Monday, December 30, 2019

We Get Our Daily Bread in Sablet, France

From the day we began our search for a house in the South of France, our top priority was for the house to be located within walking distance of village business' including a boulangerie (bakery).

As readers know, we ended up buying a house in the middle of Sablet, a small village (pop. 1,264 by last count) that sits on a hill at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail (small chain of mountains in photograph below).

Main Sablet industries are wine making and tourism so there is always life in the village in comparison to other villages where tourism is the primary business so there is little activity or life in the off-season.

Within a short walk from the house, there is: "Chez Mimi et Alain" (a well-stocked mini mart), "Chez Thierry" (a butcher shop), florist, pharmacy, tabac/presse, two hair salons, bibliothèque (library), medical offices, a bank with ATM, and post office. At "Maison des Vins et du Tourism", they offer complimentary tastings of Sablet wines and information about the area.

There is also the Café des Sports, Bistrot des Copains and La Come di Pizzeria and two boulangeries, one so close, "Le Pain Médiéval", we can sometimes smell the aroma of freshly baked bread on our terrace in the morning and the second, "Boulangerie Patisserie Pradier" is in the center of the village.

Sablet sits at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail

We knew that buying pain (bread) would become an essential part of our daily lives with a home in France. You can’t walk down the street in France without spotting at least one person with a freshly baked baguette stuck under their arm. Everyone has probably seen a picture of a stereotypical Frenchman, wearing a beret and striped shirt and carrying a baguette under his arm.

One evidence of the importance of boulangeries to the French, is the amount of data that is collected by the French government. The New York Times recently reported that according to a 2017 government report, half of the French population lives within 2.2 kilometers of a bakery as the crow flies. In cities, 73 percent of the population lives within 2,000 feet.

According to the French National Bakery and Confectionary Association, there are 35,000 boulangeries in France, one for every 1800 people in France. The New York Times reports that the average trip to a bakery takes 7.4 minutes on foot, by car, or with another mode of transportation. Specifically, it's 5 minutes in the city and 9.4 minutes in the countryside.

I should mention that according to the French government, only bakers who use proper flour and knead their own dough can call themselves boulangers (bakers) and to be called a boulangerie, a French bakery must bake bread on the premises. Outlets that sell bread baked elsewhere are called a "depot de pain".

French bread comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. The following are a few of the more common types:

The baguette Ordinaire is made with quick-rising yeast and white flour and cost less than one euro.

The baguette Traditionnelle must be made according to the "Décret Pain de 1993". According to this decree, this baguette must be made with just flour, yeast, salt, and water. It’s usually hand-formed, as evident by the pointy ends and bumps in the loaves. This baguette usually costs a few cents more than a baguette ordinaire.

The Pain de Campagne is a thick-crusted loaf made with both wheat and white flour, usually oval in shape.

Pain Complet is a whole-grain loaf

Pain aux Céréales is a small rustic loaf with seeds and whole grains

Shirley entering our house in Sablet

Pain Médiéval is our favorite Sablet bakery and thankfully, it's conveniently located just a few steps from our front door behind big trees between the fountain at Place Yvan Audouard and "Chez Mimi et Alain" mini mart.

The Pain Médiéval Boulangerie is open every day of the week except on Monday and Tuesday. The two boulangeries trade days off, Boulangerie Patisserie Pradier is closed on Wednesday and Thursday, and they coordinate their vacations so one of the boulangeries is always open in Sablet.

Pain Médiéval Boulangerie in Sablet

Pain Médiéval is owned by Jeannine Moulin and her son, Julien who does the baking. When the bakery is open, there is often a line out the door and cars double-parked in front with motors running while the owner dashes into the bakery to get a freshly baked baguette or some other baked treat.

