Bila Haut: A Label Decoded

Horses help plowing at Bila Haut.jpg

Vineyards at Bila Haut

From a very famous winemaker from the Rhone Valley, Bila Haut is Michel Chapoutier’s venture into the Roussillon on the border with Spain. Bila is the local term for villa and Haut is French for higher elevation, therefore describing their ideal location in Latour-de-France at the foothills of the Pyrenées. All of these wines are incredible values, and much like the DaVinci Code, each label reveals unknown secrets from the Braille that all Chapoutier wines are known for to the local history of the Cathars and the Knights Templar. Let’s decode the label and talk about the amazing wines beneath.

bila-haut-labelFor 20 years Chapoutier has put Braille on their wine bottles, and since my mom was both French and blind, I’ve always wondered why. I’ve heard different stories, but most often I’ve heard that Michel Chapoutier’s mother or daughter was blind (and since they’ve been doing it for 20 years, I felt that the mom was a better guess). Then I learned that his daughter is an Olympian sharpshooter with incredible eyesight. The truth is even more interesting and goes back to the great grandfather of the current owner/winemaker. 

The Hermitage wine ‘Monier de la Sizeranne’ was purchased by Chapoutier from close friends, the Sizeranne family. Maurice, the nephew of Monier de la Sizeranne, lost his sight as a child and devoted his life to simplify the Braille language. He founded the Valentin Haüy Association. Maurice died in 1924, and we are not exactly sure when Marius Chapoutier bought these parcels, but Michel’s decision in 1995 to put Braille on the labels of all Chapoutier wine was an homage to that story his grandfather taught him.

Bila Haut L'Esquerda.JPGNow for some other decoding, the “T” in “Haut” of Bila Haut has been stylized into a Knights Templar Cross, as both the Cathars and the Knights Templar were known to live in this borderland region of France. The seal on the label also refers to these secret societies.  A very modern symbol on the bottle, almost a Yin Yang symbol with arrows, tells us of its biodynamic nature, where modern practices meet ancient knowledge in the vineyards. The names of the two flagship wines also tell a story as “L’Esquerda” means “the fault in the rock” in Catalan and “Occultum Lapidem” translates as “mysterious stone” named after a megalithic stone found on the vineyard site. A site used perhaps for ancient rituals that has now been co-opted for our more modern vinous rituals.

Occultum Lapidem.jpgThe “Occultum Lapidem” already has a cult following due to five consecutive vintages of 95+ scores from The Wine Advocate. The flavors are bold and dense, using classic Rhone varietals: Syrah, Grenache and Carignan. The higher proportion of Syrah, plus 70-year-old Grenache vines, and the larger percentage of Carignan give the wine incredible complexity, for just $25 per bottle. It compares with Chateauneuf-du-Papes that are three times the price. L’Esquerda is from more granitic soil, thanks to the fault line, and has a higher proportion of Syrah in the blend giving it a Northern Rhone character and garners similar scores.

The “basic” Bila Haut level includes a white, a rosé and a red for about $13 each. Again we’ve seen some great scores from both Parker’s Advocate and Wine Spectator. All are outstanding Rhone-style wines providing their own version of the classic herbal garrigue flavors, buttressed by great minerality supporting slightly riper fruit than their Rhone relatives. Stop by one of our stores and try a bottle of these great wines to create your own stories, or just retell this one.

Daniel Eddy, Wine & Spirits Sales Manager
Follow me on Twitter @abcwinedane

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