Updated: Sep 26, 2017
On a hillside overlooking the culinary mecca of Roanne, Jean-Claude Chaucesse farms 140-year-old gamay that is beyond compare.
In what year did the following occur? Edison makes electricity available for household use. Pulitzer buys the St. Louis Dispatch. First telephone installed in the White House.
That would be 1878. Everyone on earth that was alive then has been gone for more than twenty-five years. (thinking about that makes me shake my head) This was also the same year that Jean-Claude Chaucesse's great, great grandfather planted Gamay vines on a small parcel of rose-hued granite near the city of Roanne. This was just four years after the phylloxera epidemic that killed nearly every vine in France. These vines still stand, still yield fruit (although not much), and make one of the finest bottles of wine I've come across in my 25 years of doing this.
I spent a pretty and glorious afternoon with Jean-Claude in 2015. I told him that I had visited a few other wineries in the region earlier that day and he winked at me as if to say, "you came to the right place." Four hours later I had made a new friend. We tasted some incredible wine together, learned an even more incredible story, and then we agreed to work together, with a handshake, while sitting at his kitchen table.
Jean-Claude had never exported his wine before. Anywhere.
His family has made wine in the village of Renaison (Côte Roannaise) for 13 generations, having started in 1610. (!) The land, the buildings, everything, has been passed from father to son over all those years. Prior generations also farmed Charolais cattle and grazed their stock on the high pastures above the village.
But the wine? The wine has stayed near home, sold mostly to locals, and elsewhere in France. Jean-Claude was quick to warn me that he didn't have much of anything available, but I could see that I needed to persist on this one.
In 2010 he and his wife Laetitia decided to commemorate the 400th anniversary of their heritage winery La Paroisse (the Parish) by creating a special wine produced only from these old vines. They appropriately decided to name it 1878. Elegant and simple. The old vines comprise only a portion of an hectare and the cuvée tops out at just a few thousand bottles each year. My notes from our tasting that day read: "Holy hell. So pretty and juicy. Red fruits, succulent & mineral; mouthwatering. J-C thinks the wine can age for 6-10 years, and then says, 'but why would you?' Sweet on the lips, incredible length. Elizabeth would love this!"
And so will you.