Sunday, November 1, 2015

A Visit to Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Tasting at Domaine Du Vieux Telégraphe

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a medieval village on the side of a hill with ruins of a chateau standing at the highest point. The village lies 1.9 miles east of the Rhône River between Avignon and Orange.

The chateau was built in the 14th century for Pope John XXII, the second of the popes who resided in Avignon. The village is famous for the production of red wine and almost all the cultivable land is planted with grapevines.

The Ruins of the Pope's Castle in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

There are several cafés with outdoor terraces around the center of the village. Although this is a tourist town, there are not many tourist shops as the business of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is selling wine.

Place du Portail and the 14th century Souspiron Fountain in the Center of Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Near the center of the village, you will find a number of wine tasting cellars from different wineries. If you don't know exactly what you are looking for, the choice will be difficult. The cellar facades are all different from each other. Some seem luxurious even pretentious, others are extremely simple. Some are on the ground floor of a village house, others you have to go through a small doorway or down a narrow passageway.

Another View of the Center of Châteauneuf-du-Pape

The village streets are narrow, curving around the hillside or climbing up and down between the houses up to the castle. The buildings are old, but everything has been thoroughly restored.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Street

Vinadea is the official wine house for Châteauneuf-du-Pape's wine syndicate. Established in July 2000, it is located in a former coach house alongside the ancient village walls of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It is open daily throughout the year.

Vinadea is the Wine House for Châteauneuf-du-Pape's Wine Syndicate

More than 200 wines are available for free tasting at Vinadea. The majority of the wines are sold at the same price as at the domaine. They are available individually, as well as packaged for shipping.

Wine Tasting at Vinadea in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Town Hall

The chateau ruins at the top of the village are accessed by walking up Rue Joseph Ducos past the front of the Town Hall to the church at Rue des Papes. Just to the left of the church, steps lead up the wide, stone step-street to the chateau.

Looking Up the Street to the Bell Tower of Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption

Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption Church was certainly built simultaneously with the first fortifications so the church dates back to at least 1155. Villagers were allowed to be buried in the church. Tombs are still under the current pavement in the central part near the choir. This practice was ended in the 18th century.

Another View of Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption Bell Tower

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Streets

The parish church is now called "Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption" but over the centuries it has been "Notre-Dame" (1321), "Saint-Théodoric" (1504), "Bienheureuse-Vierge-Marie et Saint-Théodoric" (1601), "Bienheureuse-Vierge-Marie-del'Assomption" (1626) and "Saint-Théodoric" (1707).

Southside of Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption with the Main Entrance and Bell Tower


In 1317, one year after his election, Pope John XXII ordered the construction of a castle at the top of the hill overlooking Châteauneuf-du-Pape (literally the Pope's new castle) as a summer residence for the popes.

Apart from the foundations, only two walls of the chateau remain, but they are the ones facing the village, and they are still high and imposing, giving visitors a good sense of what it was like in the village centuries ago.

The Pope's Castle

The back side of the tower of the Pope's castle, only ruins remain. The castle was sacked by Routiers (mercenaries who terrorized the French countryside during the 100 year war) when Jean XXII died and destroyed for the final time by the retreating Germans in 1944. The Germans turned the castle into a place to store munitions and blew it up as they were retreating.

The Pope's Castle

From the chateau hill, there is an outstanding view in all directions, mostly of vineyards, of course. Off to the east and south, the Rhône River winds across the fields, and the afternoon sun turns it silver.

View from the Chateau Ruins Towards the Rhône River

Notre-Dame-de-l'Assomption Bell Tower

Friend Melissa Takes a Breather at the Medieval Passageway Opposite the Church

Wine Tasting Room in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Pretty Window in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Town Hall

Round Tower Connected to the Châteauneuf-du-Pape Town Hall

Wine Tasting Room in Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Famille Perrin Tasting Room in the Center of Châteauneuf-du-Pape

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the most renown appellation in the southern part of the Rhône Valley. Vineyards are located around Châteauneuf-du-Pape and in the neighboring villages of Bédarrides, Courthézon and Sorgues between Avignon and Orange and cover slightly more than 7,900 acres.

