My first target to visit in Chateauneuf-du-Pape was Domaine Grand Veneur at the end of May, and I really enjoyed it. We started in a vineyard near the winery, which sits just on the other side of appellation’s border. It seems pretty obvious that just a few meters of difference won’t stop you from growing the same quality of grapes, but the rules are strict – you cannot call it Chateauneuf-du-Pape anymore. Which means you cannot ask the same price for the wine. On the other hand, you can have a bigger crop, different varieties – for example, Viognier, which is not allowed in CdP -, and you can use different trailing systems. You can train Grenache on cordons, for example, which is not allowed inside the appellation.
Domaine Grand Veneur is fully organic. Only one-third of the appellation is using this method as I learned. They also have a better understanding of what soil type (in CdP you have stones, clay and sand in various proportions) is a better match for which variety. In the old days, everything was just co-planted.
There is no magic in the cellar, there is nothing special about the winemaking. They just want to make terroir wines, not overshadowed by new oak or any trickery – this attitude is quite general in the Southern Rhone, and it results in purity, one thing I really love in the wines of the region. As it’s also common, they don’t put Grenache into oak, as it’s a thin skinned variety lacking in color and structure, so it’s sensitive for oxidation. It’s Syrah and Mourvedre that goes into oak, and at the end they are blended. When I asked about making single varietal wines, the answer is that they believe in blends. Grenache is the main variety here but it needs partners to get color, structure and complexity.
About the wines: they are really nice and flawless, I basically liked everything I tasted. They make two versions of CdP blanc, a fresh and an oak-aged one. For the latter the aim is to have something age-worthy – it might work but at this stage, it was just a bit oaky to my taste. The 2018 Blanc de Viognier comes from the vines we saw outside, i.e. just outside the appellation, so it’s a plain Cotes du Rhone. A fresh and light style, really nice. The red 2016 Cotes du Rhone Reserve is also pleasant, this is what you would expect from such a producer and such a nice vintage. Something to highlight: the 2014 Les Travées Cairanne. I asked them about optimal drinking windows and if my memories are correct, they said 4-6 six years for Villages wines and 5-7 for CdP. That’s already an interesting piece of information for me – then it seems that I always drink Southern Rhone reds to early. My wine lover friends would insist though that aged Chateauneufs are mostly a bit disappointing, we did not find it so far that they age well, though admittedly this conclusion is not based on a high number of bottles. But back to the Cairanne: it seems to prove the point: at almost 5 years of age, it is in fantastic shape, quite probably at it’s best. It’s open, jumps out of the glass, showing some development and complexity acquired with age, but it’s not fully tertiary, still has fruits too. And quite rounded on the palate with good balance, it has reached harmony and not fading yet. What a pleasure to drink it, and what a great value wine it is.