A Jaunt to Hermitage and Saint-Joseph
Driving south from Côte-Rôtie and Condrieu, I decided to take the slow road along the western bank of the Rhône river to my destination of Hermitage. This took me through the swath of the Saint-Joseph AOC, which is a long patchwork of mostly hillside vineyards of varying pedigree. The sight of fruit-laden apricot and cherry trees along the flatland of the river valley was a comforting sight reminiscent of home in California.
Upon arriving at my 18th century hotel in Tournon, I was pleased to find it situated near the base of E. Guigal's Vignes de l'Hospice monopole, which sits at the southern end of the Saint-Joseph AOC and faces the hill of Hermitage across the river. I had the privilege of tasting the current Vignes de l'Hospice bottling in Guigal's cellar in Ampuis earlier in the day, so serendipity was upon me.
The next morning was kicked off by a visit to Delas Frères. Delas is owned by Louis Roederer and a full-scale tasting room and retail center was actually a welcome change after some moments in Côte-Rôtie the previous day led my wife to ask me than once, "Are we in the right place?"
Delas' sizeable holding in the Les Bessards lieu-dit of Hermitage is the crown jewel of their estate, but their Domaine de Tourettes Hermitage bottling was as exciting to me as anything else I tasted on the trip. Les Bessards is known for being particularly strict in its youth, but the Tourettes was open-knit and didn't need to be coy in reminding me why I made this journey.
Chapoutier also offers a commercial tasting room in the town of Tain l'Hermitage where they (almost overwhelmingly) showcase their portfolio of wines from the many AOCs up and down the Rhône and across the South of France. The wines showed very well on my visit and one can never begrudge the large producers for their hospitality skills.
The towns of Tain l'Hermitage and Tournon offer some traveler-friendly atmosphere and sightseeing opportunities. My educational experience at the Valrhona Chocolate factory involved studying the nuances of about 30 individual chocolate blends by repeatedly stuffing my face with each of them. Ultra-premium chocolate is good fuel to propel one to their next winery visit or a schlep up a hill of vines.
A quick drive and partial hike up to the famous Hermitage chapel owned by Jaboulet is possible by travelling up and around the back of the hill. As you behold the contiguous 136-hectare entirety of the Hermitage AOC, the hostile mid-day sun exposure on the low, stake-trained vines is almost other-worldly. The story of the 13th century knight that returned from the Crusades to live on this hilltop is well-known. Less-known is the fact that wines grown from here to Côte-Rôtie near Vienne were famously known in the Roman Empire as early as the 1st century B.C. as Vienne wines. This isn't merely Old World terroir. It's Ancient World.