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|May 1-7, 2008
• 660 curries
Indian cook champions curry
by Kim Ode
• ‘You know, for kids!’
Red Robin chimes in as a family-friendly chain
by Clay Fong
Nature takes its course in Chapoutier vineyard
by Fred Tasker
To hear Michel Chapoutier talk, you might think he’s a maverick.
“I’m not trying to make the best wine possible,” he says. “I’m trying to create the best expression of the soil.”
It’s nothing new. As far back as 1988, when he took over the M. Chapoutier winery in France’s Rhone Valley from his father, Max, at 22, he quickly rebelled against traditional ways of making wine.
But instead of moving forward, he became one of the pioneers of a return to the past — to “biodynamic” grape growing, a rebirth of the ideas of the iconoclastic agronomist Rudolph Steiner from the 1920s.
It was a step beyond what today is known as organic farming, which forbids artificial fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
Biodynamic winemaking turns back to the old belief that, just as the sea ebbs and wanes, sap falls and rises in the vines. So farmers treat a vine’s leaves when the morning’s sun makes the sap rise, and treat its roots when the afternoon’s falling sun pulls the sap down. Vine pruning is timed to the phases of the moon, and “teas” of nettles and other wild plants are used to nourish the vines.
It must have worked. Chapoutier’s wines today are praised as some of France’s best, often winning 100-point scores from the influential wine author Robert Parker.
Chapoutier says his methods relinquish control to nature.
“Wine is an expression of terroir — the soil, the climate, the vintage and the talent of the actors,” he says. “We try to create an objective picture of the terroir. We don’t cover it up. It creates wines that are more complex, more sophisticated, more subtle, but possibly less powerful.”
Evidence of Chapoutier’s philosophy is found in two very different white wines he makes from the same grape — marsanne. The “Les Meysonniers” Blanc, grown on flat, gravely soil, is lean and minerally. His “Chante-Alouette” Blanc, of the same grape, but grown on steep slopes of chalky clay, is rich, ripe and powerful.
Chapoutier is happy to see organic grape growing catching on in the States, hoping it will be a step toward biodynamic growing here.
“In the future there will be far less intervention in grape growing,” he says. “It’s already happening in agriculture. People are seeing they have to pay more for organic tomatoes. It’s the same with wine, but it’s harder to see because taste is so subjective.
“That’s my obsession. I have no style.”
— 2004 M. Chapoutier Hermitage “Chante-Alouette” (marsanne): powerful aromas and flavors of honey, ginger and other Asian spices; very rich; ripe fruit; intense and long-lasting; $90.
— 2006 M. Chapoutier Cotes-du-Rhone “Belleruche” Rouge (grenache and syrah): light-bodied and lean, with intense red raspberry and cinnamon aromas and flavors; $15.
— 2004 M. Chapoutier Hermitage “Monier de la Sizeranne” (syrah) aromas of tar and roses, powerful black plum and mocha flavors, ripe tannins, medium body, long finish; $115.
— 2006 M. Chapoutier Cotes-du-Rhone “Belleruche” Blanc (grenache blanc, clairette and bourboulenc grapes): white flower aromas, powerful flavors of green melons and minerals; $15.
— 2006 M. Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage “Les Meysonniers” Blanc (marsanne): lean, tart flavors of apricots and minerals, with a tart apple finish; $40.
— 2006 M. Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage “Les Meysonniers” Rouge (syrah): black raspberry and mocha aromas; smooth, tart finish; $32.
— 2006 M. Chapoutier Banyuls dessert wine (red grenache, 16.22 percent alcohol): red raspberry and chocolate flavors; moderately sweet; hint of tannin; $30.
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