Each time another person joins the line of people waiting to buy bread, the newcomer greets those already in line with "bonjour madame, bonjour monsieur" and will be responded to in a similar fashion. When it's your turn, Madame Moulin will ask what cuisson (baking), you prefer, "bien cuite" (well cooked and crusty) or "pas trop cuite" (less well baked and softer crust)?

Interior of Pain Médiéval Boulangerie in Sablet

In addition to buying our daily bread, I usually can not leave Pain Médiéval Boulangerie without one of the pastry's below for our "petit déjeuner" (breakfast) which we eat out on the terrace, weather permitting which is almost every day.

Croissants, flaky, layered, crescent-shaped piece of heaven.

Pain au Chocolat, sometimes called a chocolate croissant, is a sweet roll consisting of a rectangular-shaped piece of yeast-leavened laminated dough, similar in texture to a puff pastry, with one or two pieces of chocolate in the center.

Palmiers are a crunchy, buttery, sweet “cookie” made from puff pastry and sugar. These are my favorite and Madame Moulin, knows that, so she puts them on the list for Julien to bake when we are in town.

On the weekends, Pain Medieval Boulangerie has Chouquettes, bite-sized puff pastries topped with large sugar crystals which my grandchildren love and I love. To me, they are the French equivalent of donut holes.

From time to time when we have guests in Sablet, we ask Madame Moulin to bake us one of the large brioche aux raisins in the photograph below. They are delicious, but too much for Shirley and I to eat before becoming stale, so we save these to enjoy with guests.

One of Madame Moulin's made to order Brioche

French boulangeries such as Pain Médiéval Boulangerie offer up many different varieties of breads and other baked goodies, so be aware, the items I have listed is nowhere near exhaustive.

Julien et sa maman Jeannine of Pain Médiéval Boulangerie in Sablet

I would be remiss to not share a couple more observations about eating and buying bread in France. These include:

Except in upscale restaurants where you will get a bread plate and butter, French people set bread directly on the table, never on their plate. In France, bread is meant to accompany a meal and sop up sauce, it’s not a separate course, so butter isn’t usually served with bread in France.

Most Americans are germaphobes and you will notice that in boulangeries in France, the vendeuse (the person who sells you the bread) never handles bread with anything but their bare hands. If you are going to enjoy your visit to France, you can't get weird about other people handling the bread you are going to eat.

Good bread is a necessity for any meal in France. Grab it, and tear it apart, and enjoy the aroma, when it opens. Bon Appetit.

Pain Médiéval Boulangerie
6 Place Verdun
84110 Sablet
Tel: 04 90 46 91 54

If you are thinking about a trip to the South of France including spending time in Provence, we invite you to visit our website. Our house is available for rent by the week or more. You can reach us for further information by sending an email to

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Domaine de Terrebrune, a Domaine worth Seeking Out in Bandol

You will recall that on the last day of our most recent sojourn in Sablet, I suggested to Shirley that we drive to the Bandol wine region and taste wine since we had not been there for several years. Also, it was a gloomy day in Sablet and I hoped the weather might be nicer near the Mediterranean Sea.

I emailed fellow blogger Tuula, Southern Californian raised, but now living near Bandol to ask "what are your favorite villages around Bandol"? She said Le Castellet is her favorite village, which I told you about here, and from there we went to La Cadière-d'Azur, which I told you about here.

After we finished walking around La Cadière-d'Azur, and we had not tasted Bandol wines, our primary purpose for visiting the area, we had tried at Domaine Tempier, but that Domaine is closed for tasting on weekends, so we decided to try at Domaine de Terrebrune in Ollioules.

As I told you here, we got to know some of the wines from Bandol including those of Domaine Tempier and Domaine de Terrebrune when we assembled the wine list for Bistro Des Copains, the French country bistro, now closed, I co-owned with friends in Occidental, California.

Domaine de Terrebrune Entrance

Domaine de Terrebrune is in Ollioules, a town on the eastern side of the Bandol wine appellation, framed by the Mediterranean Sea and a mountain called Gros-Cerveau (Big Brain), dotted with olive groves and scenic views.

