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Winery #33: Michelas St. Jemms (Northern Rhone, France)

Updated: Jun 10, 2022

The final stop of the 500 Wineries Northern Rhône Expedition was to visit Michelas St. Jemms, a winery located just outside the town of Tain-l’Hermitage in the Northern Rhône. This is a second generation family-owned estate producing wine since 1961. The family focuses on organic agriculture in the vineyard as well as biodiversity by housing bee hives and even an insect hotel!

In the cellar, the family uses cylinder concrete vessels for fermentation, which was interesting to us as our in our previous experiences, wineries generally use square or rectangular tanks. Michelas St. Jemms also has a concrete egg for maturation on a spinning wheel contraption to keep the wine well-circulated as it ages. The family produces a special wine, Cuvee 29, using the practice of fermenting in amphora, an ancient method originating over 6,000 years ago in the country of Georgia. The level of experimentation and innovation throughout the production process greatly impressed us during our tour.

Michelas St. Jemms hand-harvests the grapes and conducts fermentation separately by plot. Giving each unique vineyard plot a separate fermentation tank provides the winemaker with greater flexibility to create the perfect final blend of wine. When walking through the family’s vineyard, we could see the multitude of slopes and aspects in relation to the sun. These dimensions will impact grape development through the growing season and hence the qualities of the final wine. And so if a winery like Michelas St. Jemms is inclined to, and has the space (and capital) for separate fermentation tanks, it can make sense to ferment the wines separately.

Upon completing the cellar tour, our host led us to the wine tasting room where we found an outstanding set-up showing the different soil types in the Northern Rhône where Michelas St. Jemms' grapes are grown. As a wine refrigerator connoisseur, I noticed the interesting four-zone wine cooler built into the wall. It's difficult to see in the picture below, but there is a small nozzle in the center that fits into the end of a replaceable cap on the wine. The nozzle employs an automated vacuum system that pulls out the correct amount of air from the opened bottle of wine, helping the wine stay fresh longer after it is opened. This was the first time I've seen something like this, as vacuum caps are normally hand-pumped. Very cool!

We had the opportunity to taste eight wines produced across the 52 hectares of vineyards. Surprise, surprise – we felt the best of show was a Saint-Joseph Syrah, the 2019 Terres d’Arce, from the Les Cuvées D’Exception product line. The wine was aged in 80 percent new French oak barrels, contributing tannins to the wine's structure and flavors of vanilla and baking spice. The complexity of flavors and aromas, texture of the wine on the palate, and the integration of the tannin to create a wine of finesse distinguished this Syrah from the line-up.

Lastly, there was a very cute winery cat that graced us with his presence just outside the tasting room. Brodi took great offense to the cat’s eagerness to join our tasting, and spent twenty minutes attempting to intimidate the cat through the glass door with mean-mugging stares.

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