The Western, Granite Terroirs of Hermitage

  • By Jacky Blisson MW
  • 09 Nov 2020
  • 5 MIN
  • Level 101
Made possible by
La Chapelle & Hermite vineyards - Credit : G.Blisson

Shaped by the Massif Central, the westernmost side of Hermitage contains the highest proportion of granite on the hillside. It is from these slopes that the most structured and long-lived red wines are fashioned.

Granite Soils

Granite is an igneous rock, formed by the slow cooling and subsequent crystallization of magma under the Earth’s crust. It is primarily composed of quartz and feldspar, with mica and trace amounts of other minerals. Granite-rich soils are generally porous, allowing for good drainage and deep vine rooting. They also provide good structural support, firmly anchoring the vines, which is a significant benefit in Hermitage’s steep upper slopes. Granite also radiates heat upwards into the vines during the day and cools down rapidly at night, aiding with ripening and acid retention. Debate exists amongst wine professionals on what characteristics granite soils bring to wine, though many speak of bright acidity, tension, and stony mineral notes. 

Famous Western Climats

Les Bessards

This is the largest and, often deemed, most prestigious climat in Hermitage. It is located on the western flank of the hill and benefits from a southwestern exposure. The vineyards sit above a sharp bend of the Rhône river, rising from gentle slopes to very steep, terraced vineyards at its highest point. 

Les Bessards possesses granite-based soils in various stages of decomposition. It is considered to be one of the finest Hermitage lieux-dits for Syrah. Red wines made exclusively or predominantly with fruit from Les Bessards are among the most muscular, full-bodied, and long-lived of Hermitage.

Les Bessards can be broken into three sections: 

  • Grands Bessards: the westernmost area composed of hard granite with a stony top layer.
  • Bessards: the central area, composed of granite with a higher clay proponent.
  • Petits Bessards: the lower stretches of the climat, composed of granite with alluvial stones alongside veins of limestone and clay.

A few of the most famous wines made exclusively, or largely, from the Les Bessards terroir are M. CHAPOUTIER “Le Pavillon”, Delas “Les Bessards”, and Jean Louis Chave Hermitage “Cuvée Cathelin”.

L’Hermite

L’Hermite is another highly reputed Hermitage climat. Technically it is both a western and central terroir as it sits high on the hill, atop the eastern part of Les Bessards, running eastwards above Le Méal. It is home to Hermitage’s iconic chapel of Saint Christopher.

The vineyard terrain is quite steep above Les Bessards and flattens into a plateau in its eastern reaches. From west to east the soil diversity is quite marked. In the west, hard granite and decomposed granite concentrations are more prevalent. The central area has varied soils including rounded, glacial alluvial stones, loess, and granite. Wind movement is responsible for the mainly loess and sandy clay soils of the eastern vineyard area. 

Marsanne and Roussanne thrive in the pockets of pure loess in the east, giving very lively, balanced White Hermitage with a subtle floral perfume and complex, saline flavours. Syrah can vary stylistically across L’Hermite but generally reflects the cool, high altitude climate, bringing fresh acidity, peppery spice, and a tightly knit structure.  

L’Hermite, much like Hermitage, has two spellings that are equally acceptable: L’Hermite or L’Ermite. Famous wines derived exclusively or primarily from the L’Hermite climat include M. CHAPOUTIER’S red and white “L’Ermite”.

La Chapelle & Hermite vineyards - Credit : G.Blisson