Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a French wine appellation in the Rhône Valley, close to the border of Provence. It is known for its bold Grenache-based red blends. Officially, the region makes both red and white wines with up to 13 different grapes. We have enjoyed wine tours in Spain, champagne-tasting in Paris, port cellar tours in Portugal and whisk(e)y distillers galore in Scotland and Ireland. We knew this was an area we had to visit.
The name translates to “pope’s new castle,” and refers to the time when the Roman Catholic Church was in the Papal Palais in Avignon in the 1300s. This was where the Popes' had their Summer Residence when escaping the heat of the city on the other side of the Rhone River. The popes were huge fans of the wines of Burgundy and wanted the same access to good wines in this area. The region has written records of vineyards dating back to 1100, but winemaking was happening long before that.
So I could enjoy the full tasting experience, we decided to book a tour from Avignon. We were delighted that our Avignon Prestige Tour turned into a private tour with owner, Benoit. He was a delightful guide who chauffeured us to 4 different wineries and a special stop at a chocolatier.
Châteeauneuf du Pape is one of the official 19 crus (growths) of the Côtes du Rhône wine region. It was the very first French wine appellation, created in 1936. There are over 300 wine growers and nearly 8,000 acres of vineyards in the appellation, producing an average of 14 million bottles per year. There are 13 grapes used but nearly three-quarters of the vineyards grow Grenache grapes. It is most known for red wines but it also produces white varieties.
The first place we stopped was the Domaine Mousset, part of Château des Fines Roches. Benoit explained that this was one of the sunniest and driest areas of France. The vineyards are not irrigated but instead have porous rocks over clay. These rocks absorb the dew and any rainfall and gradually release the moisture into the soil. Unfortunately, climate change is speeding up the season, with grapes becoming smaller and needing an earlier harvest. Benoit speculated that the irrigation rules will likely need to be changed as climate change continues to bring drier and hotter temperatures.
The château with its turrets, battlements, and mullioned windows sits atop a hill looking every inch like a fairy-tale castle. It has been owned by the Mousset family for five generations. We entered the large tasting and sales center where we were greeted by a very knowledgeable staff member who shared 4 different wines, both red and white, from the estate.
Our second stop was Le Verger des Papes, high on the hill with stunning views of the valley below. This is where the ruins of the Summer Palace remain.
Not only will you find the cave for tastings but next door is a restaurant featured in the 2022 Michelin guide. We went into the cave, a truly extraordinary setting within natural cellars.
There are five vaulted rooms dug from the limestone and enjoys a perfect environment for wine preservation with cool constant temperatures and natural ventilation.
We tasted 5 different varieties of wine, both red and white. We were very impressed with all, especially enjoying the fruity overtones of the reds and the lightness of the whites. We both bought bottles of Clos des Brusquières to bring home.
Our next stop was a more modern establishment located in the town, Domain Dureau. This domaine was created in 1976 when Lucile Avril gifted her son, Paul, a few hectares of vines. It is now owned by Paul's son, Vincent. Most of the fields are dedicated to red grapes with a small amount devoted to whites. Here, we bought bottles of red named for Lucile Avril.
The final winery was Maison Brotte, which includes a fabulous museum dedicated to the wine-making tradition of the region.
Here, we also learned about the history of the winery which became well-known when they produced La Fiole du Pape, in a weirdly-shaped "dusty" bottle and a unique style of wine-making.
Last, an unscheduled stop at Chocolatier Bernard Castelain. This huge facility included many, many different treats and samples of fine chocolate. We both grabbed some treats.
We thoroughly enjoyed our day, and I was very glad to be able to indulge in all the tastings since I didn't need to drive. We enjoyed chatting with Benoit and learning about the area from a local's point of view. We both went back to our digs with bottles to drink and bottles to take home. It was a fabulous way to spend an afternoon.
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