In early 2016, M. Chapoutier purchased Château des Ferrages, located in Provence between Aix-en-Provence and Saint-Maximin near the commune of Pourcieux. Ferrages produces Côtes-de-Provence AOP and Côtes-de-Provence Saint-Victoire AOP wines, including a portfolio of red, white, and rosé wines.
I wrote about the acquisition for Provence WineZine, where I described Chapoutier as follows:
Chapoutier is a winemaking powerhouse known for biodynamique practices, a wide variety of wines, and unfailing attention to capturing terroir. Maison M. Chapoutier has made wine for over 200 years and now, under the direction of Michel Chapoutier, owns vineyards in France (in Alsace, Rhône Valley, and Roussillon), Portugal, and Australia and produces an extensive number of wines, particularly in the Rhône Valley. In the Rhône Valley, Chapoutier produces wine from over 20 AOPs, spanning from the acclaimed Côte-Rotie in the north to Tavel in the south.
It isn’t often that I use the word powerhouse – it seems to imply a lack of nuance, a strong-arm essence – but when one looks closely at Chapoutier it might make more sense to adjust the word slightly to innovation house.
Braille on the Label
Covering the Rhône Valley means covering Chapoutier’s remarkable reach and indisputable quality. From Lyon in the north to the Mediterranean Sea in the south, Chapoutier farms vineyards in stunning capacity. The family motto is “Fac et Spera”, do and hope. The balance between action and spirit is relevant. Take the Chapoutier label for example – it reveals itself in print and in Braille – the tactile language in which characters are felt by the fingertips rather than seen by the eye.
There is a reason for this, beyond Chapoutier’s efforts to make their wine to accessible to all. Symbolically, I am fascinated by the inclusion of the sense of touch in the entirely sensual process of wine (a package of taste, smell, and sight is loaded in spades in a single glass of wine).
The inspiration came from a man called Maurice de la Sizeranne, whose family once owned land that is now farmed by Chapoutier from which a single-vineyard wine under the Sizeranne name is produced. de la Sizeranne was born in Tain (the home of Chapoutier), the child of a vigneron. While playing during his youth he was injured, and this cost him his vision at the age of nine. During his lifetime he influenced the practice of communication via Braille immeasurably through his invention of an abbreviated Braille system. To Chapoutier, it made sense to honor de la Sizeranne with the adoption of Braille on every label.
In 1996 the project began, the first of its kind in the industry. At the time, the prospect of a Braille label seemed extraordinarily expensive. In an act of innovation, Michel Chapoutier repurposed a Heildeberg printing press in such a fashion that glue filled in holes and made a functional braille label. It was cheap, effective, and sustainable – a decades-old, out-of-use press found a new function. Currently, all of Chapoutier’s bottles include the Braille label.
Wines to Try and Touch
Les Meysonniers Crozes-Hermitage 2015 > This wine is made of Syrah, as all Northern Rhône red wines are. The grapes come from 25-year-old vines, slightly south sloping, all hand-harvested and biodynamically farmed. Crozes-Hermitage is the largest Northern Rhône cru. Wind is a player here – if it comes from the north it brings cool freshness (or cold, in winter); when it blows from the south it can bring harsh storms and heat in the summer. Croze-Hermitage wines can age beautifully or be enjoyed young. Expect red fruits and florals, with leather and spice after a few years of cellar time.
Le Bernardine Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2015 > Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a southern Rhône cru – one of the most recognizable in France as a former papal residence and home of the AOC concept. 2015 is a legendary vintage for the Rhône, possibly one of the best in over 50 years, according to many winemakers and writers. 14 grape varieties (some have multiple color variations) are approved, but dominating the scene are Grenache, Syrah, and Mouvèdre – the components of this wine. CDP can be complex with darker fruits and an experience of spice; these wines won’t let you down.
La Ciboise Luberon 2015 > The Luberon is often considered picture-perfect Provence. Peter Mayle lived here and many vacationers find peace and beauty in the hill towns of the region. The eastern-most Rhône appellation, Luberon is in the département of Vaucluse and includes the Luberon regional nature reserve, a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This wine is comprised of the classic Provence blanc varietals Grenache Blanc, Vermentino, Ugni Blanc and Roussanne. Expect white florals and freshness with a satisfying mouthfeel.
The French Winophiles
This month Liz from What’s in that Bottle hosts our French #Winophiles exploration featuring the wines of the Rhône Valley and M. Chapoutier. Join us Saturday morning, March 17 at 10 a.m. CST on Twitter. Just use #Winophiles to find us. Each writer prepared a story to share, all of them required reading during the month of March:
Gwendolyn Alley at Wine Predator tells us about “Duck à l’Orange with M. Chapoutier’s Biodynamic, Organic Rhone Wines”
Here on L’Occasion we cover “Braille on the Label: A Chapoutier Pioneering Moment”
J.R. Boynton from Great Big Reds writes about “The Dark Side of Syrah, with Domaine Fondreche Persia 2012 (Ventoux)”
Jeff Burrows from Food Wine Click shares “Northern Rhone Wines and My Steak Tartare Disaster”
David Crowley at Cooking Chat at tells us about “London Broil Steak with Châteauneuf-du-Pape”
Rob Frisch at Odd Bacchus writes about “Return to the Rhône”
Susannah Gold at Avvinare writes about “Rhône Gems from Chapoutier in Chateauneuf, du Pape, Crozes-Hermitage, and Luberon”
Nicole Ruiz Hudson at Somm’s Table tells her story of “Cooking to the Wine: Les Vins de Vienne Gigondas with Gratinéed Shepherd’s Pie”
Camilla Mann from Culinary Adventures with Camilla shares a post on “Sober Clams + a French Syrah”
Jane Niemeyer at Always Ravenous shares “Bison Burger Paired with Northern Rhône Syrah”
Martin Redmond Enofylz at shares “A Taste of The House of Chapoutier”
Rupal Desai Shankar at Syrah Queen writes about “Chapoutier: King of the Rhône”
Lauren Walsh at The Swirling Dervish writes about “France’s Rhône Valley: Mountains, Sea, Wind, and Wine”
Michelle Williams at Rockin Red Blog writes about “Maison M. Chapoutier: Expressing Terroir Through Biodynamics”