Jean-Louis Chave on Saint-Joseph (Sept - 09)

Jean-Louis Chave

Saint-Joseph is an appellation in the heart of the northern Rhône. One of the region’s best growers, Jean-Louis Chave, in an exclusive piece for SocietyNews, tells us what it means to him.

Saint-Joseph embraces what I love in wine: elegance through truth and simplicity. In the best examples, you will find the aspects that make syrah so unique in this, the region of its origin. The grapes are pushed to the northern limit of ripeness offering the wines the possibility to express their origin in a style with great purity.

My family has owned and laboured in our Saint-Joseph parcels since 1481. Yes, 1481, that is not an error. 528 years means 528 growing seasons to reflect on the terroir of Saint-Joseph.

Chave wants to grow syrah that expresses the granitic slopes of Saint-Joseph

In the early 1990s, I saw the appellation of Saint-Joseph slipping away from its original values, due to quick overexpansion, so I bolstered even further my idea of a true Saint-Joseph. I began planting (and replanting) parcels that had fallen fallow in the wake of phylloxera and then two world wars. Over the past 15 years, we have rebuilt walls and terraces stone by stone to plant and nurture the vines carefully that now flourish there.

I believe so strongly in the wine from these steep little craggy terraces that I started a project in 1995 to encourage and protect the ‘real’ wines of this appellation. We apply the same philosophy and determination used in making my domaine wines to create a small négociant called JL Chave Séléction. My goal is to make wines truly expressive of their origins at a reasonable quality/price ratio.

I have collaborated with some of my neighbours in Mauves, St Jean and Tournon who are apricot farmers and who have exceptional parcels of Saint- Joseph, but who are too busy in their orchards to make the wine. I buy their grapes and juice, vinify and age the wines, and bottle them under the name Saint- Joseph Offerus (a 2009 Wine Champion). We are lucky to live in the birthplace of syrah, so why not defend its origin by making wines expressive of these granitic slopes? The granite gives the wine a clear-cut quality of tannin which is framed and well defined by acidity and tightness. The fruit is fresh, crisp, vibrant and layered. All these qualities make Saint Joseph very food friendly. Wine is made to be enjoyed with food and Saint-Joseph expresses purity and finesse to complement food rather than overpower it.

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