Châteauneuf du Pape, Lirac, Tavel and Costières de Nîmes
By Liz Berry MW
This Guide was last updated on 27 February 2010
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Winter vines emerging from the galets (pebbles) that cover the soil in much of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. © Mick Rock/Cephas
The southern Rhône area is a true Provencal region, with the red tiled rooftops, and the classic farmhouse structure of buildings with their backs to the northern wind, the Mistral. The wind also marks the countryside, with rows of Cypress trees planted to shelter the vineyards and crops. You can always tell which direction is north in this countryside; observe the trees, and see which side is almost bare of foliage; see also which way the trunk is bent, pushed southwards by the buffeting Mistral. Much of the countryside is marked by galets, large rounded pebbles left behind by the ancient riverbeds of the Rhône and the Durance. These stones act as night storage heaters, warming the soil and the vines, not just in Châteauneuf, but in large tracts of the Costières de Nîmes, Tavel and Lirac.
Châteauneuf du Pape is one of the most famous vineyard areas in France. The winemakers of the region have a long history of top quality wine production, and the wines were well known even in the 1800s. It was one of the very first appellations created in 1935. The locals even drafted a decree, forbidding space ships to land on the territory, to prevent any disruption to the famous vineyards. Lirac red is to some extent a ‘baby brother’ to Châteauneuf; peppery, spicy and broad in style, based on the Grenache varietal, but with less weight and power than Châteauneuf, and generally for drinking within four to eight years from the vintage. The best can be excellent. Tavel is one of the best appellation rosés in France; a full flavoured, dry but fruity wine. The proximity of these vineyard areas to the ancient cities of Avignon and Nîmes make this area ideal to combine a love of history and wine. To the south in the Gard department are the wines of Costières de Nîmes, an area which marks the border with the Languedoc Roussillon region.
There is a Mediterranean climate here with around 2,800 hours of sunshine per year. This is the driest area in the Rhône valley, although rainfall can be heavy and flooding can be a threat. The Mistral is the prevailing wind, coming from the north.
The soil at Châteauneuf du Pape consists of sandy reddish clays strewn with galets (large round quartz pebbles) deposited by the river Rhône. The heat of the day is stored in these pebbles, and released during the night optimising the ripening process. Tavel on the right bank has rounded pebbles with sand and shingle, chalky gravel and red clay soils. Lirac has red terraces of round stones and loess with sandy skeletal soils. At Costières de Nîmes there are gentle, south facing pebbly slopes.
This micro-region encircles Avignon to the north and then extends southwest to the right bank of the Rhône River and reaches down into the Camargue. By road from Paris take the A6 to Lyon then continue southerly along the A7 to Orange. At this point take the A9, direction Nîmes and there is a choice of junctions from 22 to 25 which will give you access to the vineyards. By train, the TGV goes direct from Paris to Avignon and Nîmes, the journey time being around 2½-3 hours. The closest airport is Montpellier or further south, the larger Marseille airport, with smaller airports at Nîmes and Avignon both having flights to the UK.
6 Rue des 3 Faucons, 84000 Avignon
Tel: 04 90 27 24 00 Fax: 04 90 27 24 38
Avignon Tourist Office,
41 Cour Jean Jaurés, 84000 Avignon
Tel: 04 32 74 32 74
Châteauneuf du Pape Tourist Office,
Place de Portail, 84230 Châteauneuf du Pape
Tel: 04 90 83 71 08
Nîmes Tourist Office,
6 Rue Auguste, 30000 Nîmes
Tel: 04 66 58 38 00
Maison du Vin – Châteauneuf du Pape
Vinadéa, 8 Rue de Marechal Foch, 84230 Châteauneuf du Pape
Tel: 04 90 83 70 69
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