Most people are familiar with the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine however, what some people may not know is that the wine comes from a charming Provencal village with the same name. The village grew around Châteauneuf-du-Pape, The Pope’s New Castle, built as the summer residence for the Popes of Avignon in the 14th century. And spending one perfect day in Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a must for wine lovers.
This blog post is about how to spend one perfect day in Châteauneuf-du-Pape exploring the village, visiting its unique vineyards, and tasting its delicious wine. It is easiest to do if you rent a car or hire a private driver. Making reservations at the wineries ahead of time is highly recommended.
History of CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE wine
Châteauneuf-du-Pape village is located between Avignon and Orange and as you are driving towards it, it appears as if the village is rising out of a sea of vines with the castle towering over the village.
Even though vines must have been planted and grown here before the arrival of the popes, there is no record of it, and they are credited with starting viticulture in the village which nowadays produces some of the best wines in the world. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the original French appellation and has some of the strictest rules winegrowers and winemakers must follow.
For the longest time, Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine was sold in bulk to boost Burgendy’s strength. Only since the 1970s when a number of quality-minded producers moved to the southern Rhône did the quality of the wine change significantly and it became some of the top and sought-after wines in the world.
The main thing that sets Châteauneuf-du-Pape apart is its soil. The big, smooth, rolled stones – galets – scattered everywhere create rock beds across the vineyards with no visibility of soil whatsoever are a dead giveaway that you are in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine region.
As unique and beautiful as these big rocks are they make it very hard to work the land. The stones serve a dual purpose for the vineyards, they retain the heat and can hasten the ripening but they also protect the soil from becoming parched and help hold the moisture in the soil.
The southern Rhône region also experiences a strong summer wind called – Le Mistral. Le mistral can be helpful and harmful to the vines, it can help cool down the vines and closer to the harvest keep grapes free of humidity and mold. However, it can be so strong that it rips vines apart. That’s why the vines are pruned low to the ground.
During our visit, we had a beautiful windy day (not a strong Le Mistral) but the next day we woke up with the valley completely covered in clouds. It was a majestic experience.
The grapes that can be used in producing Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine are called Châteauneuf thirteen – eight reds and five whites. However, there are additional five rare grapes allowed so in reality, they should be called Châteauneuf eighteen.
Grenache is the base grape usually blended with other varietals such as mourvèrde – to add structure, syrah – to deepen the color and spice, and others that are not as important as these three main ones.
Two main factors in making Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine are low yield and the absence of new oak barrel aging. Grenache is usually vinified in very large cement tanks, and other grapes in large, old barrels. You will not see small new oak barrels in this appellation. Because of this you truly taste the terroir when drinking Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine – earthy, gamey flavor.
BEST THINGS TO DO IN CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE
- Walk up to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape – The Castle
- Visit the Wine Museum in the village
- Visit local wine shops
- Visit local wineries
Suggested Itinierary For One PErfect Day IN CHÂTEAUNEUF-DU-PAPE
Start the day with a visit to one of the oldest wineries in the region, Château La Nerthe. The Château, nestled in the green park surrounded by endless vines, was built in the 18th century with a cellar from the 16th century.
It is humbling to walk through the cellar that has been in existence for 5 centuries with Roman stones and massive oak barrels. Historically, archived records from Château La Nerthe have helped trace the first commercial sales of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine.
Château La Nerthe is one of the few wineries that produce both red and white wine in this region (95% of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are red wines). The white wines are fresh with mineral expression and the red wines have superb elegance and fineness as well as a good balance between acidity and tannins.
We enjoyed a guided tour of the historical cellar and tasted 7 wines, including 5 Châteauneuf-du-Pape in a private room. The reservation was required for a tour of the cellar and private tasting, especially since we were visiting during the harvest season (late September). If you come in for a tasting and to purchase wine, walk-ins are welcome.
Château La Nerthe is set up with a shipping company to ship their wine to the USA. If you want to take more wine with you then you can carry in your luggage. They may waive the tasting fee depending on how much wine you purchase.
After the wine tour, head to the heart of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape village to explore the village, visit a wine museum, and enjoy lunch at one of the local spots. You can park the car at the bottom of the village and walk up to the castle, or you can drive up.
On a beautiful September day, we parked at the bottom of the village and walked our way up to the Pope’s New Castle. What is left of the castle now are just ruins, but one could never tell until getting close to it. When at the castle take in the view of the surroundings, endless sea of vines around you and Rhône flowing to the west.
The village is full of wine shops selling different Château and Domaine wines, that you can ship to your home country or take with you. After exploring the village find one of the local places to enjoy lunch. We stopped at La Maisouneta – a little house of happiness – for delicious lunch and some more wine.
FUN FACT: As explained to us by one of the winemakers in the region, when the wine is labeled Château, it means the grapes are used from the single estate composed of vineyards surrounding a building or house. Where Domaine is a collection of vineyard parcels scattered through different villages and appellations.
The next stop is The Wine Museum – Musée du Vin Brotte. The museum offers a 45-minute audio tour in six different languages, and you can learn about Châteauneuf-du-Pape cru, the grape varieties, viticulture, vinification, and the aging process. At the end of your visit, you can also enjoy a tasting experience at a very reasonable price.
Visit + Discovery Tasting – €6 per person
Visit + Prestige Tasting – €9 per person
Our final winery visit was to family-owned Château Fortia Sarl. The history of Château Fortia dates to the 18th century when the estate became the property of Hercules Paul de Fortia. It was in the hands of the family until it was sold in 1890 to Hippolyte Bernard Le Saint who expanded and increase the surface area of the vines to 17 hectares.
In 1919 Madam Bernard Le Saint entrusts the estate to her daughter and son-in-law Baron Le Roy, who became one of the most important advocates for the creation of Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) for Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the very first appellation in France. Since then, the Château Fortia and its wine have stayed with the family Le Roy.
We started with the wine tasting in a quaint little tasting room, where we learned about the history of the estate, vineyards, and grapes. There are no cellar visits in September and October due to the harvest season and vinification.
Once we concluded the tasting, we explored Château’s wine trail. It is a self-guided walk through the vineyards following 12 explanatory panels that explain even further grape varieties and AOC Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It was a beautiful walk through the vineyards, but make sure you bring comfortable walking shoes, some water with you, and sunscreen. It takes about an hour to complete the walk.
WHERE DID WE STAY
We stayed in another Provencal village – Gordes at L’Amadnière bed and breakfast type of accommodation.
This worked better for us because we were exploring more wineries in Luberon. It is also a perfect location for exploring surrounding villages, bike trails, or hiking.
There are many beautiful villages in this area that you can stay in. Or if looking for a bigger town Avignon is only 15 minutes away.
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