Mention the Rhone Valley to anyone around the world and a small chapel perched upon a vine clad hill is likely to be one of the first images that springs to mind. Not only is the image romantic, it is so closely associated with being one of the best Syrahs in the world, it evokes a myriad of emotions – admiration, respect, envy and desire. Winemakers around the globe aspire to make Syrahs of this complexity and intensity, such is the reverence in which it is held. La Chapelle in Hermitage is one of the finest and most iconic vineyards in the world. It belongs to Paul Jaboulet Ainé.
Almost two centuries ago, this famous vineyard was established by Antoine Jaboulet. Hermitage is a small commune in the Northern Rhone Valley and the La Chapelle vineyard slopes down to the banks of the beautiful Rhone River. The chapel, after which it is named, was built in 1235 and sits at the top of the hill. It is small and simple, yet one of the most powerful images in the world of wine. The region Hermitage is so called after the hermit that used to live there alone on the hill.
It is believed that the Romans and maybe even the Greeks produced wine in this region, however, it was Antoine Jaboulet’s plantings in 1834 and focus on quality which really started to establish the region as one of the major wine producing regions of the world. When he died, the land was passed on to his sons Henri and Paul, who subsequently gave his name to the company – Paul Jaboulet Ainé (Ainé meaning the elder in French). The business was passed down from generation to generation, expanding as they planted more vineyards in other appellations along the Rhone Valley. Having started with the small plot of land in Hermitage, they now have 120 hectares, producing fine wines from twenty six other appellations including Cornas, Crozes-Hermitage, Gigondas, Cotes Rotie, Condrieu and Chateauneuf-du- Pape. They also produce some of the best Cotes du Rhone wines, with Parellel 45 well known for over delivering on price.
La Chapelle is made from 100% Syrah and is a blend from their top sites including the revered vineyards of Les Bessards, Le Meal and Les Rocoules. There is also a La Chapelle blanc which is made from 100% Marsanne. With vineyards in Condrieu, Paul Jaboulet Ainé also produce some top class viognier, and grow other indigenous Rhone Valley grapes such as Grenache and Mourvedre as relevant to the various appellations.
During the latter half of the twentieth century Gerard Jaboulet worked tirelessly to promote Rhone Valley wines around the world, further increasing their reputation. When he passed away suddenly in 1997, Philippe and Jacques Jaboulet took up the reins for the next few years.
In 2006, Jean-Jacques Frey bought Paul Jaboulet Ainé. The Frey family have become increasingly important in the French wine industry having significant interests in Champagne as well as purchasing Chateau La Lagune in Haut-Medoc in 2000 and Château de Corton André in Burgundy in 2014. Caroline Frey, the daughter of Jean-Jacques is the winemaker and viticulturist for Paul Jaboulet Ainé. She graduated from Bordeaux University in 2004 where she studied oenology and she is fast becoming one of the top winemakers in France. Following biodynamic practices and with the installation of a brand new gravity flow winery she is producing stunning wines, striving to make them better and better each year. She strives for excellence and for the wines to truly reflect their terroir, whilst having minimal impact on the environment, thus preserving it for generations to come.
[All photos courtesy of Domaines Paul Jaboulet Aîné]