Châteauneuf-du-Pape is not just a beautiful stop on the Vantage Treasures of France: A Grand River Journey From Normandy to Provence cruise — it is also the name of the full-bodied red wines produced in this verdant part of the Rhône Valley.
The landmark area, situated in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region of southeastern France, was initially called Châteauneuf-Calcernier. The village was relatively unknown until Pope Clement V relocated the papacy to nearby Avignon instead of Rome in the early 1300s. The Avignon Papacy, which lasted from 1309 to 1377, did much to promote viniculture in the region. Châteauneuf wines soon became known as Vin du Pape (“wine of the Pope”), and by the late 19th century, the village — and its wines — had been renamed Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or “new castle of the Pope.”
A Small Medieval Village
If you stand at the top of this small medieval village near its castle, look down and you’ll be privy to the sight of fertile vineyards everywhere. With just a glance, you’ll realize that this place with the famous name is all about wine, from the cultivation of the grapes to producing the wine and selling their highly cultivated product.
You won’t need to survey all the wineries in the area to get a chance to taste their bounty. In fact, the legendary Châteauneuf wines can be found in shops all over Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Where the grapes are grown it is common for vineyards to be strewn with galets, or large pebbles. The galets take in warmth from the region’s dry climate during the day (Châteauneuf-du-Pape is actually the driest of the Rhône appellations) and release the heat at night, which causes the grapes to ripen faster. They can also retain moisture, which is vital because irrigation is not allowed during the growing season.
Sampling the Wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape
When you stop by shops where the wine is sold, you may be able to taste their offerings before you make your final selection. Half of the fun is in finding the right fit for your palate while wandering through the shops situated in the narrow village streets.
Before or after you begin your wine shopping, consider stopping by the admission-free Musée du Vin Brotte. On display are a myriad of antique tools, like a 14th-century 1,000 gallon wine barrel made of chestnut. This two-story museum will fill you in on the history of the area as well as the wine production process.
Wine and Chocolate
To top off your visit — and to feed your cravings for chocolate as well as wine — drop by the Chocolaterie Castelain, a compelling emporium nearly dripping with chocolate of all varieties. Who knows? Experiencing this gem could very well become the sweetest complement to your trip to Châteauneuf-du-Pape wineries. Santé!