Grenache is the Major Grape in Chateauneuf-du-Pape

A characteristic of one of the terroirs (soil) of Châteauneuf-du-Pape comes from a layer of stones called galets roulés (rounded stones). The stones are typically quartzite and remnants of Alpine glaciers that have been smoothed over millennia by the Rhône River.

The stones retain heat during the day and release it at night which hastens the ripening of grapes. The stones also serve as a protective layer to help retain moisture in the soil during the dry summer months.

The Haute Brusquieres Vineyards

In 1924, Châteauneuf-du-Pape became the first commune in France to have all of its vineyards protected by name, delimiting the area and method of wine production. This was the forerunner of the statues of the Appellations d'Origine Contrôlées (AOC). The original AOC rules for Châteauneuf-du-Pape permitted ten grape varieties, and were amended to thirteen in 1936 and eighteen in 2009.

Grenache is the predominant wine in every Châteauneuf red wine. After Grenache, the next most important varieties are Syrah and Mourvèdre. Chateauneuf-du-Pape white wines are made from a number of southern French varieties, most importantly Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Clairette and Bourboulenc.

Melissa, Debbie and Me in the Haute Brusquiere Vineyards

A few weeks ago, we headed to Châteauneuf-du-Pape with friends Steve and Mary to visit some of our favorite wineries. Since it had been several years since we tasted wine at Domaine Du Vieux Telégraphe and Steve and Mary had never been, we went to Bedarrides, a village in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC where the winery is located.

Entrance to Domaine Du Vieux Telégraphe

Domaine Du Vieux Telégraphe has been run by the Brunier family for 5 generations since 1891. The estate's vineyards, 60 years old on average, are on the Plateau of La Crau, arguably Châteauneuf-du-Pape's most renown lieu-dit or vineyard.

Domaine Du Vieux Telégraphe Tasting Room

The La Crau vineyard is very rich with the aforementioned galets which imparts a highly distinctive minerality to the wines as if they had been filtered through the thick layer of rounded stones.

Domaine Du Vieux Telégraphe White Wines Age in Small Oak Barrels

Since the early 1980's, Frederic and Daniel have been running the family concern. They now tend to 242 acres in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC as well as vineyards in the Ventoux, Vaucluse and in Gigondas in partnership with family friend Kermit Lynch, the famous wine importer from Berkeley, California.

Domaine Du Vieux Telégraphe Red Wines Age in Large Barriques

We begain our tasting with the 2014 Vieux Telégraphe Blanc "La Crau", in our opinion, an extraordinary blend of Clairette (40%), Grenache Blanc (25%), Roussane (25%) and Bourboulenc (10%). The age of the vines were on average 45 years old.

We then tasted the 2013 Vieux Telegramme Rouge, a youthful blend of Grenache (80%), Syrah (10%), Mourvèdre (6%), and Cinsault (4%). The age of the vines were on average 40 years old.

The last wine we had chosen to taste was the 2013 Vieux Telégraphe Rouge "La Crau", a truly delicious blend of Grenache Noir (65%), Mourvèdre (15%), Syrah (15%), and Cinsault, Clairette and sundry others (5%). The age of the vines were on average 65 years old.

Interesting to note, that both the View Telégraphe Rouge and Blanc wines include Clairette which is a white grape.

Stacks of Bottled Domaine Du Vieux Telégraphe Red Wine

After making our selections of wines to buy, we were offered a taste of a spectacular 1999 Vieux Telégraphe Rouge "La Crau". I just checked and found that Wine Spectator awarded this wine 91 points when it was released. Both Steve and I thought it was one of the best wines we had ever tasted.

Rooms Dug Out of the Hillside for Storage of Bottled Wine

Our host was very gracious and offered to take us on a visit to the barrel rooms where wine is fermented and aged and cave where it is stored in bottles prior to shipping.

