Chateauneuf du Pape: Great Red Wine from France's Southern Rhone Valley

One of the most famous wine regions in the world is Chateauneuf du Pape.  Chateauneuf du Pape covers almost 8,000 acres in the southern Rhone Valley of France.  The officially demarcated wine region enjoys a very warm climate, baked by the Mediterranean sun.  While both red and white wines are made here, it is the red wine that has made this area famous. 

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Chateauneuf du Pape Recommendations

The name translates as “the new home of the Pope”.  In 1308, Pope Clement V was concerned about his, and the papacy’s safety in Rome.  He, being comfortable in France as the former Archbishop of Bordeaux, moved the papacy to the Southeastern French town of Avignon.  At the time of the move, there was little viticulture in the southern Rhone.  A prime growing area turned out to be about 7 miles north of Avignon near the banks of the Rhone River.  When Pope John XXII succeeded Clement V, he promoted the wines of the area calling them Vin du Pape which later became Chateauneuf du Pape.  It was John XXII who had the Papal castle built in Avignon of which the ruins can be visited today.  The reputation of the wines increased over the next few hundred years even after the papacy moved back to Rome.  The wines were appreciated for their deep rich colors and the aromatics so much so that wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy are alleged to have added the Chateauneuf wines as an enhancement.  The wine region flourished until Phyloxera reached the area in the 1870’s devastating the vineyards, one of the first wine regions in France to be afflicted. 

By the early 20th century, the wine industry had recovered and flourished.  Regrettably, much wine was being sold as Chateauneuf du Pape wasn’t actually from the region.  Often times it was from nearby growing areas of lesser quality.  In response to this wine fraud, the Appellation Contrôlée (AOC) was created to administer and govern over the wine production and marketing in France.  Chateauneuf du Pape was its first region with defined rules that covered viticultural practices.  The initial AOC rules allowed the use of ten different grape varietals.  In 1936 the number was increased to these thirteen: Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Muscardin, Cournoise, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Picpoul, Roussanne, Terret Noir, Picardan, Vaccarese.  Grenache, comes in both red and white, usually referred to as Grenache blanc so some would say there are 14 permitted types of grapes.  These grapes are both red and white and there is no mandated proportion in which they must be used.  Grenache is the most prolific grape used followed by Syrah and Mourtvedre.  The remaining grapes are used in small proportions.  Most wineries use but a fraction of the allowable grapes.  In addition, the AOC laws regulate minimum alcohol levels and limits on vineyard productions levels known as yields.  As an amusing note, in 1954 a ban was enacted prohibiting flying saucers from flying over the vineyards and even taking off and landing. 

By the 1970’s Chateauneuf du Pape had lost favor with the wine buying public.  The wines were quite rustic and the wineries often not kept very clean.  There were still a steady stream of buyers, especially for the better wines, but the international marketplace had left Chateauneuf behind.  Fortunately, wine critic Robert Parker championed these wines as some of the best quality for the price ratio wines available.  Parker’s influence on the buying public is immense and soon the world rediscovered these wines. 

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.