Since we were in the area, we had to swing by Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which is considered one of the finest appellations in the world. It is one of the 16 Crus of the Rhône Valley and one of the first of France’s AOC’s (appellations d’origine controlee). Within the official area of 32 square km, 320 chateaux produce 14 million bottles a year. To give perspective, there are only 2,000 or so residents.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape has an interesting history. Soon after the papacy relocated from Rome to nearby Avignon in the 14th century, the wine-loving Pope Clement John XXII planted vineyards to provide the court with wine. He built a castle (that was mostly destroyed during WWII) and set about flooding the region in viticulture. The resulting wines became known as Vin du Pape. Over the years, the term evolved into Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or “new house of the pope.”
Regulations allow an unusually high 13 types of hand-picked grapes to be used to produce wines. The most oft-used grape is Grenache, followed by Syrah and Mouvedre. Of the wines produced, 94% of are red and 6% are white.
The first thing that caught my attention here was the unique terrain. Vines seemed to grow out of piles of rocks.
It turns out this terrain is called galet roulés (“round pebbles”), which aptly describes the debris left by glaciers. When glaciers receded from this area, they left these pebbles scattered across the red clay soil. The pebbles trap the Provençal daytime heat and release it to the vines after dark, creating a very specific, continual heating environment.