hill of Hermitage
The birthplace of Syrah, in France's northern Rhône wine region
viewed from the other side of the river
This is a place of wine pilgrimage. The
birthplace of Syrah. I can think of few appellations with such an
emotional draw as the hill of Hermitage, which sits behind the town
of Tain l’Hermitage in France’s northern Rhône region.
famous Chapel of St Christopher
a small appellation, with just 137 hectares of vines. The majority
is planted with red grapes (exclusively Syrah), but there are some
30 hectares of white varieties (Marsanne, with a bit of Roussanne).
history is unclear. It's though that viticulture here dates back to
Roman times, but there are no good records before the 17th century.
But this is the birthplace of Syrah. It was an important region in
the 19th century because wines from here were used to fortify
Bordeaux. Indeed, Chateau Palmer has recently tried to recreate
these Hermitagé wines from the past by blending some Hermitage in
with one of their cuvées.
the 1980s the importance of this appellation has been recognized,
and the wines now fetch high prices. Chapoutier is the major land
holder here, with 34 hectares of vines, which compares with Jaboulet(25 ha), the co-operative at Tain (21 hectares) and Chave (14
for the major northern Rhône appellations, Hermitage is on the east
bank of the Rhône; the others are on the west. The hill is a
granitic outcrop, an extension of the Massif Central. But while
granite is the main soil type here, the micro-detail of the
Hermitage soils is much more complicated. Towards the western end of
the hill, the soils are much more granitic, but towards the east
they are more alpine-influenced glacial deposits. The soils change
over small distances, so even within the designated lieu dits,
soil type is rarely uniform.
The western end of the hill, where
many of the top vineyards are sited
Le Méal, looking down towards Tain
of the lieu dits are particularly famous.
we have Les Bessards. This is the most granitic of all parts of the
hill, and produces very tannic wines that form the core of many
great Hermitages. Most of it is planted to Syrah, and this is where
Chapoutier’s Pavillon comes from.
soils in L'Hermite
Méal produces richer, riper wines, in part because of its loose
soils with lots of glacier stones. There’s an alluvial influence
down from L'Hermite to Les Bessards, and then to Les Greffieux and
the town of Tain. Tournon is over the river.
is the vineyard block that surrounds the famous Chapel of St
Christopher (La Chapelle). This was built in 1864 on the site of a
chapel that had been here from the 12th century. It faces south
east, and has a commanding view of the Rhône and the neighbouring
towns of Tournon and Tain l’Hermitage. L’Hermite has a range of
soil types with some granite, some loess and some alpine
down the slope is Les Greffieux, which also has some granite, as
well as clay and limestone. Most of the vines here are Syrah.
Looking from L'Hermite across to
in Hermitage is quite distinctive. Planting is very close: in the
steeply sloped plots, it’s at a density of 1m x 1m (10 000 plants
a hectare), but this can stretch to 1.3 m x 1 m on flatter plots.
The vines are pruned as bush vines (gobelet) with three spurs, three
buds per spur. Just two of these buds are kept, and the vines are
then trained on single stakes.
of the major land holders in Hermitage
& Vincent Jaboulet
This list is compiled from various
sources and is not complete (do the maths!), nor can its accuracy be
guaranteed. I’ll attempt to build it further and correct it with