“Michel Chapoutier: Rhône Ranger”
Wall Street Journal
November 29, 2012
A ball of energy, time in [Michel Chapoutier’s] company is peppered with humor, snippets of his own philosophy, entertaining and unlikely revelations (“That was the time when I was drinking four bottles of Champagne a day”) and controversial, outspoken opinions. For Mr. Chapoutier, climate change will see an increase in rainfall, which in turn could dilute and divert the Gulf Stream. If this happens, he says, many regions in France, which have the same latitude as Montreal, could become considerably cooler; and it may, in his words, “end winegrowing
Then there is Bordeaux, a region that, in the 2009 and 2010 vintages, increased its prices substantially, after two exceptional, high-quality years. Some would say it was reaping the benefits of its global appeal. Not Mr. Chapoutier. “The mistake of Bordeaux,” he says, “was to think only of China. In the wine industry there are people who love wine and there are people who love money more than wine. Of course, the goal of everyone is to earn a little more. But when you see a region giving huge allocations to a new market [to the detriment of old markets like Northern Europe and the U.K.] you are seeing the passion for money, not the wine.”
Consumers, he argues, are looking elsewhere and growing tired of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, two grapes he admits are great to work with. His Les Granits is a case in point. Made from the Marsanne grape variety, it is a white wine with low acidity that has a herbal, nutty character. “I am not obsessed by acidity in white wine,” he says, between sips. The overall feel is of a soft white wine that is delightfully easy to drink. He explains it isn’t the acidity that enables it to develop and age but the dry extract, the phenolics and minerals, the quantity of which, he says, is the key to white-wine making. That and every other French winemaker’s obsession, of course: terroir, by which he means the climate (which includes the microclimate and vintage) and the soil (slope and aspect of the site). Of course, the human touch is equally important, he smiles. “The importance of tradition and know-how.” And with that he stabs at his BlackBerry, transmitting another set of winemaking orders back to the cellar.
M. Chapoutier, Saint-Joseph, France