Georges Delille, who trained as a sommelier in Paris, acquired the property that would become Domaine de Terrebrune in 1963. He spent the next ten years renovating the property; terraced hillsides, restored stone walls, and replanted vineyards following the advice of experts.

In 1975 Georges built a new subterranean wine cellar and in 1980, his son Reynald joined him after he completed his oenology studies and together they sold their first bottles of wine vinified from Domaine de Terrebrune grapes.

Domaine de Terrebrune

Today, Domaine de Terrebrune has 30 hectares (approximately 74 acres) planted in vines. The vines are planted on the terraces of the unusually named Gros-Cerveau (big brain) mountain and soils are made up of limestone and brown clay which was the inspiration for the name of the Domaine.

The Domaine is planted with Mourvèdre, as well as Grenache and Cinsault. Small amounts of Clairette, Ugni Blanc, and Bourboulenc is grown for the Domaine's Bandol white wine. Mourvèdre is king of grapes in the Bandol appellation, the berries are small with thick skins which give the wines their tannic structure and ability to be aged.

The Domaine follows organic farming practices and soil is worked regularly by plow and hand-hoes All grapes are harvested by hand, with sorting taking place in the vineyard instead of on a sorting table in the wine cellar.

Shirley and I in the Domaine de Terrebrune Barrel Room

The Domaine produces around 10,000 cases of wine a year including a dry Bandol White (Clairette, Ugni Blanc, Bourboulenc, from vines an average of 15 years old), a Bandol Rosé (50% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache, 25% Cinsault, from vines an average of 10 years old), and a Bandol Red (85% Mourvèdre, 10% Grenache, 5% Cinsault, from vines an average of 25 years old).

They also make a Vin de Pays du Mont Caume Rouge “Terre d’Ombre” from declassified Bandol fruit from the Domaine's youngest vines. It is a blend of 80% Mourvèdre, 10% Grenache, and 10% Cinsault.

Wines ferment in underground, temperature-controlled, gravity-fed stainless steel tanks

After we finished tasting through the wines open for tasting, the tasting room manager took us through the wine underground cellar so we could see how Domaine de Terrebrune produces their wines.

Shirley in the Domaine de Terrebrune Tasting Room

The wines of Domaine de Terrebrune are excellent and definitely worth seeking out if you are in the area. We bought a case for our cellar. The Domaine is open daily for tasting and tours except for Sundays and holidays. The Domaine also has a restaurant called "La table de Terrebrune". We didn't get to try the restaurant but we will try to do so the next time we go to the Bandol area to taste wine.

Domaine de Terrebrune
724 Chemin de la Tourelle
83190 Ollioules
Tel: 04 94 74 01 30

Saturday, December 14, 2019

La Cadière-d'Azur, Perched Village in the Var Region

La Cadière-d'Azur is a small medieval village perched on the edge of a cliff on the hill across from Le Castellet in the south-west of the Var region.

After we finished our walk-about Le Castellet, that I told you about here, we decided that since we were in the area, we should cross the valley over to La Cadière-d'Azur and take a walk through that village as well.

La Cadière-d'Azur has a panoramic view to the Mediterranean Sea. It is surrounded by pine forests and overlooks some of the famous Bandol (AOC) vineyards including Domaines Bunan that we told you about here.

The first recorded mention of La Cadière-d'Azur is in the year 977. The village was in a territory ruled by feudal lords from the Viscounts of Marseille, and later the Abbey of St-Victor.

There has been evidence of Romans dwelling in the village from quite a few traces from Gallo-Roman times such as ceramics, coins, and amphorae (vessels used to carry wine and oil), being discovered in the region, including several Roman fountains.

La Cadière-d'Azur

There are three portes, or gates along Marx Dormoy Avenue that remain from the village's historic ramparts, Saint Jean's gate in the center (built in January 1561), the Mazzarine gate to the east, and the Colle gate pictured below to the west.

