Bonjour du royaume terracé de la Reine du Valais. In early June, I had the pleasure of finally visiting with one-of-a-kind soul sister Marie-Therese Chappaz of Fully, Switzerland. In just a few words, I can now affirm that it is a mindblowingly remarkable place to farm, and her wines pure class.From the soaring mountain panorama of the Aiguilles rouges towards Mont Blanc, to the steep hand built terraces on the Fully mountainside, the mountain-majesty-meets-immaculate-reverential-farming vibe that I left with is incredible. I recorded a series of videos as we walked the Fully vineyards above, with this link below to one of those 6 pieces of video. If you want to watch the other pieces of the vineyard walk, they’re on youtube too. The walk starts in the upper right hand side of the picture above by the white cross to the right of the woods (if you zoom in, you can see it), in the lieu dit Plamont, literally “flat mountain”. We then proceed to the lookers left towards the little valley around the corner, known as the Combe d’Enfer, literally the Valley of Hell as it can be sooo hot in the summer. We then proceed back towards the middle of the hillside above in the stonier and older vine les Claives parcel. Enjoy your walk!!! 😉
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akPkJINCTf0 (there are several other AWESOME videos about her on youtube, poke around!!!)
In a zoom zoom summary nutshell, at the age of 17 at the crossroads between a life as a midwife or vigneronne, she was given a small plot of her father’s Pinot Noir vines. Passionately falling down the rabbit hole as she learned, she then inherited the small Fully hillside estate named Domaine des Claives from her uncle, a prominent Valais politician named Maurice Troillet, with several incredible parcels of steep old vine terraces. Initially shunned by some contemporaries, the quality of her work, clear sense of respect for le métier, and undeniable grace as a human being quickly garnered both support and praise both at home and abroad, so much so that she earned the nickname “the Queen of the Valais”. After a visit in ’97 with Michel Chapoutier of Tain l’Hermitage opened her eyes to the potenital of biodynamics, she converted her production over, becoming fully so for the entirety of the domaine in 2003. Today, she farms roughly 11 hectares, the majority of which are on the signature steep terraces of the villages of Fully, Saillon, Chamoson, and Charrat. I’m told by Swiss wine lovers that her greatest wines are viewed among the finest “elite” of the country, sold out before bottling, and virtually impossible to procure locally.
Our vineyard walk was guided not by Marie Therese, but by her head assistant Eric. Several months ago while working in the steeps, she fell, her knee landing directly on a sharp rock, rupturing a tendon. She is now recovering well, although not as quickly as she would like. She said that it is making her crazy to not be able to work the vineyard every day as she is accustomed to. Nonetheless, she was in rare form and good spirits during our tasting together. I sensed how she genuinely delights in showing and teaching people about her wines. Her pic-nic Saturday tastings in the vineyards are somewhat legendary for instilling a reverence and understanding of what goes into them. I could readily sense for myself just why the title Queen of the Valais is apropos, not cliché, as her generous respect for this place comes through not only in her gracious personal manner, but also in the purity, noble class, and pleasure found in each bottle.
It is my honor and pleasure to be the first to ambassador a meaningful breadth of her wines to the United States. What follows is an offering of what I perceive to be the strengths of both the vintage and the house, as there are even more cuvees made than the 16 offered here! I’ve provided my own impressions as well as those featured on her website from a round table tasting in mid April ’15. I will make it a consistent point to visit and taste each year, as there is so much diversity and variation in her stable that, year in and year out, parcellary strengths and weaknesses may subtly shift. Every bottling recommended here get my full hands-on endorsement as ringing true in substance, purity, and character. The pricing is dialed up silly sharp during this one week presell, to rise 10-15% percent post presell. The compounded layers of Swiss economics with very high cost of production, a very high cost of transport, and very little discount for export (she already sells out her production, hard to blame her) make this an endeavor done more so for the shared love of wine than planning for retirement, if you know what I mean…..I encourage you to go for it, and thank me later! Fwiw, the vast majority of what is offered here is from the Fully hillside pictured above, with the Pinot Noirs being from other villages.
LES BLANCS: I HAD to get all 3 of the Fendants this year, they are all soo gorgeous, compelling, and different from one another. Additionally, all three of the President Troillet bottlings made it this year as well!!
