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Visiting Chateauneuf-du-Pape--Part deux

by Jon Rusciano

Much later than I wanted to be in my schedule, I had to rush to the restaurant where I promised Cathy we would dine for lunch.  This was La Cave du Verger des Papes, located at the top of the hill, just beneath the preserved ruins of the old castle ordered built in 1317 by Pope John 22.  It was a scenic spot, and the food was excellent.  The problem was trying to depart in less than the two hours that the rest of its diners took for a leisurely lunch.  I had planned for this, but the inconsiderate actions of Sarah at Beaucastel crushed my schedule.    We were thus judged as rude Americans, asking for our check before dessert and before the wait staff was ready to deal with our accounting.  So it goes.

I had very little time to make it to my next stop, Domaine de la Janasse, on the outskirts of town.  The winery had provided GPS Coordinates, so I felt good when they were inserted and pressed “Go” on the screen.  In just a few minutes, we were at the location, but something looked awry.  We had stopped in the front driveway of a residence.  Scratching my head, I exited the car, went to the front door and knocked.  A matronly lady came to the door and spoke only French.  My heart sank as I knew we must be in trouble.  I pointed to the name of the winery on my copy of the appointment email, and she began to explain that I was in the wrong place.  Sensing that I was not picking up on her instructions for driving to the correct address, she went inside for a moment and returned with car keys in hand, followed by her husband, clad only in his skivvies, scratching his hairy belly.  She made a motion for me to follow her, as she started her car and proceeded out the driveway.  I did.  She drove what must have been over 4 kilometers, turning this way and that, arriving at the front gate of Janasse, with me close behind.  She pointed down the driveway, but first I sprang out of our car to thank her in as expressive a way as I could manage.  So much is said about the French and their aloof attitude toward tourists, but I was treated as If I were one of the American soldiers who had helped liberate France from German occupation, something that probably happened during her lifetime.  What a great lady!

Walking into the Accuel office, we met Sophie, the person with whom I had arranged the visit.  She was busily handling the winery’s affairs for the day, sans assistance.   She was understanding about our tardy arrival, considering the ordeal we had just encountered.  I offered her the proper GPS coordinates for this location, so that the poor local resident woman would not have to be leading the way for others who mistakenly arrived at her doorstep.  Sophie was a really nice person, most accommodating to us as we toured the facility.  Janasse has multiple properties scattered about the district’s landscape, yielding 350,000 bottles of wine per year.  They bottle two different rosé wines, four whites and seven reds.  Equally impressive was the fact that they run so much volume through facilities which are tiny, relative to the production.  Barrels were stacked high in the storage area, and many of the staging areas for crushing, fermentation and aging doubled for other purposes.  This reminded me of the tight quarters at Chateau Clinet, in Bordeaux.  They have virtually no room for storage of library wines, for any purpose.  Once a year’s production is sold and shipped, no bottles remain on site, no matter how great that vintage had been.

The Janasse estate was established in 1973 by Aimé Sabon.  By 1991, his son Christophe joined him, with his daughter Isabelle following in 2001, after her formal education in oenology at the University of Bordeaux.  The estate grew to envelop 60 different plots, enabling versatility, planting in compatible soil types and micro-climates for the numerous varietals they incorporate into their wines.

Since most rosé and white wines they produce remain in France, I opted to taste only the reds I may acquire in the future.  The 2012 Chateauneuf du Pape was a spicy red, with a fragrance of blackberry and herbs.  It was dark in color, but not as fruit forward as the others.  Their 2012 CNP Chaupin was medium bodied and florally fragrant.  The 2012 flagship CNP Vieilles Vignes was full bodied, mellow, with notes of blueberry and licorice.   All were very approachable at this youthful age.

We concluded our tour and thanked Sophie for her time and efforts.  Just as we were leaving, a German couple drove up (likely restaurant owners) and gave her an order for three cases of wines that she began to fill.  Evidently, wine sales are not as closely restricted by the Negociants in this part of the country as in Bordeaux.

It was later in the afternoon than I had hoped, so the visit to Clos Saint Jean could not be attempted, without placing our timely arrival back at the hotel in peril.  And, the proprietor of Saint Jean had insisted that the map he forwarded to me would be sufficient for directions.  The location he offered was very close to where we had been diverted by police barricades that morning for the Vacation Festival.  I had been fortunate to secure my wife’s cooperation for this daytime adventure.  It was not worth risking any tardiness for our arrival at the event planned that evening at the hotel.  Thus, I programmed Ms. G for the return, and departed wine country.

I was very hopeful that the wines offered at the two dinners (Rehearsal Dinner and Wedding Reception) of the wedding event would be exemplary expressions of Rhone excellence.  The first event offered wines from Beaucastel, yet those selected were the more recent years of their Cotes du Rhone varietals (much like their second or third tier vintages). The white was nice, but the red, a dread.  The following evening’s Wedding Reception offered delightful white and red wines of the incredible 2010 Chateauneuf du Pape vintage, from the family vineyards of Chateau la Nerthe (dating back to the 12th century plantings for clerical and Papal enjoyment).  Those were fabulous, and it was thrilling not to have to “taste and spit,” as I had to while driving.  Had I known how good the red would be, I would have insisted on starting and staying with it all evening, no matter what the food paring dictated.

My limited exposure to Chateauneuf-du-Pape on this trip wet my appetite for more.  There are many great wineries to experience in this beautiful region of Provence, and it certainly appears to be a spot my wine buddies will enjoy, much like our Bordeaux trip in May of 2013.   I will look forward to the opportunity of such an experience, and then of course, writing about it.

La Cave du Verger des Papes -  www.caveduverger.com

Domaine de la Janasse  -  www.lajanasse.com

Clos Saint Jean -  www.closstjean.fr

Chateau la Nerthe -  www.chateau-la-nerthe.com


Note: This information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the businesses in question before making your plans.

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