches back to the early nineteenth century when current owner Michel Chapoutier’s great-, great-, great-grandfather Marius purchased an estate and some vineyards in the now famous village of Tain l’Hermitage in the Northern Rhône Valley. Marius Chapoutier made history in the region when he became the first grape grower there to vinify his own fruit. Marius had tasted wines other winemakers produced using his fruit and he realized that something was lost in translation, so to speak. He knew that he owned some of the best growing sites in the appellation and he believed — rightly — that the grapes grown in his vineyards could produce long-lived world-class wines. In a move unusual at the time, he decided that he should make the wine himself. Not only did the quality of the wines increase greatly, but this move provided the capital to expand the Chapoutiers’ already legendary estate.
Expansion, improved vineyard management, and modernization of the winery continued when Max Chapoutier took the reigns from his father Marius: over the last 200 years, the Chapoutier family has acquired what is arguably the most significant holding of vineyard sites in the region and as the interest in Rhône Valley wines grew, so did the house’s reputation for world-class, long-lived wines — white and red. In many respects, the family is an element essential to Rhône-valley winemaking: an entry for their family name has appeared in the Oxford Companion to Wine since its first printing (1994) where it is called one of the region’s “great names.” Today, the famed M. Chapoutier sign in their signature vineyard on Hermitage hill is one of the region’s most recognizable icons.
Since he took over the estate in 1990, Michel — a wine icon in his own right — has revolutionized his family’s winery and the Rhône Valley wine industry. Innovations introduced by him have included: 100% biodynamic viticulture, aggressive vineyard management, vintage dating for all the estate’s wines, and the elimination of fining and filtration.
“Come to Tain l’Hermitage,” says Michel with well-merited pride, “and you will see our connection to the vineyards: our winery and our homes are surrounded by the vineyards where we grow our grapes. When I walk outside my door, I find myself in the middle of our vines.”
The winery’s proximity to the vineyards is an essential element to the M. Chapoutier approach to winemaking: not only does this mean that the fruit is not stressed by unnecessary transport (the winery is literally a stone’s throw from the estate’s vineyards), says Michel, but “we live within our terroir. This is why our wines are a true expression of where they are made.”
M. Chapoutier wines are widely considered to be among the top offerings from the Rhône Valley. Because of their remarkable longevity, they are also highly coveted among the world’s leading collectors. Today, M. Chapoutier continues to further its legacy as a benchmark for the industry in general: the biodynamic model created by Michel in the 1990s has become the standard by which the entire biodynamic industry is measured in contemporary Europe. Most thought twenty-six-year-old Michel daring when he converted his family’s legendary estate to new methods of growing and winemaking. Today, his peers continue to view him as an innovator, leader, forward-thinker, and risk-taker who changed the course of French winemaking for the better.
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