Fendant Liaudisaz ’14 $33 48 bottles available- To be greeted by the charm of this hugely aromatic floral wine as our first of the tasting got things going with a WOW. Of the 3 Fendants, this is the most immediately fleshy charming and “easy”, yet still the signature class and elegance of the house is quite evident in its long lingering airy perfume. From lower laying parcels around the winery (Liaudisaz is the name of the area right around the winery) and young vines of upper sloped vineyards. This is sort of a kindred wine to the Vernay entry level Viognier, about as good of a Fendant “exhibit A” as you could ask for.
The tasting note from the Chappaz website: “A pretty nose of citrus, fresh pineapple, lime, green apple. In the mouth, the body is at first ample. Then liveliness takes over and, accompanied by a fine structure, it ends with a final bitter flavors evoking the noble citrus zest.”
Fendant Plamont ’14 $36 48 bottles available- This is from the Plamont, the highest flat mountain top vineyard that you can see just below the woods. There is more sandy, silty soil here before the vines reach the granite bedrock. This had a much more tightly wound coil, more minerality. This is the most delicate and finessed of the 3 Fendants. I’m an upper slope guy, what can I say?
The tasting note from the Chappaz website: “Yellow fruits on a background of fruit tree flowers and vine branches. Slender material, both lively and vinous, with a salty touch emerging and a full and very straight finish.”
Fendant President Troillet ’14 $39 36 bottles available- This is from the much stonier les Claives parcel, right in the terraced sweetspot in the middle of the hill, from the old vines inherited from her uncle. Here you have both a richness and concentration of old vine sappiness, some mineral aromas/flavors, and a broader/deeper palate impact. Wow. This stuff is class, continually evolving floral dimension in my brief encounter with it…..would be better to follow an entire bottle.
Petite Arvine la Louye ’14 $55 48 bottles available- From lower lying alluvial soils that surfaced as the Rhone river retreated; finer decomposed granite and silt. My first impression was just how hyper pure this wine is. Fairly full bodied, exotic floral and fruit flavors, but with more aggressive mineral drive as well. This is gorgeous. Again, as good of a Petite Arvine “exhibit A” as you could ask for.
The tasting note from Chappaz’s website sounds pretty similar to mine (translated from French):
“First rather discrete , the nose opens quickly on passion fruit, pineapple, lychee and a touch of cold smoke. Dense, vinous, tonic, finely salted, completely dry which ends in a sustained manner. An archetypal Petite Arvine!”
Petite Arvine Preisdent Troillet ’14 (November bottling) $75 48 bottles available- I’m thrilled to be able to include the Petite Arvine from les Claives this year, whose steeper stonier terrain just exudes Grand cru class. I didn’t get to taste the wine as it is still in barrel in a different cellar until bottling in November, but i’ve luckily locked down an allocation. Last year I was shut out, but after meeting and spending time together, Marie Therese has graciously allowed me to offer just about everything this year. I am told by locals that her best whites (like this) and her best reds are pretty much impossible to come by, so i’m quite flattered by her generosity; she must have liked me! ;0
The tasting note from Chappaz’s website: “The nose, still a little bit reticent, opens on fresh quince, exotic fruits, toast and a mineral touch. Nice mouth full, ample, marked by the terroir and its flinty notes. For cellaring.”
Ermitage President Troillet ’13 $75 36 bottles available – From the 90-120 year old vines in les Claives of gnarly, corkscrew shape pruned Ermitage or Marsanne. This is incredibly texturally rich, with a powerful mineral spine giving it shape and allowing it to finish airy and perfumey. This is another example of what a spectacular vineyard this is, but in an entirely other exotic Marsanne register. Another Grand cru caliber wine that I was unable to procure last year that she has graciously consented to share. This would blow people’s mind served blind in a nothern Rhone/Hermitage tasting.
The tasting note from the Chappaz website: “Beautiful golden color with hints of green. Intense nose, very complex, in a rare aromatic pepper, cinnamon, fresh noble leather, apricot, almond. The palate is full bodied, intense, long and ends sleek and cool way . A promising aging potential.”
