Chapoutier has a long history of wine production in the Rhone Valley. Chapoutier was established in 1808 by Polydor Chapoutier. The firm was passed from father to son and in the mid-twentieth century Max Chapoutier was at the helm. In 1977, Max retired, and responsibility for managing the family business was passed to his sons, Michel and Marc. Marc continued to manage the business and distribution and Michel took on the responsibility for the vineyards and cellar. With Michel came many changes that resulted in improvements to overall quality and reputation.
As is the case with many top winemakers Michel Chapoutier believes that great wine is made in the vineyard, not in the cellar, and so it is here that some of the most dramatic changes were made. Michel favors lower yields and launched a crusade against chemicals, fertilizers and sprays. He adopted biodynamic and organic farming techniques in his estate vineyards, harvesting grapes by hand and using only natural yeasts to produce unfiltered wines.
Overall, the Chapoutier style is intended to be approachable young, but with the structure to age. Chapoutier’s style that has been criticized is the use of oak. Michel in fact reduced the period of aging in oak from two years to eighteen months, but of the barrels used up to one third are new, which can make for a very oaky impact on the wine.
Chapoutier owns plots that occupy a significant proportion of the hill of Hermitage, in a number of vineyards, including Les Bessards, Greffieux, Chapelle, Méal, Muret and Chante-Alouette. From these plots come a number of red and white Hermitage cuvées. In addition, Chapoutier owns vines in Cote Rotie – source of La Mordorée and Les Bécasses, Crozes Hermitage – source of the excellent Les Varoniéres as well as Les Meysonniers, St Joseph – source of red and white Les Granits cuvées. Most other wines of the northern Rhone are made from purchased fruit. Outside the northern Rhone, Chapoutier also own the Bernadine vineyard in Chateauneuf du Pape. Chapoutier also has a presence in Tricastin, Provence, Roussillon and even Australia in the form of Mount Benson wine.
Michel Chapoutier Domaine Bila-Haut Cotes du Roussillon 2007
Michel Chapoutier Domaine Bila-Haut Occultum Lapidem 2007
These wines are from the Chapoutier’s operation in Roussillon, under the direction of winemaker Gilles Troullier. The Cotes du Roussillon and the Occultum Lapidem are blends of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. The Syrah in both of the wines is a higher percentage than most of the wines from Roussillon. The grapes are manually harvested and 100% destemmed. For the Cotes du Roussillon, the ageing takes place in vats, while the Occultum Lapidem is matured 50% in barrel and 50% in tank. Both wines were very good and quite similar. Deep red garnet in color. Compote of dark fruits, violets with some graphite, resin and earthiness on the nose. Lots of dark fruit on the palate with dark cherry, blackberry with some tar, black olive and graphite. Sweet, meaty tannins with good accidity and focus.
The Occultum Lapidem was certainly the bigger of the two wines — more dense, dark and concentrated, rich/lush, intense and profound (and 14.5% alcohol vs. 14%). The oak was also a differentiator. I liked both wines and thought they were very good values ($12 and $18 a bottle), but I have to give a nod to the Cotes du Roussillon. Imported by HB Wine Merchants.