Lying twenty kilometers north of Valence, Tain-l’Hermitage is the home of some of the country’s finest wine appellations – Hermitage, Saint-Joseph, Crozes-Hermitage, and Cornas – as well as one of the most prestigious French wineries: Chapoutier. Its hillside vineyards laced with paths form fascinating landscapes, but they are difficult to get to unless you climb onto an electric mountain bike and follow your guide!
Here are three routes you can take starting at the Chapoutier estate. As you go along, you’ll notice the different layers and textures of the surrounding land. When you get back, swirl a glass of wine under your nose and sip its delicious flavour on your taste buds, and your close encounter with the terroir will bring your tasting to life.
On the Hermitage hill
They say that the Hermitage hill is lit by three suns: the first is the natural star, the second is the reflection of its rays on the River Rhône and the third is how they are reflected by the silica in the ground. Why not take a ramble up the mountainside and see it for yourself? First stage: the Tour du Pavillon, which lends its name to Chapoutier’s “Le Pavillon” cuvée, an AOC Hermitage that is regularly attributed 100/100 by the Parker Guide. The vines cover the uniquely formed slopes that are made up of a thin layer of sediment resting on a granite subsoil. Stone terraces punctuate the landscape and are sometimes evocative of Paul Klee’s paintings.
Since 1991, the Chapoutier vineyards have been converted to biodynamic agriculture, a respectful way of tending the land and interacting with nature to produce the finest wines. You can walk up to the Tour Carrée with a guide from the winery, and see where the elixirs (infusions of valerian, nettle puree, etc.) used for biodynamic vine treatments are stored. The Chante-Alouette plot is there too, which is the house’s oldest wine and was first produced by Marius Chapoutier. He founded the company in 1879 and used to say that a good wine is one you want to taste.
The promontory of the Chapelle Saint-Christophe affords extraordinary views over the Rhône Valley, and all the grapes in the surrounding area are produced by Chapoutier. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see the estate’s two horses, Tulipe and Cuzco, at work. In spring and summer the grass grows freely, while butterflies and bees flit among the leaves. Reach down and grab a handful of earth (decomposed granite) and slide it between your fingers; you’ll realise just how alive and light the soil is here.
Follow the path to the Pierre-Aiguille mountains and from the lookout point you can see the entire Crozes-Hermitage appellation. But be patient, we’ll get there tomorrow…
On the road to Crozes-Hermitage
Spread over almost 1,650 hectares and including 11 towns, Crozes-Hermitage is the largest appellation on the slopes of the Northern Rhône. Chapoutier produces six versions of the AOC: “Les Meysonniers” and “Petite Ruche”, in red and “Les Varonniers” and “Sicamor” in white. From Tain, bypassing the Hermitage hill, you’ll cross the vineyards planted with Syrah, Marsanne and Roussanne before reaching the town of Crozes-Hermitage. From the small town, head up the Chemin des Lavoirs until you can enjoy a well-deserved break at the Méjeans viewpoint overlooking the Rhône. Cross the apricot orchards and get the chance to impress your teammates with your local knowledge: the terroir on which these trees are planted is renowned for giving the wine the taste of stone fruit. Likewise, as you reach higher land the pebbles underfoot gradually become granite. The vines then produce fruit with a more mineral taste, and sometimes aromas of gunflint, which is the smell of two pieces of flint rubbing against each other.
Go back down to the village of Gervans – still within the appellation – and visit its pretty little church that dates back to the 1860s. The hydroelectric power station lock spans the river there. Three kilometers further along you will go over the River Rhône again, by means of the impressive Arras dam with its six outlets. From there onwards, the route meanders back to the water's edge in the shade of the trees: this is ViaRhôna, a 815 km cycle path that connects Lake Geneva to the Mediterranean Sea. The beautiful Marc-Seguin footbridge will once again take you across the Rhône, from Tournon and back to the Chapoutier wine store. You’ll take the path in the other direction the next day to discover Saint-Joseph.
The home of Saint-Joseph
Take the Marc-Seguin suspension bridge over to the Château de Tournon (A) and walk through the village’s picturesque streets. Why not consider this as a little warm-up before you take the departmental road 219 that winds along the mountain’s eastern slope? First stop: the Tour de la Vierge. This is Hermitage in all its glory. Traffic is light on the D219, but visibility around its bends is tricky: make sure you ride in single file and keep well to the right along the granite rock outcrop. Recently renovated pale stone terraces mark out the “Clos” parcel, which is the largest of Chapoutier’s Saint-Joseph vineyards. Further along on the left by the side of the road stands a statue of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of the appellation. He overlooks the city from the protection of his metal cage. Turn right at the sign for the lookout point table. At 300 metres above sea level, the vines disappear to leave space for apricot trees. When the fruit is ready to eat, trucks sell it by the roadside. The view over the valley is breathtaking.
