Clos des Papes is one of the Rhone Valley’s most venerable estates. The Avril family, now headed by Paul Avril and his son Vincent, have been making wine in Chateauneuf-du-Pape for 300 years. The name of the estate comes from the fact that the original vineyard was part of a papal estate located inside a chateau. The Avril family now owns parcels through the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation, giving the estate a total of nearly 90 acres of vineyards planted mostly to Grenache, Mourvedre and Syrah. Some 10% of the estate is planted to the white grapes that make up the classic Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc. About 100,000 bottles of red are produced annually. Robert M. Parker Jr. has called the estate’s wines “brilliant,” and notes that they are especially long-lived. The estate produces just one red and one white wine, selling any cuvees of lesser quality to negociants.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the appellation, is a large area of nearly 8,000 vineyard acres centered around the picturesque town of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Located in southeastern France just north of the Avignon hills, the name of the appellation means “new castle of the pope” and it is a reference to the 14th century, when the Popes of Avignon built summer homes in the Southern Rhone Valley. Today the appellation is one of the most renowned in France and its terroir is known for layers of small pebbles, called “galets.” The stones in the soil are thought to help store heat and keep the soil warm, which helps ripen the grapes. The stones also help keep the soil from drying out in hot summer months. In 1923 Châteauneuf-du-Pape was a leader in establishing the idea that AOC wines in France should be made only with specified grapes, and the appellation allowed 13 grape varieties to be used. Since then the rules have been slightly modified to include several more allowable grapes. Red and white wines are produced, though in practice about 97% of all Châteauneuf –du-Papes are reds made with a blend of Grenache Noir, Cinsault, Counoise, Mourvedre, Muscardine, Syrah and Vaccarese. The red wines of this appellation are prized for being big, rich, spicy and full-bodied. White wines of the appellation are made with Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Picpoul and Picardin. Whites are floral, fruity and relatively full-bodied.