When winemaker Michel Chapoutier came of age in the 1980s, he set out to see the different wine-producing regions of the world, traveling literally across the globe to learn and to taste the different terroirs of the New and Old Worlds. This period was extremely important for Michel: he began to understand the importance of terroir expression and most importantly he started to grasp the immense power of the northern Rhône terroirs, where the ancient soil — some of the oldest in France — can create red and white wines with remarkable longevity.
When he returned to Tain l’Hermitage, Michel began buying stock in the family’s company and continued until he had obtained managerial control. Michel then set about launching the biodynamic conversion of the estate — an unprecedented move, considered risky by many. But the overwhelming success of the vintages that followed proved his detractors to be wrong. One of the most significant innovations was the elimination of filtration — a radical departure by the standards of the day. Now, wine experts and connoisseurs point to this change as the turning point that lead to the winery’s current status as one of the top producers in the region.
But so much more lies behind the powerful expression of Michel’s wines. He is the first to point out that wine is not the product of humankind but rather a miracle bestowed upon us by Mother Nature. “Wine is the combination of two forces,” says Michel, “the magnetic force of the earth and the cosmic force of the sun.” In a sense, he explains, the winemaker is not an artisan but rather a servent of those forces. “The winemaker’s art,” he says, “consists of encouraging the accumulation of these two energies with the grape up to the point of harvest.” It is through the balance of those forces that he is able to create structured, long-lived wines that express the land, the grape, the people, and the place — all the things that make up the unique terroir of Tain l’Hermitage.
“The great cycles that all men of the land must respect,” says Michel, “are those of our celestial environment: those of the moon, of the sun, of slumber and of awaking. The vine is sensitive to these cosmic rhythms that we endeavor to respect. We endeavor to respect this in our daily work, from the dormant period to harvest.”
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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