The wines of the village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape
are the most famous appellation of the southern
Rhône valley. The town is only 10 square miles
with a population of about two thousand people.
Yet somehow there are more than 300 vignerons
(winemakers) who are allowed to use the
Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation. Are 15% of
Châteauneufois winemakers? Who are the ones you
may not have discovered in your local wine shop
or the pages of Robert Parker?
First, let’s answer some demographic questions.
Actually, all 300+ vignerons do not necessarily
live or even produce wine in the village. As
long as the grapes are grown in vineyards that
are located in Châteauneuf du Pape or parts of
the surrounding villages Bédarrides, Courthézon,
Orange and Sorgues, and as long as the wines are
made using some or all of 13 different varietals
grown in those vineyards, the wine can carry the
appellation. That said, probably 80% of the
village’s population works in the wine business!
Much has been written about the wines of about
the famous wines, such as Vieux Télégraphe,
Beaucastel, Clos Saint-Jean or Clos des Papes.
These are distinguished wines, many still owned
by families who have been making the same wine
for many generations. Major corporations or
investment trusts now own some of them. But the
lesser-known producers have a story to tell. And
great wines to discover!
The Napoleonic code for property inheritance
plays a part in the story of small winemakers.
In France property ownership must be divided
equally among the children of a deceased. So,
for example, if there are five children, the
property must be divided into 6 parcels of
ownership (the deceased will have had an option
of naming the inheritor of one separate equal
share). As anywhere in the world, every family
has its own saga. In French wine country some
families live and work harmoniously for hundreds
of years, producing a style of wine unique to
their family tradition. Other families, however,
may not be so harmonious. If two brothers and
one sister inherit a property, one brother may
have his own idea about how wine should be made,
the sister may have very different ideas and the
second brother may want to explore the world and
never make wine. In a situation like this, the
third brother might sell his share to his
brother or sister or may decide to sell it to
somebody else entirely. It is possible that one
vineyard may be cut into three separate ones,
each with different owners and different
approaches to making wine. Given that the
Napoleonic code has been in force since about
1800, wine areas such as Châteauneuf are cut
into hundreds of tiny vineyards, with only a few
large ones belonging to the most harmonious
families or large entities that could buy up and
consolidate property holdings. In terms of
winemaking this has resulted in a huge variety
of wines with the Châteauneuf appellation, each
with unique personalities and stories behind
Of the hundreds of tales from Châteauneuf, here
are the histories of four of these winemakers.
Jean-Claude Vidal, Domaine de
Jean-Claude has a unique story, even among
Châteauneuf winemakers. He spent much of his
youth as the son of an officer in the French
army in Algeria, trained as an architect and
worked for 35 years in the profession in
Toulouse. But he always knew that his family’s
roots in Châteauneuf-du-Pape were deep. Records
of his ancestors’ marriages and property
ownership (including vineyards!) date to 1405.
And he will proudly show you copies of those
records. Also dating almost as long back in
family records is the “secret” recipe for making
wine from the grapes grown on what is still his
family’s property in the vineyards surrounding
the ruins of the Pope’s summer palace. In 1989,
after a successful career in architecture,
Jean-Claude returned to his family’s terroir,
bought the 1.5 hectares of vines that remained
among his relatives and bought some additional
acreage. Jean-Claude did not have to attend
oenology school or get an MBA in wine marketing.
His superior winemaking skills are in his blood.
His rich, flavorful wine sells itself to all
One of the few winemakers in Châteauneuf who
uses all the 13 grapes allowed to make
Châteauneuf du Pape wine, Jean-Claude keeps
methods old. All his vines are low-producing
vieilles vignes. There is a large amount of
grenache. Jean-Claude says, “Grenache provides
us with the high alcohol level (14.5%!), as well
as the traditional flavor of Châteauneuf. Syrah
gives the deep red, almost black, color.
Mouvédre provides the tannin. Sarette provides
the fruit qualities.” And so on!
There is no stainless steel or new oak. Only
huge old oak barrels, where the wine matures for
two years before bottling. Jean-Claude believes
that the best wine is wine produced without
technology, modern innovations, chemicals,
filters or other techniques. As he says, “My
wine reflects the intimate relationship my
family has always had with our village and its
Jean-Claude and close family and friends harvest
the wine by hand each vendange. Even in
difficult years he manages to produce a good
product. For example, in 2002 Châteauneuf was
flooded just as the harvest began. Most
winemakers looked at their flooded vineyards and
decided to write off the vintage. Jean-Claude,
however, went into the vineyard, sometimes in
waist-deep water, and picked all salvage-worthy
grapes by himself. Although it is not one of his
best vintages, is it still a very much drinkable
and enjoyable wine.
