About the winery
"I love Chénas which I believe is a compromise between the fruitiness of Gamay and its cellaring potential, as with its neighbouring Moulin-à-Vent."
At 32 years old Christophe Lapierre is a practical man. He chooses to serve his customers in little glasses ‘not for penny-pinching but because of drink-driving and a smaller glass reassures’. His bottles have his father’s name on them even though the reins have been passed on, his parents still working the vines throughout the year. The domain name Chênepierre is a contraction of Chénas and the family name.
The father loves his son’s kindness. Ever since he was a child Christophe knew he would make wine. He began his studies at fifteen going to the Davayé agricultural college where he furthered in scientific studies culminating in an under graduate degree in viticulture and enology. He preferred taking over the vineyard rather than going on to become an enologist as his parents had imagined. He claims his diplomas were gained during his work experience in Germany in the Mittelrhein. No language problems here when your mother is the daughter of Alsace wine makers! Five months of hands on experience taught him how to successfully attract clients in the business field along side the fine hospitality of the German producers.
Under his influence, the bottle sales side of the business, having previously only worked from the tasting room, has flourished with the participation in the Independent Wine-maker Fairs (salons des vignerons indépendants), and tastings with colleagues from other regions. However the Lapierre family welcomes customers throughout the year, with or without an appointment, a question of tradition and, on the odd occasion, Sunday as well, ‘if we are here’. The 20,000 bottle production is attained the years where there are no bulk sales. When the wines go to merchants it is by small batches of thirty hectolitres. The export market accounts for a small 15% of sales but for Christophe the aim is to sell everything by the bottle.
When he took over the domain, there was no generational conflict, as the connection between parents and son is strong. The handing over was natural. Two thousand and one was his first vintage with the keys to the cellar. ‘It was a huge responsibility and a creative moment where I had to do the best.’ In vinification he began de-stemming in different proportions according to the batches. ‘We need the stems for our wines, we roast systematically all our ‘cuvées’ and complete with ‘délestage’ to gain colour. ‘Délestage’ is above all interesting to extract more structure and enabling longer and more homogeneous fermentation kinetics. This provokes the yeast to work better and creates more body for the wines’. Although he tried ‘pigeage’ (cap-punching) on his 2011 Moulin-à-Vent he doesn’t necessarily use it for all his tanks.
With an average vine age of 45 years old he often barely attains his desired yields but that suits him. ‘As of 2002 we began pruning forty ares of Gamay with ‘double cordon’. It was fascinating to work through this radical change. We gained in harvest quality and can now begin to mechanize. We will try a harvest machine on this plot in 2012’.
Although organics are not his thing, he does practice reasoned viticulture. ‘The move to organic viticulture on my domain is complicated: 80% of the vines don’t belong to me.’ Besides, half of the 10 hectares goes to the Chénas cooperative that overlooks the house. In 2010 he planted 40 ares of Chardonnay on a clay soil in the village of La Chapelle de Guinchay. White Beaujolais is on its way. He is always eager to extol the delights of the ‘cru’ of which he is so proud: ‘I love Chénas which I believe is a compromise between the fruitiness of Gamay and its cellaring potential, as with its neighbouring Moulin-à-Vent’. For that matter Christophe continues to make the ‘cuvée’ ‘Prestige’ in Moulin-à-Vent, created by his father in 1989. After fifteen months in new oak it only sees the light of day in the finer years; six times in twenty years (2009, 2005, 2003, 1999 1996)! This rare ‘cuvée’ ages into a wine comparable to that of a Burgundian Pinot Noir.
As for future generations taking over the domain, he cherishes the idea that his name and vineyard will continue to exist. ‘I was never forced to be a wine-maker. Like my parents, I wanted, at an early age, to flourish in a rich and varied trade. The taste of wine came almost like Obelix who fell into the cauldron of magic potion.’ You know, the affable Gaul from the cartoon. Does he remind you of anyone?