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.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

"Les 3 Souquets", an Olive Oil Boutique and Santonnier Workshop Near Sablet

We have been traveling to Sablet several times a year for the past 11 years. You would think that by now, there would not be anything new left for us to discover, but that is not the case. It seems that we find someplace new every time we are in Sablet.


"Les 3 Souquets", a santon work shop and boutique offering for sale, products from the region, including all things olives, such as fresh olives, olive oils, and tapenades, made from green and black olives, is our latest discovery.

Fortunately for us, "Les 3 Souquets" is located on D-977 (also known as Route de Vaison La Romaine) near the turnoff for Sablet. The workshop and boutique are the creation of Denis Voeux, a santonnier and owner of a small grove of olive trees, in the neighboring village of Séguret.

Les 3 Souquets

I do not know if Monsieur Voeux was a santonnier who became passionate about olive oil, or vice versa, but at "Les 3 Souquets", there is evidence of both. There are a variety of olive oils from various AOPs ("Appellation d’Origine Protégée") in France and elsewhere as well as fresh Picholine and Tanche olives available to taste and purchase.

Every year, Monsieur Voeux takes a tour of the Mediterranean Region's olive oil AOPs and chooses what he believes are the best from the most recent harvest to sell in his boutique. He also has bottles of olive oil he produces from his small grove in Séguret which falls within the Nyons AOP.

The owner of "Les 3 Souquets", Denis Voeux with Shirley

For santon newbies, santons are hand-made clay figurines that depict the colorful people, traditional trades, activities and costumes of Provence as I told you here. In Provence, they are set out at Christmas in a Provençal creche (nativity scene). I love them and have a small collection that I set out at Christmas time.

If you are fortunate enough to come to his workshop on a day that Monsieur Voeux is working on santons, you might be able to see how they are baked in a red hot oven or how he hand paints each one of them. He says he was enamored with santons from a young age and finally gave in to his love of making objects from clay and modeling them.

Every santonnier has their own style, usually the way to tell one santonniers' work from another, is by looking at the faces of the santons. One of the unusual features of Monsieur Voeux's santons, are his faces, they are all people from Monsieur Voeux's life. The first face he modeled was that of his grandfather on his mother's side of the family. Quite a few other people from his life have since joined the nativity scene. His most recent creation was a santon with a face modeled after his uncle.

Santons by Denis Voeux

In France, olive trees are planted along the arc of the Mediterranean Sea, between Nice and Perpignan, Marseille and Nyons. It is said that there are 100 different varieties of olive trees grown in France, of which 20 are important for the economy of the region. As I said earlier, Monsieur Voeux travels throughout the various olive oil AOPs to selection the best for his boutique. As you can see below, he has a large number of excellent olive oils available.

Olive oils on display at Les 3 Souquets

If you are in the area, and interested in learning about Santons or how they are made, or anything to do with olives or olive oil, make sure you stop in to visit the "Les 3 Souquets" boutique. After tasting quite a few different bottles during our visit, I bought a bottle of Monsieur Voeux's own Nyons production. It was really nicely balanced for me. Tell Monsieur Voeux that Michel from Sablet told you to stop in.

"Les 3 Souquets"
1471 Route de Vaison La Romaine
84110 Séguret
Tel: 06 18 56 57 02