Hello to all

Since winter time is down-time here – no work in the vineyard (now that is is sold) – no winery sales (only a few clients come out this time of year) – no work around the house…not much news

So I thought, to help get TOURS du RHONE up and running, and to keep you all entertained, I would start including in this blog a bit of a travelogue – I would go and scout-out the potential spots for touring, and fill you all in on what’s what.

Every week I will strike off to visit one or more of the local wine spots and report back – with pictures and ideas for stops on the tour(s).

OFF WE GO – today is CHATEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE

(Note: when tasting red wines it is always best to start with the less powerful and finish with the big hitters. Today, however, we are doing it in reverse…because Chateauneuf-du-Pape is closest to home).

Chateauneuf, the town, is about 2000 people, most of whom are directly involved in the wine industry. The wine AOC covers about 7800 acres, and is owned by more than 300 winefarmers.

First stop is, of course, to observe the vineyards, with their unusually rocky soil. These large galets (stones), taken together with the red soil, is what makes CDP wines pretty unique..and the most powerful of the southern Cotes du Rhone AOC’s. The grenache grape, which is the dominant grape of the area, takes real well to this rocky well-draining soil. This time of year, all the vines are dormant, and most of the winter pruning has been done, so all that’s left are the stubs – from which will grow the new shoots in the spring. For Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines, grenache is king, but you also found a lot of syrah and mouvedre in the reds (8 varieties are allowed but not all used).

White wines (about 6% of production) are primarily based on grenache blanc, rousanne, clairette and boubelenc grapes. No rose wine is allowed in the AOC, but some houses will make a Vin de Table for themselves.

Since it is still winter, and traffic is WAY down, many of the domaines are closed – its their time to unwind from harvest and get ready for Spring – many take time off in February for vacations to the sun (Corsica, Canary Islands, Carribean). But i was able to at least swing by a few and check-in for the upcoming year.

Cuvee du Vatican is located just on the outskirts of town as you leave toward Courthezon. The name is a reflection of the Papal approval given to the wine back in the 1950 (the Diffonty family goes back some 450 years here in town). They own about 16ha ( 40 acres) spread out over the appellation, and produce both red and white Chateauneuf-du-Pape as well as Cotes du Rhone and VDT wines.

Next, its into town to explore a bit. As it is mid-winter the crowds today are non-existent, and the streets are quiet. Shops are doing their own winter ‘spruce-up’ to get ready for the season.
Lunch typically would be in one of the small restaurants in the middle of town – (La Mule du Pape; Le Pistou; La Masionetta; La Mere Germain) great variety of foods and styles. I am late and I have missed it for today..rats.

After that, its just a quick stroll up the hill to visit the remains of the Chateau that gave the town its name. The Chateau was built back in the 14th century as the summer chateau for the Pope – during the period in which the Catholic church was centered in Avignon. Not much remains after it was almost totally destroyed in WWII. While there is not much to see of the chateau, the commanding 360 degree panorama is not to be missed – – to the south you can see down the river to Avignon, and to the west Mont Ventoux looks to be oh so close.

From the top of the hill, its only a quick jaunt down to visit Domaine Bosquet des Papes. Another long-time family of the area (15 generations!!) – they own about 27 ha (65 acres) of vines – but spread out over 40 parcels (which is very typical for this area). From that they produce 3 or 4 different cuvees of red Chateauneuf-du-Pape and one white wine. One of their red’s is about 98% grenache – with the others following the traditional 80/10/10 split with syrah and mouvedre,

Last stop is at the small Domaine du Banneret just down the street. Jean-Claude Vidal – who’s nephew Jean-Marc Espinasse owns a wine domaine in the Cotes du Rhone (Domaine Rouge & Bleu) – owns 3ha ( 7+ acres) in 7 parcels. Using most of the 13 varieties allowed, and farming biodynamically, he produces some great wines in the traditional style.

And with that, its a wrap for today.

More next week……Hill Towns !