La Cadière-d'Azur Porte de la Colle

While there is no shortage of tourist shops, cafes, bars and restaurants in La Cadière-d'Azur, the village seems less like a picturesque artificial enclave than other villages in the area.

La Cadière-d'Azur Street

Saint André Church shown below was built at the beginning of the 16th century on the ruins of a 12th century church. Its tall hexagonal bell tower possesses the oldest dated bell in the Var region; 1458.

Saint André Church

If you are a wine lover, there are many options for tasting locally produced wine. Just off the freeway at the exit for La Cadière-d'Azur, you will find the La Cadiérenne wine coop, where you can taste wine from almost 300 wine makers. This wine coop which dates from 1929, is the biggest producer of AOP Bandol wines.

Pretty door in La Cadière-d'Azur

Tour de l'Horloge with 16th Century Campanile

Shirley standing by the Studded Oaken Doors of Porte Saint-Jean

If you are thinking about a trip to the South of France including spending time in Provence, we invite you to visit our website at Our house is available for rent by the week or more. You can reach us for further information by sending an email to

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Domaine Tempier, Legendary Wine Estate and Foodie Heaven

I have wanted to visit Domaine Tempier, ever since the first time I read about the Bandol winery owned by the Peyraud family, in books authored by Richard Olney, Alice Waters and Kermit Lynch. Kermit Lynch the renown wine importer, was introduced to the Peyrauds by Richard Olney and has been importing the wines of Domaine Tempier since 1976.

For those who don't know, Alice Waters is executive chef, author of multiple cookbooks, and proprietor of Chez Panisse, a gastronomic temple in Berkeley California for more than 40 year and arguably one of the most famous restaurants in the United States; she is a long time friend of Lulu Peyraud and family.

She was also introduced to the Peyraud family by Richard Olney, a neighbor and friend of the Peyrauds. Richard Olney wrote many wonderful cookbooks including "Simple French Food", "Provence, the Beautiful Cookbook: Authentic Recipes from the Regions of Provence" and "Lulu's Provençal Table" to name a few.

Wines from Bandol including those of Domaine Tempier and Domaine de Terrebrune were on the wine list at Bistro Des Copains, the French country bistro, now closed, I co-owned with friends in Occidental, California. We got these wines from wine importer Kermit Lynch who makes his home in the Bandol region half the year.

As I told you in my last post, we decided to go visit the hilltop village of Le Castellet and taste some Bandol wines including I hoped, the wines of Domaine Tempier. After a Provençal lunch and leisurely walk around Le Castellet, we headed to Domaine Tempier.

We found Domaine Tempier, nearby right below the village, at the foot of Le Castellet. Much to my dismay, while Domaine Tempier is open for tastings, it is closed on Saturdays and Sundays, so we were not able to fulfill my dream of tasting their legendary wines at the estate tasting room.

Domaine Tempier in Bandol AOC

While the wines of Domaine Tempier have been praised by many, including Janis Robinson, a British wine critic, journalist and wine writer and Robert Parker, who famously once declared the Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé, the "greatest rosé in the world", I am attracted to this Domaine just as much, by the stories of family meals served by Lulu Peyraud as described by countless food writers.

Lulu who turned 100 in 2017, was born in Marseille and her cooking is Marseillais, although she doesn't think there is a lot of difference between that and the cooking in Bandol. One of my favorite cookbooks is authored by Richard Olney and is drawn from a series of interviews intended to translate Lulu's words into written recipes, called "Lulu's Provençal Table", published in 1994.

Lulu Peyraud's Provençal Recipes

If you Google "Traditional Food of Provence, there are lots of lists from different publications which show up in the results. All of them it seems, include Bouillabaisse, Ratatouille, Aioli, Tapenade, and several others. For Thanksgiving this year, I made the Tapenade recipe in the "Lulu's Provençal Table" cookbook for one of our appetizers.

