Annual Production (Grand Vin)
The steepness of the terrain in the area and the estate’s dedication to handwork means it can take a worker a whole day to tend to just half an acre of vines – mechanized vineyard work on flat land would cover around 37 acres.
One of the oldest winemaking families in the world, the Chave family has been producing globally-acclaimed Rhone wines since 1481. Indeed, proudly inscribed on the neck of each bottle is ‘Vignerons de Pere en Fils depuis 1481’: ‘Vine growers from father to son since 1481’.
The family begin cultivating vineyards in the area now known as the St Joseph appellation, with the business passed from generation to generation. Following the attack of phylloxera that struck most of Europe’s vineyards in the late 19th century, the family moved to Hermitage, where now, under the management of Jean Louis Chave – the 16th generation of his family to man the winemaking fort – the company continues to produce arguably the most highly regarded wines of the hermitage region.
While remaining open-minded about new winemaking techniques, the estate has remained mostly loyal to traditional, artisan methods of winemaking, and is now focusing its attentions on repurchasing and replanting the terraced hillsides in Saint Joseph – the label’s birthplace.
Chave sells it wines directly through a series of importers in different markets rather than through negociants. In theory this keeps distribution well controlled, but single bottles of Hermitage still command a not-insignificant sum.
The market for the estate’s wines also appears to be heavily influenced by scores from Parker, although we’ve yet to see the long-term effects from his 2012 decision to stop personally reviewing Rhone wines.
Nonetheless, fans of JL Chave’s wines are in it for the long game, with most reaching peak taste after around 10-15 years of maturity. This is reflected in market values. The red Hermitage 2003 – the only one to receive a perfect 100-point score from Parker – has seen a steady 25% growth over the last five years, but the 2000 vintage, which is now in its prime drinking window, and shot up nearly 40%, largely in the last two years. The 2009 and 2010 Hermitage vintages – both 100-point scorers – represent excellent value for money, having taken a slight tumble over recent years.
However, fervent collectors should keep their ears pricked for word of the famous Chave Cuvee Cathelin which is eye-waternigly rare, and expensive. The last sell for the 2000 on Liv-Ex was £27,612 per case of 12x75cl.
One of the finest examples of wine from the Hermitage region, Chave’s Grand Vin offering owes its popularity to the mastery of blending involved in its production. Made from a melange of fruit sources from the best plots in the entire appellation, the Hermitage is concentrated, rich, deep and elegant, with a finesse few other wines offer.
Chave Hermitage Blanc
Made from 85% Marsanne and 15% Roussanne, the white Hermitage is a fabulously fresh wine with both elegance and power – and a surprisingly long life. Approachable while young, the wine will age well for up to two decades, despite its colour.
Chave Cuvee Cathelin
Named after close family friend and artist Bernard Cathelin, this wine is hugely popular with critics (Robert Parker has awarded it four 100-point scores across the eight vintages released since the first in 1990). Its limited production of just 100 cases in suitable years means that those luckly enough to obtain it will have to pay a premium - the 2003 trades at £14,400 per 12.
Chave St Joseph
Billed as one of the finest wines of the St Joseph appellation by Robert Parker, the St Joseph has enjoyed consistent acclaim from critics, with Parker stating it could easily rival Guigal’s Vin des l’Hospices or Chapoutier’s Les Granits.
Chave St Joseph Offerus
Fruit from the family’s connections in the St Joseph appellation go into this wine, which is sold through the Chave’s negociant business. St Joseph labels aren’t always taken seriously due to the wide variation in quality and styles, but this wine offers serious structure and sophistication in a fine Hermitage style.