Jean-Louis Chave

Jean-Louis ChaveDomaine Jean-Louis Chave is unquestionably one of the great wine estates of France and, as the label says quite modestly, can trace its origins back to 1481. The family comes from the Ardèche, in particular the village of Lemps. This is still the spiritual home of the family, who own a large house there, and also the location of Chave's first vineyards, on land which today is part of the Saint-Joseph appellation.

Of course the renown of Chave rests with the wines of Hermitage on the other side of the river, but acquisition came much later when the ravages of the phylloxera epidemic and the Great War made land suddenly available and at quite good prices. Today they own 15ha of vineyard, all scattered across Hermitage and reflecting the great geological diversity of the hill. It makes Chave the fourth-biggest landowner there (after Chapoutier, the Tain Co-operative and Jaboulet).

What makes the Chaves special, quite apart from their prodigious talents and attention to detail, is the respect they have for tradition and for the appellation itself. Their interpretation of Hermitage exists as a blend of different terroirs, from the granites of les Bessards to the rich clay and limestone of Méal. They make outstanding wines in both red and white Hermitage and in some years even a tiny amount of vin de paille.

The Wine Society has known two generations of Chaves. There was Gérard, learned epicurean with a passion for duck shooting, who made some of the greatest Hermitage ever, notably the 1978 and 1990. Then came his son Jean-Louis, introspective and perfectionist with his American wife and accent.

Jean-Louis gradually took over during the 1990s, helped no doubt by the run of less favourable vintages in 1992, 93 and 94 - it is always better to start with difficult vintages: if you can cope with these you can cope with anything! There is a restless energy about Jean-Louis and with it a realisation that making great Hermitage was not enough of a challenge. Accordingly, he founded a very successful négoce house, which produces a very fine Côtes-du-Rhône and Saint-Joseph.

Over the generations, the cellars in Chave's headquarters at Mauve have expanded and today occupy three separate sites. First there are ancient cobwebbed cellars beneath Gérard's house, where Hermitage is made. The négoce part of the enterprise is just round the corner in more functional surroundings. Finally, the Chaves bought the estate that was owned by their friends, the Florentin family. This included the legendary Clos de l'Arbelestrier which Jean-Louis is busy replanting and sorting out.

The big project chez Chave is their Saint-Joseph vineyards. The ancestral site in Lemps on very steep granite was never replanted after phylloxera: in those days there was neither the money nor the manpower to undertake such work and the price for Saint-Joseph wine was far less than Hermitage. Understandably, all their efforts went into the latter and it is only in the last 10 years or so that they have begun to look at Saint-Joseph afresh. The task has been enormous: clearing the land of trees and shrubs, ploughing, rebuilding miles of dry stone walls and, only then, replanting. But there is real belief here that these ancient soils will one day produce great wine again.

The Society's Exhibition Hermitage

The Chaves are owners in many of the best plots on Hermitage. Each vineyard is harvested and vinified separately before being raised in Burgundian barrels. Jean-Louis Chave starts making up his blends after these elements have spent a year or so in barrel and, inevitably, some of become surplus to requirements. It is these parcels that form the basis of The Society’s Exhibition Hermitage.

The holdings on Hermitage

There are 9.3ha of reds and 4.6ha of whites
The principal vineyards are as follows
L'Hermite: 3.45 ha. Syrah and roussanne
Rocoules: 3.45 ha. Syrah and marsanne
Bessards: 2.05ha. 80-year-old syrah and the key ingredient in the red
Péléat: 1.51ha. Mostly syrah but there is a plot of 100-year-old marsanne
Le Méal: 1.02ha. 60-year-old syrah vines
Diognières: 0.58ha. 50-year-old syrah vines
Beaumes: 0.31ha. 60-year-old syrah vines
Vercandieres: 0.46 ha. Syrah on granite at the bottom of Bessards
Maison Blanche: 0.33ha. Marsanne

Winemaking is along classical lines except that the fruit is cooled down before fermentation begins. Historically, red Hermitage was always destemmed, and still is today, to about 80% in order to avoid astringent tannins. Maceration and cap management is done by punching down, sometimes very traditionally by foot.

All of the reds and most of the whites are aged in barrel for about 18 months with the amount of new wood dependent on the style of the vintage. Wines are bottled unfiltered and invariably develop a considerable crust or sediment.

Members' Comments (0)

There are no comments for this article.

Want more inspiration?

Sign up for a carefully-curated selection of recipes, guides, in-depth expertise and much more.

Our website uses cookies with the aim of providing you with a better service. By using this website you consent to The Wine Society using cookies in accordance with our policy.


4.4. Cookie Policy

By using The Wine Society website, you agree to cookies being used in accordance with the policy outlined below. If you do not agree to this, you must alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you or cease using the website.