Tapenade is a Provençal name for a dish consisting of puréed or finely-chopped olives, capers, and anchovies. Its name comes from the Provençal word for capers, tapenas. It is ubiquitous in the Provence region of France, where it is frequently served as an amuse bouche in restaurants, or with aperitifs, sold in jars in grocery stores or freshly made in farmer's markets.

We love Tapenade and Lulu's recipe is so easy and quick to make, that it seems a shame to not enjoy it freshly made. We serve it with fresh bread, toasted slices of baguettes, or crackers. We served Tapenade as an amuse bouche at every dinner service at Bistro des Copains.


1/2 pound large Greek-style black olives, pitted. The olives I like come in jars with 9.5 oz drained.
4 anchovy fillets
3 Tablespoons capers
1 garlic clove
Small pinch of cayenne
1 teaspoon savory leaves, finely chopped. I can't ever find fresh savory, so I substitute fresh thyme
4 Tablespoons olive oil

Ingredients for Lulu Peyraud's Tapenade Recipe


In a food processor, reduce the olives, anchovies, capers, garlic, cayenne, herbs, and olive oil to a coarse purée. Process only until the mixture is homogenous.

Tapenade Ingredients in Food Processor

Here is what the Tapenade should look like when it is out of the food processor.

Lulu Peyraud's Tapenade

I know you will find this recipe super easy. It is something you can whip out very quickly if guests drop in unexpectedly. I hope you will enjoy the Tapenade as much as we do. We hope to go back to the Bandol region when we return to Sablet in the spring and this time we will go on a weekday so we can taste at Domaine Tempier.

If you are thinking about a trip to the South of France including spending time in Provence, we invite you to visit our website at Our house is available for rent by the week or more. You can reach us for further information at

Friday, November 29, 2019

Le Castellet, Perched Medieval Village in Bandol AOC

As we were approaching the end of our most recent sojourn in Sablet, I suggested to Shirley that we visit the Bandol region and taste wine since we had not been there for several years. I told you about our previous visit to taste Bandol wines here.

One of my favorite blogs is authored by Tuula, Southern Californian raised, but now living in the Bandol region. Her blog called "Belle Provence Travels" is about living and traveling around the South of France. Although we have not met in person yet, we have corresponded several times.

So I sent her a message to ask, "what are your favorite villages near where you live". She responded very quickly, that Le Castellet is one of her favorite villages. So on our last Saturday, we headed out for the almost 2 hour drive there.

Le Castellet is a picturesque, medieval village, perched on top of a hill around a castle from the 17th-18th centuries, which today houses the Town Hall, overlooking vineyards and the surrounding countryside directly north of the beaches of Bandol.

Originally a fortified town, the remains of ancient walls are still present so you enter Le Castellet through one of the fortified gates of the defensive walls into a maze of narrow cobblestone streets and pretty squares.

Le Castellet

Le Castellet is full of typical Provençal buildings. Beautiful old houses line the streets which have been carefully restored to highlight their stonework with brightly colored flowers cascading down their walls.

Bougainvillea, wisteria and fuchsias are everywhere with pots of geraniums and lavender outside the houses adding a touch of gaiety to this charming village.

Le Castellet Archway

Olive Tree

The first record of a settlement in this area is in 1030 when it was called Castellarium. Because of its strategic position, Le Castellet has been an important site in history and was inhabited by Celto-Ligurian for several centuries and later the Gallo-Roman empire.

In Medieval times, Le Castellet was a protected township belonging to Les Baux and King René of Anjou. The Lords and Bishops of Marseille ruled the district but authority was passed to the Lords of Castillon in 1434.

Le Castellet Tower

The Saint-Sauveur church of the Transfiguration seen below was built in 1030 by the Bishops of Marseille. In 1754, the church had become too narrow and was enlarged, the orientation was changed, and two Gothic vaults were added perpendicularly to the Roman axis.

