France's Most Famous AOC, Chateauneuf du Pape
A Quick Chateauneuf du Pape History Lesson
The region takes its name from a period of time when the seat of the Catholic Pope was moved to Avignon. From 1309-1378, 8 different Popes served in Avignon and wine production for the church was a key agricultural pursuit for many local farmers. These weren't the first vineyards planted in the area though as archeological and written evidence suggests that the ancient Greeks and Romans spread viticulture throughout the area as far the 6th century BC.
Despite the historical significance of the Pope's move to Avignon in the 1300's it was probably savvy marketing by the area's vignerons that led to the the area's name change to Chateauneuf du Pape from Chateauneuf Calcernier as it was known since around 1200. The name change officially occurred in 1893, and in 1919 the first "official" boundaries for the Chateauneuf du Pape region were drawn up. In 1936 Chateauneuf du Pape became one of France's first official AOC's (appellation d’origine controlée).
Chateauneuf's Vineyards and Grapes
The Chateauneuf du Pape region has a wide variety of sub soils that influence the terroirs of the region's top wineries, yet for many wine lovers and vigerons, it is the abundance of rounded river-stones that cover the area's vineyards that makes Chateauneuf du Pape so wonderful and unique. These stones reflect the sunlight back up on the vines, which helps with even ripening, protect the soils underneath from drying out and radiate heat back in the evenings.
The Grapes - Grenache is king (for the reds), but there are 12 other varietals allowed to be used in the production of Chateauneuf du Pape. While you are allowed to use up to 13 different grapes, very few producers actually grow and use all 13 or even a large percentage of the 13 varietals. In addition to Grenache, the other 12 are - Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Clairette, Vaccarèse, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul, Picardan and Terret noir. Red Chateauneuf du Pape is much more famous and easier to find than white Chateauneuf since a much smaller amount of vineyard land is dedicated to growing white grapes, but Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc is worth trying and seeking out. In fact, since they are rarer and highly prized by aficionados, many producers whites are more expensive than their reds!