Looking across to the small Hermitage hill you can see that it is actually formed where two hills have come together: the one on the right is topped with Chapoutier’s Tour Carrée, and the chapel stands at the summit of the one on the left (circuit 1). Between the two is the “valley” of Méal, where Chapoutier harvests the grapes for the cuvée of the same name. This landscape is distinguished by its four terroirs: pebbles and granite, which are common in the Rhône Valley, but also clay and limestone. It is one of the only places where the four geological ages can be found in a pocket-size area.
Go back down the same road and take even greater care. When you reach Tournon, turn right and follow the freight railway line. You’ll then be right in the birthplace of the Saint-Joseph appellation. On the right, a large sign displaying the name “M. CHAPOUTIER” stands on the hill, reminiscent of the white letters of “Hollywood” in Los Angeles. The Syrah grapes for the “Granits” cuvée – one of the house’s finest wines – are harvested here. Further along you’ll reach Mauves. Wander through the streets of the village until you find the ViaRhôna and head back towards Tain.
Each of the circuits can be found on the OpenRunner GPS application
that you can download for free
to get around?
Caveau M. Chapoutier
Chapoutier has its own fleet of electric mountain bikes that you can rent daily for groups of up to 6 cyclists. Rental costs €25 per person and a tasting at the cellar bar is included when you return. Guidance during the tasting from a house sommelier is also available at €70 for the group.
Caveau M. Chapoutier, 18, avenue Dr Paul-Durand, 26600 Tain-l’Hermitage.
Where to say ?
4-star hotel Fac & Spera
The 4-star hotel Fac & Spera has 55 luxury rooms and belongs to M. Chapoutier himself. The influence of the estate can also be seen in the small complimentary bottles of wine that are included in the minibars. Room rates from €106 (depending on the season). The spa is a great place to relax after a day’s pedaling, and outside guests are also welcome at a cost of €20 per person.
1, avenue du Docteur Paul-Durant, 26600 Tain-L’Hermitage. Tel.: +33(0)4 75 08 65 00.
Chapoutier has 6 exceptional gites in the heart of the vineyards with facilities ranging from 2 bedrooms (at the very romantic Tour du Pavilion) to 11 bedrooms (L’Ermite 4). From €170 for the weekend (2 nights).
Please contact the winery on +33 (0)4 75 08 92 61 or visit www.chapoutier-gites.com for more information
Where to eat ?
At the Fac & Spera, regional cuisine enthusiasts will be delighted with the four variations on ravioli (from €12). On the terrace overlooking the Hermitage hill, customers themselves can grill some exceptional meats from the maturation cellar (from €10.90 per 100 g for Angus beef). There is something for all budgets with an unbeatable menu that includes a starter, a main course and a dessert for just €18. Wine lovers will also be impressed with the list of around 800 bottles from various regions and countries around the world.
The neighbouring restaurant is a wonderful spot to stock up on picnic food before embarking on a long bike ride. We recommend a sandwich filled with caillette pâté, a specialty from the Drôme and Ardèche. Sandwich, drink and dessert: €6.90.
In front of Tain-L'Hermitage station.
Ferraton Père & Fils
On the banks of the Rhône looking out onto the Tournon hill, this beautiful estate offers you a chance to taste its wines and excellent cuisine made with local produce. You can enjoy a starter, a main course and a dessert for €17.
7, quai Arthur-Rostaing, 26600 Tain-l’Hermitage. +33(0)4 75 08 51 93.
to have a drink ?
Opened in October 2019, the new Fac & Spera bar takes its name from a Rhône Valley grape variety that was rediscovered by Chapoutier. The drinks menu is the same as the one at Marius Bistro (from €3.50 for the “Marius” IGP Pays d’Oc), with a few rare gems such as durza, naturally, as well as the house gin known as “Sothis”, a Châteauneuf-du-Pape “Barbe Rac” from 1990, the “L'Ermite” cuvée from 1991 and the “De l'Orée” cuvée from 1999. These delights can also be served with an assortment of local cheeses: Picodon, Saint-Marcellin, Bleu de Vercors, etc. (€15 for a board).