Nov 30, 2019
Jean-Louis Chave has worked much harder than he needed to. Twenty-seven years ago, when he joined his family's estate, with its extensive vineyards on the coveted slopes of the Hermitage appellation, business and exports were bustling. At 25, Jean-Louis, the 16th generation of winemaking Chaves in France's Northern Rhône, could have simply burnished the wines and his family's prestige. Instead, he took on a series of risky, backbreaking projects restoring rugged, terraced vineyards across the Rhône River in St.-Joseph, some abandoned by his ancestors more than 150 years before. Though the appellation was then obscure, he saw its potential as a frontier for great wines.
"I couldn't make wine in a site that's really easy to farm," observes Chave, now 52. "If it's too easy, you don't have the same connection to the place."
Chave's considerable efforts have helped make Domaine Jean-Louis Chave an icon of the Rhône and of France, and have propelled Chave wines to status among the world's most sought-after collectibles. Since Jean-Louis' first vintage, in 1992, the domaine has released 35 wines scoring 95 or more points in Wine Spectator tastings, including a pair from St.-Joseph.
Yet Chave is humble about his achievements, crediting his father, Gérard, who retired earlier this year at age 84, along with his forebears (including a long line of sons named Jean-Louis) for the estate's success.
"I never believed in the cult of the winemaker," he says, standing in the Chave winery, which is discreetly hidden behind gray facades on the main street of Mauves (population about 1,000). Chave wears his usual worn blue jeans, a work shirt and soil-caked boots. "We are who we are because we own what we own. It's not about Chave. It's about our vineyards.....