Hermitage, Rhône, France
500 years of winemaking experience inside iconic bottles
Jean-Louis is the 16th generation of the Chave family making wines in the Northern Rhône. His father Gérard expanded the family’s holdings to the current mosaic of prized vineyards from which their unique range of estate bottlings are made. Their work has effectively set the modern benchmark for the Hermitage and Saint-Joseph appellations.
Location: Hermitage, Rhône, France
Viticultural standards: Organic
Total area under vine: 35 hectares
Interesting fact: One of the plots Jean-Paul Chave invested in when he took over the estate and expanded to Saint-Joseph was the Bachasson, an abandoned hillside where his ancestors first began producing wine in the 15th century after the ruling lord gave them rights to use the land in return for ‘services rendered’. The back-breaking work of clearing and replanting the Bachasson (as other of the prized Saint Joseph plots he acquired) will undoubtedly be one of his greatest legacies.
Jean-Louis Chave Wines
The Chave family has been producing wines in the northern Rhône Valley since 1481. They started as négociants, purchasing grapes from growers in the Saint Joseph appellation. But the devastation caused by phyloxera presented, in the second half of the 19th century, an opportunity to secure some holdings in Hermitage. With many of the vineyards destroyed and land prices down, the Chave family made the official move to Hermitage.
It was in the 1970s that the name gained its iconic halo in the wine world. Gérard Chave, 15th generation at the helm of the estate, took over from his father and developed a new style of winemaking: precise, refined and more terroir-driven. Gérard also increased the family’s holdings on the Hermitage Hill to a total of 14 hectares, making them the appellation’s fourth largest estate.
In 1992 Gérard’s son Jean-Paul joined his father at the Domaine after completing his oenological studies at UC Davis, in California. He took his father’s mission a step further, by further expanding and diversifying the family’s holdings. One of his most important decisions was to refocus on the Saint Joseph appellation, namely by purchasing Clos de l’Arbalestrier and the iconic walled vineyard of Clos Florentin, where no chemical fertilisers had ever been used. He also started a négociant label, JL Chave Selection, that develops accessible wines, designed for early and easy-drinking.
The character and elegance of Jean-Luis’ wines stand on three fundamental pillars: the purity of the fruit yielded by their prized organically-farmed vineyards; the hands-off winemaking, with each plot fermented separately in a combination of wooden and cement vessels; the blending expertise, built upon five centuries of knowledge passed down through generations. Each vintage, different portions of each lieu-dit are carefully combined to make the iconic Hermitage (both red and white) and Saint Joseph flagship wines. All the wines are bottled unfiltered, preserving all the aromatic complexity and depth that is Chave’s trademark. His Hermitage whites in particular stand out for their incredible ageing potential when compared to counterparts from other producers.
Three words describe Jean-Louis Chave’s wines: complexity, depth and elegance. You will need to taste them to fully understand the potential of the appellations they represent.