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November 02, 2012

Just add a little Chapoutier and voila

Ferraton has existed as a solid, if not particularly spectacular, producer of Rhones that opened for business just after World War II. This small estate and négociant house had fallen on hard times in the '90s with both wine issues and financial problems. In 1998, Michel Chapoutier bought a 50 percent stake in the winery. This served the dual purpose of addressing the financial issues and giving Ferraton the means to improve the wines through upgrades in both the cellar and the farming. Chapoutier chose to keeping Ferraton as a separate entity rather than absorbing it into his own company.

Chapoutier went to work by installing a new, younger team, with Damien Brusset and Gregory Viennois (both 31), working alongside Michel Ferraton (65). Brusset handles the vineyards and winemaking solely for Ferraton, while Viennois moves between Chapoutier and Ferraton. Chapoutier, profiled in the latest issue of Wine Spectator, also converted all of the farming to biodynamic practices, which is no surprise given that his own operations run that way.

Just adding a little Chapoutier changed everything. To quote Robert Parker, “If the turn-around in quality of the Paul Jaboulet-Aine wines is the biggest good news story of qualitative improvement in the northern Rhone, what Michel Chapoutier has accomplished with Ferraton is a close second. This is definitely a name to be taken seriously, as Chapoutier has expanded the portfolio and continues to upgrade the quality across the board. Ferraton’s 2009s and 2010s are the finest wines made to date.”

Our first serious bout with the new Ferraton was very exciting. We bought this wine, among others, and made the Cotes du Rhone Samorens our wine-of-the-month back in March. Given the market at the time when we bought those wines, we took an overtly aggressive stance with respect to prices. We had the best price in the country on the Saint Joseph La Source at $18.99, making it a pretty sensational deal on a generous, engaging, and fairly accessible example from the one of best vintages ever in the Northern Rhone.

Then came another twist to a story that was already a pretty happy one if you love blackberry/bacony/minerally Syrahs at great price (we do!). The price got better. We were approached by another purveyor that was ‘cutting ties’ with a couple of Rhone producers (Ferraton was one of them) and wanted to liquidate his stock. With a sizable purchase we were able to beat our own, already-lowest price by an additional $3 a bottle! A terroir-driven, well-reviewed, pure example of a Northern Rhone in an outstanding vintage for about what it costs for a glass of an ordinary domestic Syrah in a restaurant? Good times! To quote Parker again, "this fruity, endearing effort should be enjoyed over the next 5-6 years." Amen to that. Good hunting.


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