Domaine du Banneret produces 9000 bottles in
good harvest years. It is imported by several US
Daniel Nury, Domaine Serguier
Daniel Nury is a young winemaker whose passion
is to return to an old family tradition of
producing fine Châteauneuf wines. Daniel’s great
grandfather first came to the village and bought
several parcels in the early 20th
century. His grandfather took over. But his
father did not want to make wine. For 35 years
the 12 parcels of land he owns were used to grow
grapes for other winemakers. But Daniel wanted
to enter the world of his grandfather. He
studied winemaking in Orange and Montpellier
and, in 1997, opened a small cellar and took
back the family grapes.
Daniel uses 85% grenache, 5% mouvédre, 5%
cinsault, 2% syrah and 3% others. Being a young,
freshly educated winemaker, Daniel believes in
young oak – 12 months of it! But he has barrels
of different ages ranging for new to four years.
And he moves the wine from one barrel to another
during the year.
Daniel produces a warm, balanced, big-nosed
elegant wine, a special cuvée made from grapes
on what he knows is his best field, and, since
1997, a wonderfully fruity white wine.
Domaine Serguier produces about 9000 bottles of
its main wine, 1000 of its cuvée and 1000
bottles of white. He has no US importers.
Eddie Féraud, Domaine Eddie Féraud
Eddie Féraud is a handsome, humorous guy with a
twinkle in his eye. That twinkle may be where
his talent for making wonderful wines comes
from. His vineyards, on a hill on the border of
Châteauneuf and Courthézon, overlook distant
Mount Ventoux and an ancient abandoned
farmhouse. The vineyard is unusual for
Châteauneuf because the soil is sandy, without
the small stones (galets) that cover the soil of
most of the village’s other vineyards. And he
doesn’t even know the proportions of wine
varieties in his vineyard. Each field is a mix
of the 13 varieties needed to make a Châteauneuf
wine a Châteauneuf wine.
Eddie comes from a family that has been making
wine in Châteauneuf since the early 1900s.
Originally owners of 20 hectares of vineyards,
family splits and inheritances have broken up
the property so that Eddie now has five hectares
and his uncle (whose cellar is next door) and
other relatives own parts of the rest.
Eddie Féraud’s wines are aged for two and even
up to four years in old oak. He is experimenting
a bit with new oak, but only for a small
percentage of a vintage. His wine, like all good
Châteauneuf wines, is rich, complex, and full of
tannin and fruit.
Why did Eddie decide to be a winemaker? “When I
was young I did not do well in school. My father
said to me, ‘the only thing you are good for is
making wine.’ I took his advice.” And the
results are a marvel to the palette,
Eddie Féraud produces about 10000-15000 bottles
per year. He does not have a US importer.
Albin Jacumin, Domaine Albin Jacumin
The Jacumin family has been making wine in
Châteauneuf since the early 1900s. Albin learned
winemaking from his father (who still works with
him) and then went on to study in Orange and
Beaune. A few years ago there was a family
dispute and Albin was left with part of the
family vineyard but no place to make the wine.
So for a few years a neighbor let him use his
equipment, bottling plant and barrel space. In
2007, after much investment and planning, Albin
opened what is possibly the most modern, hi-tech
winery in Châteauneuf.
Albin is another Châteauneuf winemaker who uses
all 13 varieties of allowed grapes, the
principal ones being grenache, syrah, cinsault
and mouvédre. The grapes are destalked before
fermentation in cement tanks, and the wine is
aged in two-three years old barrels for
Albin also makes a wonderful Châteauneuf white
as well as some Côtes du Rhône made from grapes
grown just outside of the official Châteauneuf
growing region. Annual production is about
32,000 bottles. His US importer is Wines of
There are hundreds of other stories to be told
about Châteauneuf winemakers, but most of them,
like the wines themselves, never leave France or
even the region. Plan a trip to Châteauneuf and
you will be rewarded with magnificent wine,
history, scenery and gastronomy!
BARNEY LEHRER has been appreciating quality
wine for most of his adult life. First learning
about it during his student days in Europe, Mr.
Lehrer has devoted much of his free time to
learning about and appreciating good wine,
especially from lesser-known, high quality
winemakers in Europe and the US. Since 2003 Mr.
Lehrer has owned a residence in the Rhone valley
(http://www.mybeaucaire.com), which serves as
the base for visiting famous and less famous
(but high quality!) winemakers. When he is not
there he is happy to share the place as an ideal
Rhone valley/Provence vacation base.
Mr. Lehrer has a Certificate in Wines and
Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education
Trust of London, “the foremost international
body in the field of wines and spirits
education”. He is a graduate of the University
of Massachusetts and holds an MBA from the
of Global Management.
JESSE NASH has been a wine lover since the
late 1980s when famed singer Julio Iglesias
introduced him to his first red wine -- Chateau
Petrus. An auspicious beginning, indeed, Mr.
Nash has never looked back and has written
stories or being profiled himself on food, wine,
properties and celebrities in such acclaimed
outlets as Paris Match, Rolling Stone, NY
Magazine, the NY Post, the NY Daily News,
Newsday, Elle, Harper Bazaar, among many others.