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Châteauneuf is a medieval village on a hill topped by the ruins of the “new” castle of the Popes, the Châteauneuf du Pape.

July 20, 2011

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Châteauneuf du Pape is best known for its outstanding red wine, the famous A.O.C. Châteauneuf du Pape. This is one of the few areas on the busy sector between Orange and Avignon which has retained its charm and tranquility. From the river Rhône endless vineyards stretch east over gently rolling hills. The Châteauneuf du Pape terroir, the area where wine can obtain the Châteauneuf du Pape label, extends into the 4 neighbouring communes of Bédarrides, Courthézon, Orange and Sorgues (see map below).

Châteauneuf is a medieval village on a hill topped by the ruins of the “new” castle of the Popes, the Châteauneuf du Pape. Originally the village was called Castrum Novum, then Châteauneuf-Calcernier (a reflection of its soil) and finally in 1893 Châteauneuf du Pape, adopting the wine’s name as its village name. It is quite pleasant to visit albeit the type of service and the high prices charged in certain wine tasting establishments are an issue. The village streets and alleys curve around the hillside and climb up to the château. It looks quite imposing as the only two walls still intact and the tower are the ones facing the village. Little is left of the ramparts which once surrounded the village, the inner one around the château and upper village, the outer one around the lower village. Pope John XXII had the château built in 1320 and used it as his summer residence. Much nicer than overcrowded Avignon and its questionable sanitary conditions in those times. The reconstructed wine cellar of the popes in the château serves as a meeting place for the Confréries du Vin, the local brotherhood and guardian of wine culture.

Châteauneuf du Pape Wines

When Roman officers and legionnaires retired in the Provence the first vineyards were established on the coast near Bandol and over time further inland. Roman soldiers were partially paid in wine and growing it closer to the troops made sense. After the fall of the Roman Empire the church was instrumental in furthering the cultivation of wine through their monasteries. When the Popes acquired the Comtat Venaissin in 1274 and especially after the Holy See was transferred from Rome to Avignon in 1348, successive Popes took a strong interest in wine growing around their summer estate in Châteauneuf. The population of Châteauneuf had reached 1000 and it was a relatively prosperous town with vineyards totalling roughly 300 ha (740 acres). Pope John XXII established the first quality label for Châteauneuf, a precursor of today’s A.O.C. system. The label was first called “Vin du Pape”, which much later developed into “Cháteauneuf-du-Pape”. After the return of the Holy See to Rome in 1378 Châteauneuf continued to supply the popes with wine from their estates. Over the centuries the area under cultivation grew steadily to about 650 ha (1600 acres) in the early 19th century, producing roughly 11.000 hectolitres (300.000 gallons) of wine, roughly 1/10th of today’s production. These were mostly grown on small family owned vineyards and a few larger estates.

We know quite a bit about the grape varities grown as some of the wine dealers in Avignon, Carpentras and Orange kept fairly detailed records. Grenache and Cinsault grapes were the basis of most wines like today. They delivered the full bodied and mellow basis. Mourvèdre, Syrah, Muscardin and Camarèse were blended in for character, colour and depth. Other grape varieties like Counoise, Picpoul, Clairette and Bourboulenc were used to add refinement and bouquet. Like today, the art was to combine these grape varieties depending on the climatic conditions of the growing season in order to produce an exceptional wine.

A serious setback came in 1863 when phylloxera first appeared and progressively destroyed all French vineyards except for a few located on sandy terrain. At the beginning of the 20th century the winegrowers struggled to revive the ravaged vineyards and to enhance the quality of their wine. Pivotal was the use of resistant rootstock from the Five Finger Lake region in upstate New York to guard against phylloxera. In addition they had their share of wine fraud and in the 1920′s the first regulations were drawn up to reign in the offenders, who brought the whole area into disrepute. Baron Pierre Le Roy Boiseaumarié, a trained lawyer and vigneron (Château Fortia in Chàteauneuf du Pape) successfully obtained legal recognition in Paris of the “Côtes du Rhône” appellation of origin on May 1, 1937, following in the footsteps of Bordeaux (1905) and Champagne (1927). Today the A.O.C. designation covers a wide array of agricultural products, such as wine, cheese, sausages and sweets. The goal is to protect a region’s specific product and gourmet tradition. The Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO) is the regulator. It is illegal to sell a product under one of the A.O.C. labels if it does not comply with the criteria set by INAO. The A.O.C. rules for wines from Châteauneuf du Pape set a minimum alcohol level, maximum yield per hectar, strictly controls the acreage and regulates which types of grapes can be grown in which area. No irrigation and no stakes and wires can be used. There are detailed rules for wine making and mixing the grape varieties. Minimum alcohol level is 12.5°. Roughly 3200 hectares (7.900 acres) are under cultivation with an average yearly production of around 100.000 hectoliter (2.6 million gallons).

Châteauneuf du Pape Wine Map

In the 1970s and 80s many wine growers in Châteauneuf du Pape were resting on their laurels whereas the competition in Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Rasteau and Cairanne was catching up. The increasing popularity of wine critics like Robert Parker and Jancis Robinson gave these producers a chance to better market their wine in Europe and the North America. The traditional advantage of Châteauneuf of having established name recognition abroad began to erode. But the wine growers of Châteauneuf have largely reversed this trend albeit there are a number of rather mediocre labels around like in any wine region. Some vignerons from outside the area have bought terroir in Châteauneuf and the younger generation starts to supplement know-how of wine making handed down from generation to generation with more modern techniques. They are also more savvy in marketing and have brought the wines of Châteauneuf to the next level, both in quality and, alas, also in price. Good for them, not so good for your pocket book. That’s why the top vignerons of Gigondas, Rasteau, Cairanne, Vinsobres and other Southern Côtes du Rhône wines are in the running. Not to take anything away from Châteauneuf: since 1998 they have been on a roll producing year after year outstanding wines with the exception of 2002, which was a rain-drenched washout for most reds of the Southern Côtes du Rhône. While reds make up more than 90% of wine production, white wine production is slowly increasing due to demand from abroad.

Robert Parker: “The best Châteauneuf-du-Pape are among the most natural expressions of grapes, place and vintage. Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards are farmed organically or biodynamically, and the region’s abundant sunshine and frequent wind (called le mistral) practically preclude the need for treating the fields with herbicides or pesticides. The wines themselves are equally pure, their flavors rarely masked by aging in new oak.”

If you are a wine aficionado you will know what wineries you want to visit. You will more than likely visit one of the following: Domaine du Pegau, Château Beaucastel, Château de Vaudieu, Domaine Pierre Usseglio, Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe, Domaine de Marcoux and Domaine Grand Veneur. You can also look at Paul Vincent Avril’s Clos des Papes, which is probably sold out – voted the top wine in 2007!


Clark Wine Center was built in 2003 by Hong Kong-based Yats International Leisure Philippines to become the largest wine shop in Philippines supplying Asia’s wine lovers with fine vintage wines at attractive prices. Today, this wine shop in Clark Philippines offers over 2000 selections of fine wines from all major wine regions in the world. As a leading wine supplier in Philippines, Pampanga’s Clark Wine Center offers an incomparable breadth of vintages, wines from back vintages spanning over 50 years. Clark Wine Center is located in Pampanga Clark Freeport Zone adjacent to Angeles City, just 25 minutes from Subic and 45 minutes from Manila.

Wines from Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone, Loire, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Alsace, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, South Africa, Chile and Argentina etc. are well represented in this Clark Wine Shop.

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