Down in the Cellars

 

Jean-Louis Chave labelDomaine Jean-Louis Chave

For centuries some of the most sought after wine in France has come from Hermitage in the northern Rhone. Even Thomas Jefferson, a noted wine expert of his day, raved about the wine from this region.

The granite hills of Hermitage rise above the Rhone at Tain l'Hermitage where the river bends sharply to the east before resuming a southward flow. This gives the vineyards a direct southern exposure. Vines have been grown here since Roman times, and Pliney wrote favorably about the wines of the region. The locals claim that vines were first planted here by Phocaean Greeks around 500 BC. Although the evidence is not conclusive, Greek coins and amphorae dating back to 500 BC have been found in the area.

Some experts feel that the greatest maker of Hermitage is the firm of Jean-Louis Chave. The Chave family has been growing grapes at Hermitage since 1481. They have a reputation for making good wine in poor years, and excellent wine in good ones. They use low yeilding vines (average age 60 years) and a late harvest to produce the ripest fruit, and there is virtually no intervention in the winemaking and bottling with no filtration.

There are a dozen or so named vineyards in Hermitage, and Chave owns vines in most of them. They vinify each separately, which allows them to blend for greater complexity before bottling.