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A Little History


The Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine region in the south of the Rhône Valley in Southern France not only produces interesting and unusual wines, it also has a rich and varied history. Back in 1309, Pope Clement V, who before becoming Pope had been the Archbishop of Bordeaux, got fed up with Italian wine and moved the seat of the Papacy to Avignon in the south of France (while I am sure that wine was a very important factor in his decision, there may have been other political issues). While the Popes only stayed there for 70 years, they managed to build a great palace in Avignon and a summer palace 18 km north that became know as the Châteauneuf-du-Pape. There, Pope Clement tended to the important things, planting extensive vineyards to provide the his court with good French wine. By 1376, the French Cardinals' dominance had declined and Pope Gregory XI returned the Papacy to Rome, once again relegating the Popes to drinking Italian wine.

Even with the Popes gone, the wine-making traditions remained and thrived, with today's Châteauneuf wines still carrying the Papal seal embossed on the bottles. The vineyards in this part of the Rhone Valley are planted in unusually rocky, stony soil that is the secret to the ripeness of Châteauneuf wines. The stones act as storage heaters, soaking up the Provençal sunshine during the day, and then releasing the heat at night, long after sunset.

Châteauneuf wines are all blended from as many as 13 different grape varietals. While a few traditional producers still use all 13, most wineries limit their blends to the four predominate grapes, Syrah, Grenache, Mourvèdre and Cinsault. Because of these blend variations, not to mention winemaking style differences, Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines can be extremely variable. The wines tend to be full-bodied and fruity because of their ripeness, often peppery and can carry "barnyard" aromas, especially from the more traditional producers. Most Châteauneuf show well in their youth, but many are ageworthy with 15 to 20 year cellar potential.