Jaboulet is one of the oldest winemaking properties in northern Rhone. While we can’t be sure of the exact date of its creation, records that began in 1834 show there was a man making wine in Tain l’Hermitage, and it was he – Antoine Jaboulet – who has been credited with founding the label.
Antoine fathered twin boys, who were such a significant driving force in the business that the family firm is actually titled Paul Jaboulet Aine, named after Paul, the elder (‘aine’) of the two sons.
The family has been blessed with generations of sons, most of which have been involved in the running of the business at some point: Paul’s sons Louis and Henri, then Henri’s sons Louis and Jean, and then in the later part of the 20th century Louis’ son Gerard Jaboulet took the reins.
After Gerard died in 1997, no fewer than seven members of the Jaboulet family ran the business: Michel, Jacques, Philippe, Odile, Frédéric, Nicolas and Laurent, each equally presiding over the label which had become world-renowned for its wines, in particular the La Chapelle Hermitage – a fine wine made from vines situated on centuries-old hillsides.
But for reasons which are still a mystery, the estate was sold in 2006. Some claim France’s complicated inheritance laws forced the sale, others believe the estate lacked firm direction given the number of managers involved. In any case, the estate was bought by the Frey family, which is well-versed in winemaking (with a long history in the Champagne region, and owning Clateau La Lagune in Bordeaux as well as numerous holdings in the Rhone Valley), and under the day-to-day management of Caroline Frey, the vineyards which produce the label’s large portfolio of wines have earned sustainable farming status and are currently moving towards biodynamic certification.
Paul Jaboulet offers an impressive portfolio of wines, of varying qualities. A number of table wines have found favour with critics commending their ‘easy-drinking, everyday’ qualities, while others – the Aine Crozes Hermitage Thalabert, the Domaine de Terre Ferme Chateauneuf du Pape and the Hermitage Chevalier de Sterimberg, for example – are decidedly higher up the ladder of prestige, earning a great many solid-90s scores between them.
However, it’s the Hermitage La Chapelle for which the estate is – and likely always will be – best known. Vintages from 1961, 1978 and 1990 have each won perfect 100-point scores from Robert Parker himself, but good luck getting hold of any of those. Quality appears to have dropped a little between 1998 and 2007 (bar one exceptional vintage in 2003), likely due to the tumult of Gerard’s death and subsequent sale to the Frey Group. The 2003, if you can find it, is a diamond in a period of rough, and offers very high critic scores for a reasonable sum. More recent vintages, from 2009 onwards, appear to have rediscovered the wine’s previous winning formula, and have all scored well, particulalry the 2015 with 98 point from the Wine Advocate.
It’s still relatively early days for the La Chapelle Blanc, with its first release in 2006 and only a handful of vintages since, but it’s performed well both with critics and on the investment landscape. Certainly one to keep an eye on in the coming years.
Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage la Chapelle
The jewel in the estate’s crown, the Hermitage La Chapelle has earned itself a place in the history books as one of the 20th century’s ’12 mythical wines’ (for the 1961 vintage). While quality was inconsistent in the years immediately following Gerard’s death, more recent vintages have harked back to the wine’s former glory, with very high critic scores for this Syrah blend.
Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage la Chapelle Blanc
Reinstated in 2006 after the last white La Chapelle Blanc was produced in 1962, this white wine gives its red sibling a run for its money when it comes to critic opinion. Made from 80% Marsanne and 20% Rousanne vines – at least 35 years old – it offers a complex nose with notes of white fruit and pears, and an elegant, aromatic length.