The name Châteauneuf-du-Pape translates into "new castle of the pope," and derives from the period of when Pope Clement V moved the papacy to the village of Avignon in the early 14th century as a measure of protection from the volatile period of political instability and religious strife. The picture above is of the Pope's palace where it stands today in the square of Avignon. The cathedral is magnificent and imposing, and yet the exterior is quite bare and the architecture relatively restrained compared to ornate religious structures of later periods. It is a significant symbol of France's history, and it is a requisite destination for both the spiritual and historians, alike.
Pope Jean XXII further embedded the papacy in the region when another castle was built on one of the highest hills of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the 15th century, and was designated as the pope's summer home.
It is during this period when the wine-loving Popes planted the roots of Châteauneuf-du-Pape's agricultural mainstay: grapevines, and with it established this region's prominent tradition and reputation of wine making.
Today, the pope's summer home in Châteauneuf-du-Pape is but a mere residual memory of itself, annihilated by wars and destruction over the centuries.
The castle overlooks the region of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and the river on the edge of the village is the southern part of the Rhone River, which travels north to south.
Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the wine region extends much further than the village, covering nearly 8,000 acres or roughly ten square miles. Considering its small size, and the AOC's strict growing standards, it is one of the most productive agricultural regions of the world, yielding an annual average of 2.6 million gallons of wine or roughly 325 gallons per acre. That figure does not comprehend the 5% of grapes mandated by the AOC to be discard as a measure of quality control. There are thirteen grape varietals of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation, a majority represented by Grenache (30%) and Mourvèdre (30%), a smaller percent by Syrah (10%), Counoise (10%), Cinsault (5%), and the balance is represented by seven other obscure varietals. Neither Cabernet Sauvignon or Cabernet Franc are among the thirteen grape varietals of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
On the day we visited, we walked down the long and wide brick stairway from the Pope's castle leading to the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
I have a better appreciation of how young America is learning about French history and studying the various architectures of the homes we passed by.
I'm imagining how wonderful it must be to grow up in the quaint village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The population of the village is roughly 2,200. Everyone must know everyone else.
Sherry Page tells me that the village of Chateauneuf, because of its renown wine region and significance to history, gets quite a few tourists over the warmer months. But since it was early February, we didn't see a single soul while we walked through the village, and in fact, most of the businesses were closed for winter months. It was quite nice to feel the soul of the town without the distraction of crowds.
The next post will be on a visit to the winery dubbed as the 'Crown Jewel' of Chateauneuf-du-Pape by Food & Wine. Can you guess which one it is?
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