Chateauneuf-du-Pape is an historic town in France's southern Rhone Valley, famous for its full-bodied, spicy red wines (although it does also produce a small quantity of weighty, flavorful white).
The name Chateauneuf-du-Pape means 'new castle of the Pope' and refers to the fact that the town – located just north of Avignon – was chosen as the new home for the Pope's court in the early 14th century. The pope in question (Clement V) also gave his name to the ancient and equally prestigious Chateau Pape Clement in Bordeaux's Graves district.
The history and prestige of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine appellation is much more recent than that of the town, dating back less than one hundred years. For many centuries its wines were grouped with others from the Avignon area. In the 1920s, however, Baron Pierre Le Roy de Boiseaumarie of the Chateau Fortia created a set of rules governing the production of Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines. These were a precursor of what is now the widely imitated French appellation system and made Chateauneuf-du-Pape one of the country's first official wine appellations (declared in June 1929).
Chateauneuf-du-Pape stands out among the appellations of France for the unusually long list of grape varieties that are permitted for use. There are 13 sanctioned varieties in total (as many as 18 are cited in some AOC documentation), in stark contrast to the northern Rhone appellation of Hermitage, which allows only three. Grenache is the king of these grapes and arguably produces better wine here than it does in any other part of France. Syrah and Mourvedre, the two other principal southern Rhone grapes, are the next most important red varieties. The first grows most successfully in the cooler spots of the hot Chateauneuf-du-Pape terroir, while the second flourishes only in the hotter, drier vineyards. Counoise is one of the few lesser-known varieties to be grown here in any measure, but is still used by only a small number of producers. The remaining red varieties - Cinsaut, Muscardin, Vaccarese, Picpoul Noir and Terret Noir - are planted in just a few Chateauneuf-du-Pape vineyards. (© All Rights Reserved, Wine-Searcher)
Bourboulenc, Clairette, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne are the four rustic grape varieties used in the production of white Chateauneuf-du-Pape wines. They are employed in a mix of ratios to produce tangy, weighty wines with deeply perfumed floral aromas.
The soils of Chateauneuf-du-Pape are pebbly and sandy, as is common in the southern area of the Rhone. They are formed mostly of ancient riverbeds of various ages (the town and its vineyards are located just to the east of the Rhone river).
The climate here is Mediterranean and very dry (Chateauneuf-du-Pape is technically the driest of all Rhone appellations), which makes it all the more significant that arrosage (irrigation or watering) is strictly forbidden during the growing season. In extreme cases, viticulturalists must apply for special permission from the French government to water their vines.