If you are fortunate enough to make it to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, try to go to Domaine Du Vieux Telégraphe. If you see the Vieux Telégraphe Rouge or Blanc on a restaurant wine list or a wine shop, you should not hesitate to choose it. I should tell you that it will be expensive wherever you find it in the USA. I think the difference in the blend and age of the vines really changes the Vieux Telegramme from the Vieux Telégraphe. We found the wine to be very young and tight.

I should for purposes of being transparent, point out if you didn't already notice, that the visit to the village with Melissa and Debbie occurred early in the year while our visit to Domaine Du Vieux Telégraphe with Steve and Mary was just a few weeks ago.

Have a great week. A bientôt.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

A Visit to Lourmarin, One of the "Most Beautiful Villages of France"

As I told you in a previous email, we met cousin Annick in Lourmarin for a day devoted to visiting Luberon villages. Lourmarin is about 1 1/2 hours from Sablet and is classified as "one of the most beautiful villages in France."

Lourmarin is nestled in the middle of vineyards, olive groves and almond trees in a combe, or valley, which separates the Grand Luberon mountains from the Petit Luberon. On sunny days, its golden stone glows against a swathe of green, marshy land watered by the Aigues Brun brook.

In contrast to many other villages in Vaucluse, Lourmarin isn't a rugged perched village. It's just slightly hilly, with narrow cobblestone streets spiraling lazily up to the belfry at the top of the village.


Lourmarin, like much of Europe, was devastated by the Black Death plague epidemic in 1348 and left semi-deserted. The village's fortunes turned around a century later with the arrival of the powerful D'Agoult family who started building the Château de Lourmarin.

The Lourmarin Chateau was built by the Agoult family between 1479 and 1545 on the ruins of a 12th century fortress. The part of the chateau open to the public includes the furnished apartments and the library (with some 28000 books). The highlight is probably the magnificent stairway.

Lourmarin Castle

War Memorial at Eugene Bounot Square

The Three Mask Fountain by sculptor Louis Didron seen below. The three masks represent the Rhone River, the Durance River and Luberon Mountains.

The Three Mask Fountain

Lourmarin has an unusually large number of bars and restaurants, many of which - even more unusually - are open outside tourist season.

Cobblestone Street

Empty Café in the Early Morning

Cafés cluster around the place de l'Ormeau, pictured at the end of the street below. The small square is named after an elm which was planted there as a sort of "tree of liberty" in 1792 during the French Revolution. It had to be cut down in 1944 and was replaced by a fig tree (though the square was not renamed).

Cobblestone Street Leading Down to Ormeau Square

Lourmarin Door

Faded door in Lourmarin

Lourmarin Town Hall

The Church of Lourmarin, which is part of the Avignon Catholic Diocese, used to be dependent on the Priory of St Andrew in Villeneuve-les-Avignon in the XIth century. In those times, it was a Chapel with only two arches and no choir. This church, in which Romanesque and Gothic styles are both present, has gone through several restorations and additions.

The Church of Lourmarin

Fountain in front of the Church of Lourmarin

Lourmarin Fountain

Lourmarin Boutique

Annick and Shirley Receiving Aroma Therapy from the Huge Jasmine Bush

Lourmarin Fountain

Pretty Stone House in Lourmarin

Stone Arch Entry into Lourmarin House

Narrow Lourmarin Street

Stone Pigeon House

Wash House

The D'Agoults also repopulated Lourmarin by inviting a colony of Vaudois (Waldensians) from Piedmont in Northern Italy to settle in the village. This was a sect that had split from the Catholic Church, leading to its members' persecution.

Many were burned as heretics; many more fled to Provence, where the massacres nonetheless continued, notably in nearby Mérindol. Those who remained joined the Reformed Protestant movement in the 16th century and finally built their own Protestant church - sometimes referred to as a "temple" - in Lourmarin in the early 19th century (see below).

Saint-André and Saint-Trophime Church with the Lourmarin Castle in the Rear

Entry into Lourmarin House

Pottery Shop

Inside the Pottery Shop

Lourmarin Street

Lourmarin Cafe

Our day trips with Annick are always fun and informative. We will be back in Sablet in a few days and I look forward to new adventures.