Monday, June 13, 2011

Domaine de la Charbonnière, Châteauneuf-du-Pape

One of many things that attracted us to Sablet was its location in the Côtes du Rhône and proximity to world-renown wine villages such as Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. We like all the wines from this area but our favorites are Châteauneuf-du-Papes and we go there most often.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a medieval village on the side of a hill topped by the ruins of a castle near the Rhone River about 30 minutes southwest of our house in Sablet. The village is surrounded by its well tended vineyards. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is pretty to see but there is not a lot to do or reason to go except for the wine; but that's more enough reason to go.

The original name of the village was Castrum Novum, then Châteauneuf-Calcernier (after the many lime kilns in the area) and finally Châteauneuf-du-Pape, adopting the wine's name for the village. The history of Châteauneuf-du-Pape is interwoven with the history of the papacy.

In 1308, Pope Clement V relocated the papacy from Rome to Avignon, 12 miles south of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Clement V was succeeded by John XXII who reportedly drank wines from the vineyards to the north in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and did much to improve viticultural practices there.

Under John XXII, the wines of this area came to be known as "Vin du Pape" and later Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Pope John XXII built the castle that stands overlooking Châteauneuf-du-Pape (literally the Pope's new castle) as a summer residence for the popes.

The Route de Courthézon into Châteauneuf-du-Pape with the Pope's castle on the horizon.

The tower of the Pope's castle with the back drop of blue sky.

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 view from the Pope's castle towards the Rhone River.

A sign panel in Châteauneuf-du-Pape with the names of many of the domaines.

Son-in-law Earl sitting on the fountain in Place du Portail which is the commercial center of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The buildings are old, but everything is nicely restored.

The village is full of shops and tasting rooms where you can sample and buy the wonderful wines crafted in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC. As you know food and restaurants are very important to me; as of now, we have not found a really good restaurant in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

The village streets and alleys curve around the hillside and climb up to the castle.

Domaine de la Charbonnière is located just outside the village on the Route de Courthézon. We first got acquainted with this domaine and their red wines when we were trying wines for our first wine list for Bistro Des Copains and have been fans ever since.

The domaine is owned by the Maret family; Michel, wife Mireille and daughters Caroline and Veronique and has been overseen by the Maret family since 1912 when Michel's grandfather Eugene bought the domaine as a gift for his wife who was the daughter of a local winegrower. Michel is the third generation of Maret's to oversee the domaine.

The entrance to Domaine de la Charbonnière off Route de Courthézon.

There are a lot of very good wineries in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC and we have only been to a handful. Despite this, we return to Domaine de la Charbonnière almost every time we are back in Sablet. We really like their wines, they are reasonably priced but most importantly, we love the Maret family; they are very welcoming and generous with their time.

The entrance to the Domaine de la Charbonnière tasting room marked by olive tree.

Fermentation tanks at Domaine de la Charbonnière.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC rules allow up to thirteen grape varieties to be blended into the wine. The primary grape used by the Marets in blending red wines is Grenache; they also use Syrah and Mourvedre. For their white wine they use Grenache blanc, Roussanne, and Clairette.

Caroline Maret shows us how they make their wines.

Domaine de la Charbonnière makes 4 red wines and 1 white wine from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and 1 red wine from Vacqueyras.

Barrel room for aging wine.

Domaine de la Charbonnière exports wine to quite a few different countries. Each country has their own regulations about what information has to be included on the label affixed to the bottle. So wine is bottled and stored without labels until orders are received at which time they print and affix labels to the bottles.

Domaine de la Charbonnière has 3 parcels totaling 17.5 hectares/43.25 acres of vineyards within the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC and 4 hectares/9.88 acres within the Vacqueyras AOC. The Maret's also own a few hectares of land that is classified as Côtes du Rhône.

Mireille Maret and Veronique took us out to see their Châteauneuf-du-Pape parcels. They also showed us how they pull leaves in the spring.

Vines are shaped as gobelets - bush vines.

The Châteauneuf-du-Pape terroir comes from a layer of stones called galets. The stones retain heat during the day and release it at night which can hasten the ripening of grapes. The stones also serve as a protective layer to help retain moisture in the soil during the dry summer months

A Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard near one of the Maret's parcels with the Dentelles de Montmirail and Sablet on the far horizon.

As I said, we have been to Domaine de la Charbonnière and Châteauneuf-du-Pape many times. Astute readers may notice that pictures are from different visits; actually four in all.

Regretfully, we no longer carry Domaine de la Charbonnière wine on our list at Bistro Des Copains because importer Kermit Lynch Wine Merchants stopped importing the wine. I think if truth be told, it was probably because of pressure from the Brunier family who own Châteauneuf-du-Pape's famous Vieux Telegraphe and with whom Kermit Lynch has many business interests.

If you love wine and you are going to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, I recommend you go visit the Marets at Domaine de la Charbonnière. You will have a great time.


  1. This looks lovely, we'll have to go and taste their wines.

  2. We had heard that the old Chateau was destroyed by the Germans during WWII. They had used the site as a munitions center and destroyed their munitions and the chateau when they started their retreat.

    I had not heard about the 100 years war...

  3. when my brother and his family came for my wedding, they spent several days in this region and loved it. Interesting about the galets.

  4. I'm always interested in towns where they have tasting rooms - it's a little tough in, say Burgundy, because you have to drive around to the different wineries if you want to taste local wines. Too bad they don't have a good resto, though...

  5. Barbara - Definitely worth the trip since you are so close; wonderful wine, great family.

    Les - I saw pictures of the chateau that showed it was in pretty bad shape before the Germans took it over as a munition dump.

    Megan - People talk about stony vineyards but until you see the galets of Châteauneuf-du-Pape you don't know what a stony vineyard is.

    Camille - That's a nice thing about the Southern Côtes du Rhône area, there are many tasting rooms and many of the wineries are open for tasting too; a food and wine lovers paradise.