Rose ’14 $29 60 bottles available- An assemblage of 50% saignée juice, 50% overnight maceration of Merlot, Pinot Noir, Humagne, and Syrah. Pale ruby color, tasting juicy and savory. An interesting quaffing wine that you can treat like a light bodied red wine, chilled down in warmer weather.
The tasting note from the Chappaz website: “A bright grenadine hue in color. Expressive bouquet of crushed strawberry, fruit cream, raspberry leaf. Vinous body, slender and full, crunchy and suave. This rosé will take on its full dimension when eating.”
Dole la Liaudisaz ’14 $32 36 bottles available- Dole is Swiss term that used to connote the finest Pinot Noir based red wine of an estate. As there are so many varieties planted in the Valais, in order to allow small amounts of coplanted vineyards to be included, they came up with the term a long time ago. At least 75% needs to be Pinot Noir. Because of this blended nature, it became somewhat analogous to a Bourgogne Passetoutgrains, the lowest on the totem pole in Burgundy. This is NOT how the old timers thought of Dole. The Chappaz Dole is 85% Pinot Noir, 15% Gamay from the area around the winery, and offers an impressive amount of savory, carnal, and floral intensity on a crunchy frame that should delight lovers of substantial everyday Bourgogne rouge or cru Beaujolais. I chose this one over a juicier more primay one called Ma Puinée, as it had much more substance/intensity and phenolic ripeness.
The tasting note from the Chappaz website: “The nose is oriented towards red fruits (strawberry, raspberry , wild plum) with a touch of hearth and fine filigree leather. Dense body, above all long which finishes supple, but at the same time completed with a slightly grainy tannin that gives peps to the final.”
Grain Gamay Vieilles Vignes ’14 $45 36 bottles available- To my taste, this was a wine of clearly noble, old vine origin that is an elemental nectar. For lovers of deeply savory and intense cru Beaujolais in a serious and crunchy style, you will love this. This shows how seriously good Gamay can be on the granite terraces of la Combe d’Enfer and les Claives. I believe that the Fully hillside is particularly celebrated for making the finest Gamay in the Valais. Marie Therese was quite pleased that I appreciated this wine so much. So often, people only expect bistro “easy” Gamay that is plump and primary. This is all about nobly austere and mineral driven savory depth. Got a little star in my notes….
The tasting note from the Chappaz website: “A beautiful violet color. Nose of liquorice, blackberries, red plum, and a touch of menthol. At first round, the mouthfeel quickly becomes bright while remaining elegant and racy. This tonic Gamay will be the ideal companion for hearty dishes.”
Grain Pinot (Noir) les Dahrres ’14 $55 24 bottles available- This is a micro cuvee from an upper elevation parcel within her parcel of Chamoson. It was so pretty, delicate, and unique that Marie Therese decided to bottle it separately this year for the first time. Of all of the Pinots that I tasted, its delicacy, purity, and charm made it one of my favorites, hence my decision to include it here.
The tasting note from the Chappaz website: “The color is a light cherry tint. Expressive nose evokes forest moss, oriental spices, red berries. Suave, delicate, silky and with an aromatic finish. With its soft style, this Pinot is to drink within 4 years.”
Grain Nature (Champ Dury) sans soufre ’14 $59 24 bottles available- Another first time bottling, she has made a sulfurless rendition of her best Pinot Noir site, located in the cooler NW facing Charrat vineyard, a blend of 90% Pinot Noir, 10% Gamay Noir. This stuff just oozes Grand cru class, with a sappiness, airyness, and gorgeous little red fruited spicy finesse. SHE IS CONCERNED THAT THE SULFURLESS WINE WILL NOT TRAVEL WELL, SO BUYER BEWARE. NO REFUNDS IF THE WINE DOESN’T CARE FOR ITS TRANSATLANTIC HAUL, EVEN IF TEMPERATURE CONTROLLED AT ALL POINTS. That being said, the purity of this wine was captivating and then some, and SHOULD be fine in November transit.
The tasting note from the Chappaz website: “Color of nice intensity, purplish ruby. Red berries, forest moss, warm forest floor and vanilla on the nose. Brilliant in the mouth, gourmet, delicious: one is immersed in a large fruit basket…from the Champ Dury lieu dit, and aged in barrel: can be cellared.”