Église de la Transfiguration du Sauveur

Le Trou de Madame (The Hole of Madame) opening in the ramparts offers a remarkable panoramic view including a view in the distance the massif of Sainte-Baume.

Le Trou de Madame

The Portalet gate was opened through the ramparts in the 17th century for the convenience of the Castellans going to work in the fields. The gate is easily recognized in different scenes of the film "The wife of the Baker" by Marcel Pagnol which was filmed in the village.

Le Portalet gate through Le Castellet defensive wall

The local vineyards and wine estates at the foot of the village produce renown wines of the Bandol AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), one of the world's great wine regions.

While the region produces good-quality whites and rosé wines, Bandol's claim to wine fame rests in the deep, rich and intense bottlings made from Mourvèdre, a red grape that reaches its zenith in this region.

Mourvèdre does best in Bandol because it flourishes in the intense heat of the Mediterranean sun. Rainfall is less than 20 inches a year, and most of the vineyards are set in a bowl that encompasses a variety of exposures and terroirs.

Le Castellet War Memorial

Le Castellet House

Le Castellet Street

The Grand Portail gate is on the south end of Le Castellet and was rebuilt in the 14th century. For many years, it was the only access to the village.

Le Castellet Grand Portail Gate

There are plenty of shops in the center of the village including several art galleries and artisan’s workshops selling local pottery, ceramics, candles and leather crafts.

Le Castellet Shops

There are also several cafés where visitors can get a drink or meal, rest and visit on a shady terrace in one of the town’s squares.

Le Castellet Street

Le Castellet is also famous for the Paul Ricard racetrack built in 1969 by pastis magnet Paul Ricard, a few kilometers north of town. The racetrack will host the Formula 1 Grand Prix de France, June 26-28, 2020.

If you are thinking about a trip to the South of France including spending time in Provence, we invite you to visit our website at Our house is available for rent by the week or more. You can reach us for further information at

Monday, November 25, 2019

Wine tasting in Gigondas and a hike from Col de Cayron to the Dentelles de Montmirail

We are blessed to have a house in Sablet, France and live as locals several times a year. We love our location at the base of the Dentelles de Montmirail surrounded by vineyards as far as you can see. Nearby are several small villages, some known for their beauty and others renown for the wine produced in the village.

Sablet is located between Séguret, a village classified as a "Plus Beaux Village de France," to the north and Gigondas, a village renown for its red wine to the south. We think Gigondas is one of the prettiest of all Côtes du Rhône wine villages and one you should visit especially if you love red wine.

From the road, Gigondas seems little more than a cluster of stone houses set on a hillside with a church below the Dentelles de Montmirail Mountains overlooking vineyard covered slopes and valley below.

Gigondas Village

When you turn off for Gigondas, you follow the road up through the lower village, passing a succession of cafés and tasting rooms (caves) before arriving at Place Gabriel Andéol where the Mairie (town hall) and Caveau du Gigondas (wine growers cooperative), are located.

If you like red wine, plan to stop in at the Caveau du Gigondas (wine cooperative) where you can taste more than 100 different Gigondas wines from 80 wineries and buy them at the same price as at the winery.

Gigondas Town Hall

One of our favorite producers of Gigondas wine is Domaine la Bouïssière. We first became acquainted with this wine when we assembled our wine list for our now closed Bistro Des Copains, in Occidental, California. The tasting room is just a few steps from Place Gabriel Andéol.

Shirley at Domaine la Bouïssière Tasting Room

The Dentelles de Montmirail are short, steep mountains with a distinctive rocky ridge extending west geologically from Mont Ventoux which is located just to the east. When we go out onto the terrace off our bedroom in Sablet, we have a beautiful view of the Dentelles.

The name Dentelles, the French word for lace, refers to the jagged, rocky tops obtained by erosion, while Montmirail is derived from the Latin mons mirabilis meaning "admirable mountain" though the alternative connection with teeth, "dents" in French is equally good in my opinion.

