WineThe Collection

Domaine Jean-Louis Chave: top Hermitage and St-Joseph

16th generation Jean-Louis Chave returns to his roots, reviving the modest family holdings in Hermitage where his ancestors first tended vines 500 years ago

Words by Matt Walls

The Collection

The Chave family have long been synonymous with Hermitage, but current owner Jean-Louis Chave has gone back to his roots with a new single-vineyard domaine Saint-Joseph, Clos Florentin.

And those roots go pretty far back. Chave’s ancestors first started growing grapes in 1481, when a local nobleman presented them with the farm and vineyard at Bachasson. It sustained them for centuries, but in the 1870s, like much of France, the Rhône vineyards were decimated by the phylloxera louse. Bachasson wasn’t spared.

The Chave family moved away from Bachasson and into the until-then off-limits Hermitage, from where many grand families moved away after phylloxera struck, preferring to reinvest their fortunes in nascent industries born out of the industrial revolution. It just so happened that the move to Hermitage was, to put it mildly, a good one for the Chave family, who went on to make their name in the famous appellation.

 

Jean-Louis Chave, the 16th generation, has spent the last 25 years rebuilding Bachasson and other forgotten plots. Before now, Chave has blended the wine from these sites together to create a single domaine St-Joseph. The 2015 vintage marks the inaugural bottling of a single-vineyard cuvée, Clos Florentin. The wine is made in the same way as his blended St-Joseph: destemmed, with no new oak. The result is exceptionally refined, with great purity and depth, and marks a new pinnacle of quality for the appellation.

While Chave’s Hermitage wines take 10-15 years to hit maturity and last for decades, his Saint-Joseph wines are typically mature after 6-7 years and will easily develop up to 10 years, perhaps even 15 in good vintages. His Clos Florentin marks a new peak of quality for the appellation, and will no doubt prove just as collectable as his Hermitage bottlings, though at around half the price. The following were tasted with Jean-Louis Chave at the domaine in September 2019.