France, Rhone Valley
Domaine 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.