Domaine Paul Chapelle is a very young domaine by Burgundian standards, having only been started in 1976, when Chapelle inherited a parcel of vines in the fine premier cru Santenay vineyard of Les Gravières. Over the course of the next several years he pieced together a small estate with vineyard parcels in Puligny-Montrachet, Meursault and Santenay. Prior to starting his own domaine, Monsieur Chapelle had made a name for himself as a consulting enologist at some of the very best estates in all of the Côte de Beaune, including Domaines Ramonet, Michel Lafarge, François Jobard, Paul Pernot, Simon-Bize, Hubert de Montille and Domaine de la Pousse d’Or. In fact, this was really a who’s who list of the greatest estates in the southern half of Burgundy at the time, and even today!
Paul began as a consultant in 1967, and based on the caliber of his previous clients, it is quite easy to see that Chapelle brought to his own domaine a wealth of experience and winemaking savvy. He retired after the 1995 vintage, handing over the reigns of the estate to one of his two sons in law, Jean-François Beck, who was responsible for the vineyard management and winemaking from 1996 - 2009. The reigns have since passed to Paul Chapelle's daughter, Christine Beck Chapelle, who has re-immersed herself in the domaine and today oversees all aspects. Paul himself passed away in 2017, and was honored by many of his famous former clients who both recognized and celebrated his important contribution to the world of Burgundy for nearly 50 years.
The style of the Paul Chapelle wines is quite classic (not surprising, given the quality of his previous clients), with an emphasis on expressing the underlying terroir of the different vineyard bottlings, and avoiding such cellar gimmicks as excessive new oak and heavy battonage. The Chapelle vineyard holdings are farmed on a semi-organic basis, which the French call “lutte raisonée”, which demands that all vineyards are taken care of as organically as possible except in moments of dire threat to the grapes. The yields are kept low to allow the delicate nuances of the underlying soil to be translated as faithfully as possible, with chardonnay yields in the estate’s vineyards in Puligny and Meursault kept in the forty to forty-five hectoliters per hectare range. The pinot noir vines in Santenay “Les Gravières” are kept even smaller.
The wines are fermented and aged without a lot of new oak, with only ten to twenty percent utilized even for the top premier crus in the lineup. The white wines from Domaine Paul Chapelle include a lovely Meursault villages bottling, which perfectly captures the racy and minerally side of Meursault, with delicate overtones of hazelnuts and a lovely core of pure fruit. There is also a Puligny-Montrachet AC bottling, which shares with the Meursault a very soil-driven and minerally personality, with all of the pure, citrus and clean pear fruit of the wines of Puligny. Both are exceptional village wines.
Domaine Paul Chapelle also has a fine pair of premier crus in the village of Puligny, which include one of the best examples of Champgains made in the Côte de Beaune, and a richer and more powerful wine from the little seen premier cru vineyard of “Hameau de Blagny”, which is made from the domaine’s oldest vines now having exceeded the age of eighty years of age. The Champgains is typically the more forward of the two premier crus, with the beautifully-situated parcel owned by the Chapelle family located at the top of the slope of this large vineyard, which produces a much more racy and soil-defined wine than can be the case with examples of Champgains that hail from the heavier soils on the lower sections of the slope. It shares with the village wines a strikingly mineral personality. The Hameau de Blagny is the biggest and slowest wine to unfold amongst the white wines at Domaine Paul Chapelle. These gnarled old chardonnay vines produce a deep, powerfully-styled premier cru Puligny that really offers some of the depth and power of a grand cru, and of course ages very well.
Fortunately, the domaine is old-fashioned in another sense as they also are willing to age their wines in the cellars for a few years prior to release, so that the by the time their wines are made available, they have already seen several years of bottle age and are beginning to blossom and drink beautifully. It is not uncommon for the wine to see four or five years in the domaine’s cellars before it is released, and there are often cellar treasures that are 10-20 years old that have been resting quietly in their chilly cellars!
Domaine Paul Chapelle also turns out a lovely example of their Santenay “Les Gravières” rouge, which is made from old vines and also takes a bit of time to evolve in the bottle before it begins to show its true quality. The wine is again raised with very little new oak making it somewhat sturdy in its youth but allowing it to blossom beautifully with sufficient bottle age. It is an impressively serious example of this little known, but fine terroir, and consistently offers outstanding value for savvy red Burgundy lovers willing to venture out a bit from the well-beaten paths in the Côte de Nuits. Fortunately, the Domaine is also happy to hold back this lovely wine until it has shed some of the youthful rusticity of young Santenay and blossomed.
Domaine Paul Chapelle is one of the best-kept secrets in Burgundy, and with their penchant for allowing wines to blossom in their own cellars before they are offered up for sale, they are particularly sommelier-friendly!