Grain Pinot (Noir) Champ Dury (November bottling) ’14 $89 36 bottles available- Her best, and of the best that Switzerland has to offer in Pinot Noir. Again, from midslope of the Charrat side of the valley opposite Fully, with a cooler NW exposure and moderate slope. I didn’t get to taste this year’s rendition as it was in cask in a separate cellar.
The tasting note from the Chappaz website: “The color is deep, cherry with violet hues. Nose of wild cherry, gingerbread, cold fireplace, soft woods, vanilla. Entry in the mouth is supple and serious at the same time. Body of great density, supported by very noble tannins, ending a long finish that is not quite unfolded: cellaring potential of several years.”
Grain Cornalin ’14 $59 48 bottles available- WOW. This is seriously complex in a unique register. From steep terraces in Saillon, the neighboring village down valley from Fully (to the east). This variety was once thought to be native to the Val d’Aosta on the Italian side of the border, when in fact the Valais is its native origin. In fact, what they call Cornalin in the Val d’Aosta is not in fact the original Cornalin aka Humagne rouge, but a hybridized clone. True Cornalin aka Humagne is essentially extinct in the Val d’Aosta now. In complexity and intrigue, one of my favorite reds in the lineup, not to be missed!!!
The tasting note from the Chappaz website: “The color is a fine, dark purplish. The nose navigates between black fruits (blackberry, blueberry), violet and coal. Soft in attack, the mouth takes on greater tension as it unfolds and develops a fresh body, with aerien volume. Beautiful long fruity finish, very palatable.”
Grain Syrah (November bottling) ’14 $69 24 bottles available- From the steep granitic terraces of Fully, this is what Marie Therese describes as perhaps the best red in her cellar. I didn’t get to taste any, and wasn’t able to secure any of this last year. Glad to be able to offer some this year, as I can only imagine how the similar terroirs of the steep granitic terraces of Cornas and Fully would be well suited to the variety here.
The tasting note from the Chappaz website: “Very dark, purplish color. A beautiful graphite nose, vanilla bean, with scents of Provence (lavender). Touch of fine leather on opening. Mouth silky and vinous on entry with powerful body, dense, structured, juicy and tannic. Long finish for this vin de garde.”
Grain Noir ’13 $65 24 bottles available- A “Bordeaux” style blend of 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Cabernet Franc. Usually, when I hear “bordeaux style blend”, I shrug my shoulders and say, “oh well, once again, people making an “internationally styled” wine to keep up with the Joneses.” Well, I was wrong. This is flat out delicious. In black fruited powerful yet elegant palate presence, breadth and length, this is some VERY classy wine. A few of the long time private clients who were tasting along side us said that they buy 6-12 bottles of this wine, EVERY year, hands down. I can see why…..
The tasting note from the Chappaz website: “Dark garnet color. Bouquet of mountain berries, dried flowers, ashes, of coffee. Dense, powerful, quickly led by firm but fine tannins. Beautiful final persistence for a wine which shall allow 5 to 15 years of evolution.”
2013 Pinot Noir Charrat $59 6 bottles
“Deep cherry color. Nose of blackberry bramble, spices, and stone : it is quite complex but still a bit closed. Powerful mouth, precise, structured, with tight tannins and finishing on menthol notes. A vin de garde.”
2013 Grain Mariage $59 4 bottles
From a blend of Humagne rouge and Cornalin from the Champs Longs and Champs des Pierres parcels. This is super interesting and will be awesome to see evolve….
“Deep cherry color. The aromas evoke forest berries, cloves, red plums. Vinous right away, the mouth is full, rich with good acidity. Tightly knit but silky tannins lead into a long, salty finish.”
Once again, it is my pleasure and honor to present these for your pleasure and discovery. Marie Therese is so clearly a genuine, reverential, and (com)passionate soul whom I am delighted to represent. Her wines reflect her hard work and high values, with a grace and complexity that is pure class.
I will wait for the November bottlings to pickup the entire parcel, with the wines to arrive in late November ’15.
As always, with any questions or interests: firstname.lastname@example.org
CHEERS TO MARIE THERESE’S SPEEDY RECOVERY, AND THE MOUNTAIN MAJESTY OF THE VALAIS!!!