The Dentelles de Montmirail mountain range is about 8 km (5 miles) long and runs from Vaison-la-Romaine on the north end to Beaumes-de-Venise on the south. The tallest peak of the Dentelles de Montmirail range is St-Amand, at 734 m (2,400 feet).

Dentelles de Montmirail

One day last fall, we decided to take the unsurfaced road up to Col de Cayron to get a closer look at the peaks of the Dentelles de Montmirail and see the views out over the vineyard covered Rhone valley.

One of the famous Gigondas vineyards high up over Gigondas at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail is seen in the picture below.

I should mention that Gigondas is a wine Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in the southern Rhône wine region of France. It is primarily a red wine region, with a very small amount of rosé wine produced. No white wines carry the Gigondas appellation at this time.

Gigondas Vineyard

The Col de Cayron is 396 m (1300 feet) high and in the center of the Dentelles de Montmirail principle peaks.

Dentelles de Montmirail from Overlook

A splendid view of the Rhone valley with Sablet in the foreground on the left and Séguret on the right against the hill. Séguret is classified as a Most Beautiful Village in France.

View from Overlook towards Sablet and Seguret

We hiked up a trail with steps, one of approximately 600 hiking trails in the Dentelles de Montmirail range, to a peak with great views and an overlook a little farther up for a photo together.

Shirley and I on the Overlook with Mont Ventoux in Distance

There are a many trails to hike up to and around the Dentelles de Montmirail. If you do, you will be rewarded with close up views of the peaks and magnificent views out over the Rhone valley. I am sure we will be making this hike again with grandchildren in tow the next time they come to Sablet.

If you are thinking about a trip to the South of France including spending time in Provence, we invite you to visit our website at Our house is available for rent by the week or more. You can reach us for further information at

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Domaine de la Charbonnière, an excellent producer of wines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape and wonderful family

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 often. Hey, its only 15 miles away.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a small medieval village on the side of a hill, guarded by the ruins of an ancient chateau towering above. From the chateau hill you have an outstanding view in all directions, mostly of vineyards and of the Rhône River 1.9 miles to the east. The village is between Avignon (7.5 miles to the south) and Orange (6.6 miles to the north).


As its name suggests, Châteauneuf-du-Pape is closely linked to several Popes. As early as 1157, faithful to Roman customs, Bishop Geoffroy of Avignon planted and cultivated a vineyard in his Châteauneuf territory. In 1308, Clement V also planted vines, thereby becoming one of the first winemakers in Châteauneuf.

Pope Jean XXII, the second of the popes to reside in Avignon, had a particular appreciation for wine from this area, and ordered the castle seen below to be built in 1317 as a summer residence, and bestowed upon the wine, the title of “Vin du Pape” (Papal Wine), the name by which it was known before it became “Châteauneuf-du-Pape”.

The back side of the tower of the Pope's castle is shown in the photo below, 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 largely destroyed for the final time by the retreating Germans in 1944.

Pope's Castle 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.

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.

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.

Center of Châteauneuf-du-Pape Village

As I indicated above, we come often to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, for the wines. The sign below which you see alongside the roads that cross into the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation reads "Here begin the celebrated vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape."

Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC wines are made from grapes grown in the commune of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and portions of the four neighboring municipalities (Bédarrides, Courthézon, Orange, and Sorgues) in the Vaucluse.

There are 13 grape varieties permitted in Châteauneuf wines, although it's rare that most are used in one blend. Grenache is dominant in the reds, supported by Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Counoise, Muscardin, Vaccarèse and Terret. White wines are a blend of Clairette, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, Picpoul and Picardin.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC Boundary

Our favorite Châteauneuf-du-Pape winery is located just outside the village on the Route de Courthézon. We first became acquainted with Domaine de la Charbonnière and its wines when we tasted wines for the initial wine list for our Bistro Des Copains in Occidental, California and have been fans ever since.

