Châteauneuf-du-Pape is one of the most famous wine regions in the world. It’s located in the south of France, in the Rhône Valley. Most wine drinkers know Châteauneuf-du-Pape for its rich red wines, but many are unaware of its interesting history, or how it earned the name Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
The Catholic Church Connection
Prior to the 14th century this village and region was of little importance in either the wine or religious world. Wine was produced here, but it was not particularly famous and was drunk mostly by the locals. This drastically changed in 1308 when a new Pope was elected, Pope Clement V. The French king at the time put pressure on the new Pope to move the capital of the Catholic Church, and his home from Rome to Avignon. The new Pope complied and the next seven Popes would all make their headquarters in Avignon.
In 1317, Pope John XXII ordered a castle to be built just outside of Avignon in a village called Châteauneuf Calcernier. This village would later be renamed in honor of its unique history as Châteauneuf-du-Pape, literally translating to, ‘new castle of the Pope’. Not only did Pope John XXII build a castle, but he also planted vineyards and encouraged the production of higher quality wines to be produced in the area. And of course along with the Pope came plenty of money and wealthy individuals to support high quality wine production.
The 19th & 20th Centuries
The 19th century brought some ups and downs for the region. First phylloxera, the aphid that destroyed much of France and Europe’s vineyards made its way to Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the 1860s. Phylloxera destroyed many of the region’s vineyards and caused an enormous drop in production levels. However, once the solution was found to combat phylloxera the region used the moment to implement modern techniques while replanting the vineyards.
In 1936, Châteauneuf-du-Pape received some good news. They were one of the first regions in France to receive AOC status, France’s new system of regulating and protecting wine regions. This new AOC status helped the region combat fraudulent Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, and helped ensure the wines of the region were all high quality.
Today there are 13 grape varieties allowed to be put into Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine, though only a handful make up the majority of the wine. For reds this is Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Cinsault. For whites, Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and Bourboulenc are the main grapes produced; though only about 7% of the wine produced here is white. The red and white wines are both full bodied and rich. They both benefit from aging, especially the red wine.
Grenache makes up around 75% of Châteauneuf-du-Pape’s vineyards.
“Guide to Châteauneuf-Du-Pape Region and the Wines.” 2019. Wine Folly. April 12, 2019. https://winefolly.com/deep-dive/all-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-chateauneuf-du-pape-wine-and-more/.
Karlsson, Per and Britt. n.d. “Rich and Rare: White Châteauneuf-Du-Pape.” Forbes. Accessed November 29, 2023. https://www.forbes.com/sites/karlsson/2017/05/09/rich-and-rare-white-chateauneuf-du-pape/.
Wytsma, Ken. 2022. “The History of the Châteauneuf Du Pape Castle.” This Day in Wine History. May 30, 2022. https://thisdayinwinehistory.com/the-history-of-the-chateauneuf-du-pape-castle/.