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TASTING NOTES: The Tao of Michel Chapoutier
Last week, it was in one of the smallest, nondescript meeting rooms at the Vancouver Convention Centre where a few wine writers had gathered to have a chat with Michel Chapoutier, the current owner, winemaker and philosopher of Maison Chapoutier in France’s Rhône Valley.
Though a couple thousand trade and media were flocking through the International Tasting Room for the first hours of sampling the wares of 177 wineries as an epic view of the water and North Shore mountains shone throughout it all, we considered ourselves the lucky ones to be crammed in the small space, garish artificial lighting and all. It was, simply, a rare opportunity to discover what makes a legend tick.
Having purchased the property from his grandfather when it was facing bankruptcy in 1990, Chapoutier had returned from spending time in California, finding himself inspired by biodynamic practices and their successful results with regard to vineyard farming.
The multi-use farms in place of monoculture, the lack of chemicals in favour of natural elements and using the lunar schedule, which affects the earth’s gravity pull, as a guide to when vines, grapes and wines should be tended to, are all aspects that are now in common practice throughout his vineyards.
Deeply philosophical, he is a man who points out that while modern biodynamic farming was spawned by Rudolf Steiner in 1920s Austria; “You only have to look towards Taoist philosophies of the last few millennia to see the exact same thing.”
He’s a man unafraid to unleash a little cheeky bravado, sharing that, “Every winemaker will tell you that their region is the best in the world, but what makes the Rhône Valley so unique is that in the Rhône, it’s actually true.”
He points toward the many appellations like Hermitage, Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Saint-Joseph, and how it’s each of their unique soils and conditions that make the region as a whole, all the more exceptional.
Though most wines in the region are built from well-known varieties like Syrah, Grenache, Viognier and more, he sees the grapes as a mere vehicle to express their soils’ qualities and sense of place.
While it is the Rhône Valley that will always be synonymous with the name Chapoutier, he is unafraid to go way past its borders for worthy projects. His Schieferkopf property way up in Alsace allows him to play around with Rieslings and the like, while he continues with Rhône varieties like Syrah and Grenache down in Australia for the opportunity to plant roots in the oldest soils on Earth.
It’s never easy to sum up biodynamic farming in a few words, but I was a fan of his analogy. “Say you’re getting headaches. With the philosophy of conventional farming, you’d take an aspirin. With an organic philosophy you’d try some willow tree bark, a natural remedy. With biodynamics, you’d step back and see what’s causing the headaches. Blood pressure? Improper sleep? You then change the big picture to create a better whole self.”
To get a good sense of the man and his wines, these three bottles are a good start.
Schieferkopf 2010 Fels Riesling | Alsace, France | $49.99 | BC Liquor Stores
Highly-concentrated lemon, mineral and chamomile; the epitome of sunshine in a glass.
Bila-Haut 2012 Rouge | Roussillon, France | $15.99 | BC Liquor Stores
This blend of Grenache, Syrah and Carignan is awash with savoury black fruit and charm. Ridiculously good value.
Chapoutier 2011 Meysonniers Crozes-Hermitage | Rhône, France | $29.99 | BC Liquor Store
A gorgeous wonder of Syrah, in its rich, peppery, mineral-driven element. Bold and handsome.
Perfect Pairings: Kurtis Kolt teams up with Loblaw’s City Market
Outlook wine columnist Kurtis Kolt is hunting the aisles of North Vancouver’s Loblaw’s City Market in search of the perfect pairings to go along with his weekly wine picks.
Now, let’s get pairing:
This week’s wines each have their own distinct styles and qualities. While they’re an absolute delight to enjoy on their own, it’s when they meet food that they’ll enter another dimension to revel in.
Schieferkopf 2010 Fels Riesling, for me, begs for something creamy for the wine’s acidity to strike through, yet carrying enough flavour for the bright, fruity character to play around with. Umi’s Kitchen Seafood Curry Sauce, used with your seafood of choice, should be a worthy challenger to step up to the plate here; the smattering of spices will complement the wine’s minerality.
Bila-Haut 2012 Rouge is chock-full of savoury fruit, and served with a bit of a chill, will brighten up rich dishes that have some pretty bold flavours. We’re going to actually stick with our Indian theme here, and enjoy it alongside President’s Choice Dal Lentil Stew. There’s a touch of heat to the stew, but the wine’s lovely fruitiness will have no problem lapping that up.
Finally, Chapoutier 2011 Meysonniers Crozes-Hermitage is a meaty, peppery wonder. Grab a Triple-A Beef Tenderloin Roast or a Prime Grade Striploin Steak, and do it up right!