The domaine is owned by the Maret family, daughters Véronique and Caroline and parents Michel and Mireille, and have been making wine since 1912 when Michel Maret's grandfather Eugene bought the domaine as a gift for his wife who was the daughter of a local winegrower. Michel took over in 1978 and started bottling wine-most of it sold out the winery door.

He was the one who named the estate Domaine de la Charbonnière from the name used for the area around the domaine. The name means "the area of charcoal burning".

Domaine de la Charbonnière

Véronique took over winemaking responsibilities from Michel in 2012 after starting at the domaine alongside her father, in 2009. Michel, although now retired, still drives the tractor and helps her in the cellar. Véronique and Caroline are the fourth generation of Maret's to oversee the domaine. Mother Mireille continues to manage the vineyard team.

One of the most important changes Véronique made since taking over in 2012 was the move to organic viticulture.

From left, Caroline Maret, Shirley, and Mireille Maret

The wines from Domaine de la Charbonnière have not suffered at all from the change in winemaking responsibilities, in fact they seem to be getting better with each harvest, if that is even possible. Take a look at the tasting points in the November 15, 2019 issue of "Wine Spectator Magazine".

Wine Spectator Magazine
November 15, 2019
Domaine de la Charbonnière Cuvee Vintage WS Points
Châteauneuf-du-Pape Les Hautes Brusquières 2016 96
Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vielle Vignes 2016 95
Châteauneuf-du-Pape Red 2016 94
Châteauneuf-du-Pape Mourre des Perdrix 2016 94
Châteauneuf-du-Pape White 2017 93

New barrel room at Domaine de la Charbonnière

To accommodate the growing demand for their excellent wines, they have recently finished an expansion of their barrel room.

Domaine de la Charbonnière Wood Tanks

The majority of the grapes for wine made by Domaine de la Charbonnière comes from parcels in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. They also own and make wine from parcels they own in the Vacqueyras AOC and in Côtes du Rhône, just outside the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC boundary. Their two different bottlings of 2016 Vacqueyras both earned 90+ points from Wine Spectator Magazine.

Domaine de la Charbonnière 2019 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Mourre des Perdrix in Wood Tank

Steel Tanks Holding 2019 Grapes

Inox (stainless steel) tanks at Domaine de la Charbonnière

Terrace over the new barrel rooms at Domaine de la Charbonnière

Domaine de la Charbonnière estate vineyards

There are several distinct terroirs in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Clay soils and those with galets-large round pebbles that store heat, make full-bodied, structured reds; sandy soils produce lighter, more elegant wines. The whites, which are full-bodied and aromatic, with yellow fruits and floral notes, favor the limestone soils.

One of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyards with layer of stones called galets (pebbles)

The best thing about Domaine de la Charbonnière is the Maret Family, they are all charming, funny, and always have a smile to greet you, even during the middle of vendange (grape harvest). After many tastings at Domaine de la Charbonnière over the years, I can say we are friends.

We were very happy we could meet Véronique and Caroline when they were in Sonoma and Napa County a few weeks back, visiting customers with their new California importer, Grape Expectations, and take them to dinner in Sonoma.

Girl and the Fig in Sonoma California with Caroline and Véronique Maret

If you are in the Vaucluse region of France, and tasting wine is part of your trip, it is well worthwhile to visit and taste at Domaine de la Charbonnière. If you are in shops that sell special wines or in a nice restaurant, French or otherwise in the US, Canada, or UK, make sure you check to see if they have a bottle on the list from Domaine de la Charbonnière. Trust me, you will be very happy you did.

Domaine de la Charbonnière
Route de Courthézon
84230 Châteauneuf-du-Pape
Tel: +33 (0)4 90 83 74 59

If you are planning for your next vacation and it might include a visit to the south of France, check out our website about our home in Sablet which we rent by the week or for longer periods of time.