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Black Tie International  Travel  1  2  3  4  5  6
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Black Tie International Magazine - Travel
Châteauneuf-du-Pape

 

The Small Winemakers of
 Châteauneuf-du-Pape

 

By Barney Lehrer with Jesse Nash

 
 
 

 Eddie Féraud    Eddie Féraud in the cave

 

Eddie Féraud in the field
Jacumin Cave
Jacumin Cave

 

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 them.

 

Of the hundreds of tales from Châteauneuf, here are the histories of four of these winemakers.

 

Jean-Claude Vidal, Domaine de Banneret

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 tasters.

 

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 terroir.”

 

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 importers.

 

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 six-eight months.

 

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 France.

 

 

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 Thunderbird School 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.

 

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