The why, the what and the how of...
Domaine Jean-Louis Chave
“The Chave line…could make a fair claim to be France’s winemaking royal family: in no other of France’s great terroirs is the largest individual landholder so deeply rooted in time and place, so supremely competent, and so modest a custodian of the insights and craftsmanship of the past.” - Andrew Jefford
The Chaves began making Hermitage in 1481, and current custodian Jean-Louis, is continuing this five-century dynasty by producing wines of extraordinarily high quality and the very purest expression of the terroir entrusted to him. Jean-Louis took over from his father, Gérard, in the early 1990s and continues to respect the methods and traditions of how his family has farmed and vinified their 13.9 hectares on the hill of Hermitage.
The winery is based in the village of Mauves and their holdings are spread across 9 of the 18 sites on the hill (including Les Bessards, Le Méal, Les Roucoles, Maison Blanche and L’Hermite and Peléat). The key to the perfect balance of Chave Hermitage is in Jean-Louis’ remarkable blending skill across these special sites. One constant in their Hermitage rouge is the Syrah from Bessards (a steep granitic slope) which provides the backbone. Outside of the Hermitage rouge, they also make a heroic Hermitage blanc. The base for this wine is a plot of century-old Marsanne vines in their Péléat monopole. What ends up in the bottle is a rich, intense, complex wine without heaviness. The final blend is usually around 80-85 % Marsanne with 15-20% Roussanne.
The Chave’s own estate Saint-Joseph red is a veritable bargain. This incredibly pure and precise Syrah is grown on steeply terraced slopes in Saint-Joseph’s heartland around the communes of Lemps, Mauves and Tournon. This is the same area where Jean-Louis has taken on the mammoth task of rehabilitating these terraced vineyards. Decimated by phylloxera and neglected over periods in history, this is a long-term project and one which Jean-Louis won’t finish in his lifetime – a clear indication of his commitment to the next generations. New to the range is his single-vineyard Saint-Joseph “Clos Florentin”. The Chaves bought an estate nearby owned by their friends, the Florentin family. It includes the legendary Clos de l’Arbelestrier which he is busy replanting and rehabilitating. It is made in a slightly different way – the wine is destemmed, with no new oak. The result is an exceptionally refined, pure, deep wine that really does put the quality of Saint-Joseph on a different trajectory. Two other rarities in the range is that of their famed Cuvée Cathelin, a Hermitage red that is made very rarely and in tiny quantities (200 cases) and then also a Hermitage Vin de Paille. The latter is a dessert wine made mostly from Massanne grapes and only made in particular years in minuscule quantities.
Winemaking is, as to be expected, very classical. The reds are largely destemmed, and maceration/cap management is done by punching down. The white is whole-cluster pressed and 90% barrel-fermented in up to one-third new oak. All the reds and whites are aged in barrel for about 18 months with an amount of new wood that depends on the style of the vintage. Wines are bottled unfiltered.
Jean-Louis Chave Sélection
The Sélection wines are produced from grapes sourced from specific appellations throughout the Rhône as well as from Chave’s own vineyards. The reds show expressive cherry and blackberry fruit, with layers of spice and lavender notes. The whites show beautiful concentration and are rich, but very vibrant – with lots of floral and fruity tones. Quite simply, these are wines that everyone should be drinking. When you consider the prestige of this estate together with the enviable quality and rarity of the domaine wines, the value of the Sélection wines makes them an absolute no-brainer.
One only needs to take a look at the prices of Jean-Louis Chave’s domaine Hermitage rouge and blanc wines in international markets to understand how they have now stepped into the realm occupied by some of the finest, rarest and most coveted wines on the planet.