Michel Chapoutier – A Life Long Love Affair With Wine

Chapoutier wines 2
Chapoutier wines 2

All photos by Christine Campbell.  Michel Chapoutier is a bold man who isn’t afraid to speak the truth. In 1990, at the age of 26, he took over the Chapoutier family business, putting the family name firmly on the French wine map. The Chapoutier estate has vineyard holdings in the Rhône Valley, Alsace and Roussillon in France as well as areas in Portugal and Australia – impressive!

I attended Michel Chapoutier’s presentation of his wines at the Vancouver International Wine Festival on February 27th, 2014. He walked into the room, exactly on time, with a big smile on his face and sat next to the presenter, Anthony Gismondi of Gismondi On Wine. To Gismondi’s credit – he tried to keep Chapoutier on track – but it wasn’t easy. When a man starts out the session talking about a right and left brain disconnect – you know you are in for an entertaining 90 minutes!

Chapoutier is a champion of biodynamic farming practices and his yield size is considered very small by industry standards. He frowns upon the use of fertilizers, “Fertilizers are like bombs – they kill both the good and the bad.” He follows a strict discipline so that he is able to create excellent wine – not a lot of ‘good’ wine. He said North Americans have ‘open minds’ to new ways of thinking, “France is a good 50 – 60 years behind.” He went on to explain the difference between three types of farming, “Lets say you have a headache, OK? If you follow the ‘chemical’ farming method you take an Aspirin. If you follow the ‘organic’ method you take some willow bark. But – if you follow the biodynamic method of farming you ask yourself, ‘Why? Why do I have a headache? It is a Taoist philosophy to be sure.” This is Chapoutier’s approach to viticulture and he doesn’t waver from it.

Michel Chapoutier at the Vancouver International Wine Festival.
Michel Chapoutier at the Vancouver International Wine Festival.

Our tasting started with a selection of his Alsace joint venture wines, which are sold under the label name ‘Schieferkopf’. Located in the city of Reichsfeld on a vineyard plot in Bernardvillé - it is one of the highest vineyards in Alsace sitting at 380m above sea level. This vineyard is completely biodynamic with handpicking and gentle pressing.

Schieferkopf Lieu-Dit Fels Riesling 2010 - mouth-watering with gorgeous acidity and bright blue schist minerality. Fermented with natural yeasts and aged for 15 months in casks with malolactic fermentation.

Schieferkopf Lieu-Dit Buehl Riesling 2010 - pineapple and mango flavor profile with great acidity and iodized notes on the finish.

When the wine tasting part of his presentation started, Chapoutier’s enthusiasm came alive, “Wine is made to be married to food…they are the perfect match. One cannot be too dominate – they must compliment each other." On a cheeky note, "You don’t have to be a gynecologist to make love – it is a question of pleasure.” He is a strong believer that winemakers should take cooking classes and that cooks should understand wine and winemaking.

He then presented a Rhône white wine. He made it clear he is a believer in single variety wines when possible (which isn’t often the case in the Rhône region):

Hermitage “Chante-Alouette” 2011 – 100% Marsanne, this wine is full of delicate aromas of quince, walnut, honey and ginger – a great pairing for curry.

Next was our red flight that ranged from Côtes du Rhône to Roussillon to Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage appellations:

Côtes du Rhône “Belleruche” Rouge 2012 – mainly Grenache and Syrah, this wine is a lovely garnet red color with aromas of red fruits, cherries, and liquoice…a great BBQ wine.

Michel Chapoutier
Michel Chapoutier

Côtes du Roussillon Villages Bila-Haut ‘Occultum Lapidem’ 2011 – a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, this wine was hand harvested with a flavor profile of graphite, leather, pepper and blackberry. Delicious.

Châteauneuf-Du-Pape ‘La Bernardine’ Rouge 2011 – mostly Grenache with a bit of Syrah and Mourvedre, this wine was matured in concrete for 12 – 15 months and has a flavor profile of cassis and plum followed by licorice and spice.

Hermitage ‘Monier de la Sizeranne’ 2010 – 100% Syrah, this was a crowd favorite. It was aged in oak casks between 12 – 14 months and was a deep garnet red with aromas of raspberry and blackcurrant, great acidity and gentle tannin. A special occasion wine to be pared with red meat or game.

Ermitage ‘Le Méal’ Rouge 2010 – this wine is 100% Syrah from 50 year old vines. A powerful wine with smoky aromas, it can be cellared between 30 – 60 years.

It was an amazing 90 minutes with Michel Chapoutier. He follows three main values: respect, audacity (being open minded) and generosity. Chapoutier also has three convictions he is passionate about: biodynamic farming, varying taste (no ‘house’ style) and Braille labels. Since 1996, Maison Chapoutier labels are marked in Braille as a tribute to Maurice Monier de la Sizeranne who invented the first abbreviated version of Braille.

Michel Chapoutier shows no sign of slowing down and he remains passionate about doing what he loves.