The Wine Society uses cookies to enable easy navigation and shopping on the website. We take the privacy of all who use our website very seriously and ensure that our use of cookies complies with current EU legislation. The following guide outlines what cookies are, the types of cookies used on The Society's website and how they work.

You may alter your browser settings to turn off cookies or block those types which are unacceptable to you, but this will cause difficulties when accessing and using some areas of the site. Instructions on how to do this can also be found below.

4.4.1. What are 'Cookies'?

  • Most major websites use cookies.
  • A cookie is a very small data file placed on your hard drive by a web page server. It is essentially your access card, and cannot be executed as code or deliver viruses. It is uniquely yours and can only be read by the server that gave it to you.
  • Cookies cannot be used by themselves to identify you.
  • The purpose of a basic cookie is to tell the server that you returned to that web page or have items in your basket. Without cookies, websites and their servers have no memory. A cookie, like a key, enables swift passage from one place to the next.
  • Without a cookie every time you open a new web page the server where that page is stored will treat you like a completely new visitor.
  • More recently, cookies have also been used to collect information about the user which allows a profile of their preferences and interests to be created so that they can be served with interest-based rather than generic information about available goods and services.

4.4.2. How do Cookies help The Wine Society?

Cookies allow our website to function effectively. Cookies also help us to arrange content to match your preferred interests more quickly. We can learn what information is important to our visitors, and what isn't.

4.4.3. How does The Wine Society use cookies?

The Wine Society does not accept advertising from third parties and therefore, as a rule, does not serve third-party cookies. Exceptions to this include performance/analytical cookies (see below), used anonymously to improve the way our website works, the provision of personalised recommendations, and occasions when we may team up with suppliers to offer special discounts on goods or services.

The Society uses technology to track the patterns of behaviour of visitors to our site.

4.4.4. What type of cookies does The Wine Society use?

We use the following three types of cookies: Strictly Necessary Cookies
These cookies are required for the operation of our website, enabling you to move around the website and use its features, such as accessing secure areas of the website. Without these cookies, services like shopping baskets or e-billing cannot be provided. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Authentication Cookie and Anonymous Cookie
    These cookies remember that you are logged in to your account – without them, the website would repeatedly request your login details with each new page you visit during your time on our website. They are removed once your session has ended.
  • Session Cookie
    These cookies are used to remember who you are as you use our site: without them, the website would be unable to tell the difference between you and another Wine Society member and facilities such as your basket and the checkout process would therefore not be able to function. They too are removed once your session has ended. Functionality & Targeting/Tracking Cookies
These cookies are used to recognise you when you return to our website and to provide enhanced features. This allows us to personalise our content for you. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Unique User Cookie
    This cookie is used to:
    • store your share number in order to identify that you have visited the website before. Without this cookie, we would be unable to tell whether you are a member or not.
    • record your visit to the website, the pages you have visited and the links you have followed. We use this information to make our website, the content displayed on it and direct marketing communications we may send to you or contact you about more relevant to your interests.
    • This cookie expires after 13 months.
  • Peerius Cookies
    These third-party cookies are used to provide you with personalised recommendations based on your purchase and browsing history. They expire within 4 hours of your visit. Performance/analytical cookies
These cookies collect information about how visitors use a website, for instance which pages visitors go to most often, and if they get error messages from web pages. These cookies don't collect information which identifies a visitor. All information these cookies collect is aggregated and therefore anonymous. It is only used to improve how a website works. Under this heading, we currently use the following cookies:

  • Google Analytics Cookies
    These are third-party cookies to enable Google Analytics to monitor website traffic. All information is recorded anonymously. Using Google Analytics allows The Society to better understand how members use our site and monitor website traffic. Authentication Cookie
In order for us to ensure that your data remains secure it is necessary for us to verify that your session is authentic (i.e. it has not been compromised by a malicious user). We do this by storing an otherwise meaningless unique ID in a cookie for the duration of your visit. No personal information can be gained from this cookie.

4.4.5. How do you turn cookies off?

All modern browsers allow you to modify your cookie settings so that all cookies, or those types which are not acceptable to you, are blocked. However, please note that this may affect the successful functioning of the site, particularly if you block all cookies, including essential cookies. For example, In Internet Explorer, go to the Tools Menu, then go to Internet Options, then go to Privacy. Here you can change the rules your browser uses to accept cookies. You can find out more in the public sources mentioned below.

4.4.6. Learn more about cookies

4.4.7. Changes to our cookie policy

Any changes we may make to our cookie policy in the future will be posted on the website and, where appropriate, notified to you by email. Please check back frequently to see any updates and changes to our cookie policy.