Chapoutier has a long history of wine production in the Rhône Valley having been established in 1808 by a wine broker, Polydor Chapoutier. The business has been passed from father to son over the years, and currently at the helm is Michel Chapoutier. When he took over in the late 1970s, the company was clearly in need of new momentum, its wines largely uninspired and even its prestige brand, Chante-Alouette, a lacklustre blend of different vintages.
When Michel took charge, suddenly everything changed. Today, the Chapoutier is name is known for precision and individuality with each of the top wines expressing a single terroir, and more often than not, a single grape variety. In 1995 Michel brought in biodynamic practices and today all Chapoutier vineyards are farmed in this way. If you see a horse-drawn plough on Hermitage hill, the chances are that will be Chapoutier-owned! Chapoutier is the biggest landowner in Hermitage after the grower’s syndicate, of which, incidentally, Michel is also president. His own 26 own hectares of vineyards in Hermitage, in descending order of size are Bessards, Greffieux, Chapelle, Méal, Muret and Chante-Alouette.
The company also owns vineyards in Cote Rôtie, Saint-Joseph, Crozes and Condrieu, a substantial 27-hectare plot in Châteauneuf and holdings in the Roussillon. Recently, Chapoutier took over the operation of Ferraton, an old-fashioned Tain-based négociant, and transformed it into a boutique house offering very high quality wines. Huge new cellars have been completed outside Tain to accommodate the increasing needs of the business, although Chapoutier’s ambition is not confined to the Rhône valley. Michel’s interests are far reaching, his contacts in Australia notably including premium producer Langi Ghiran in Victoria. He is well travelled, simultaneously open-minded and opinionated and passionate about fine wines, wherever they may originate, good food, fast cars and loud music.
Perhaps Michel’s most inspired idea was to make Braille a feature of each Chapoutier label, with information on the wine, its colour, appellation, winemaker and vintage for the benefit of blind and partially-sighted customers. He was moved to introduce this in 1996, upon hearing a blind musician friend explain that he had to take someone shopping with him in order to identify each bottle of wine. The gesture is the perfect tribute to the Sizeranne family, original owners of a plot of Hermitage vines now under Chapoutier’s control. Maurice de La Sizeranne was the inventor of the first version of abbreviated Braille and founder of the French Association for the Blind.