Don’t Miss A Stroll Through Avignon

We brought visitors from the US on a whirlwind trip to France where we to see as much as possible in a weekend.  The first day, we saw Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Orange.  On the second day, we saw the Pont d’Avignon, the Palais des Papes and the nearby Pont du Gard before returning home.  It was a full weekend, but worth it.  Francophiles, don’t worry, this is the first of more trips to the south of France.  We’re actually headed back tomorrow.  On our whirlwind tour of Provence, we managed a quick stroll through Avignon.  It is a charming town.  While it is best known for the Papal Palace, it’s backstreets are worth a stroll.

The Place de l’Horloge, one of Avignon’s main squares is exactly how you’d imagine a square in the south of France.  The only thing I didn’t see was the petanque (boules/bocce ball) court.  It had grand buildings, a ferris wheel and was lined with outdoor cafes.  Avignon has many squares, but part of its charm is that it is old enough to have narrow alleys leading off of them.

Signs of Avignon past as a religious center are everywhere.

The riverfront (of the Rhone River), parks and gardens of the Palais des Papes, provide welcome open and green space.

The gardens of the Palais des Papes even had a grotto…just like another mansion in California.

Oh yeah, the enormous city walls and ramparts are pretty cool too.  Just make sure to avoid falling stones.  The sign below translates to “Pedestrians do not walk along the ramparts risk of falling rocks.”

Advertisements

Wine Museum In Châteauneuf-du-Pape

When we visited the very rocky Châteauneuf-du-Pape, we stopped by the Brotte Wine Museum.  It was started in 1972 and updated in 2000.  It centers on the history of wine growing and AOC (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée which guarantees the wines‘ origins).

The AOC designation is very important to them.  It makes their wines more recognizable and promotable (and more expensive) abroad.  For educated consumers, it makes it easier to understand what they are getting.  It also means that producers have tons of rules.  The museum had just about everything used it to work the vines or in wine making, except the AOC rule book.  I want to get my hands on a copy because I hear that they have some pretty stringent rules.  For example, the lengths of the vines are measured repeatedly during the year to ensure they don’t exceed particular lengths at different points in the year.  Some are easier to follow.  You aren’t allowed to land a flying saucer in your field…um, okay.  I think I could manage that one.

The museum displays of barrels from the Middle Ages, wine presses, old tools, baskets, equipment, old photos, plows, bottling apparatus and many other items.

People always note that they have a 4,000 litre chestnut wine barrel from the 14th century and a 16th century wine-press.  We liked some of the more us usual items, like a chain maille glove for removing insects.

We also snuck a peek through the window at their bottling operation.  It looks remarkably like a brewery’s bottling operation.

While the museum isn’t as much fun as a wine tour with Jean-Michel, it is free, informative (if you read the English pamphlets) and the old implements are pretty cool.  At the end, you are invited to taste Maison Brotte’s wines.  I think our visitors (Magglio, the Luger and Sneaky Pete) had fun and came away a bit wiser.

 

Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rocked Us…Literally

Chateauneuf-du-Pape is a historic town in France’s Rhone Valley, near Avignon in the Provence region. It is known for its history and for its rich, full-bodied, spicy red wines.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape translates into ‘New Castle of the Pope‘.  When the French popes moved to Avignon during a turbulent period for Rome, they wanted to source their fine wines locally (they were already huge fans of the wines produced by monks in the Burugundy Region). Chateauneuf-du-Pape (near Avignon) was a perfect place for the Pope’s court in the early 14th century and vineyards.

After the popes left Avignon, winemaking continued despite the loss of an illustrious, monied local patron.  Believe it or not, around a hundred years ago the bulk of Châteauneuf-du-Pape was sold to Burgundy to add to their local wines to boost the strength and alcohol levels. In 1923, it got its own Appellation Contrôlée (AOC).  These regulations set the minimum alcohol level of the wines and set limits on yields as well as which types of grapes could be grown in which area.

We drive through Chateauneuf-du-Pape with a few farmers.  They were astonished to see the soil filled with rocks, pebbles and sand.  Locals explained poor farmland is usually good for something else, like growing grapes.

At a tasting, the leader explained that grapes like people, are not interesting if they are not challenged.  In Chateauneuf-du-Pape, like Burgundy, the grapes are challenged.  Not only is the soil lacking in organic matter, the climate is hot, dry and windy.  Irrigation is forbidden.  Viticulturalists must apply for special permission from the French government to water.

Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s local rocks (galets roulés), retain the sun’s heat and release it at night.  Locals believe that this permits the grapes t ripen more quickly and work as a mulch to prevent too much evaporation from the soil.  The strong winds (the mistral) carry away moisture, intensifying the grape’s flavor.

There are different ways of pruning plants.  Before leaving the US, I left very specific instructions on how I wanted my Crepe Myrtles pruned.  Winemakers are equally fussy about pruning.  Bushvines are common even though yields are limited.

We learned that in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, they often use cement tanks instead of barrels.  Their main grape is Grenache, which is prone to oxidation.  Wood barrels allow more oxidation and so these grapes often sit in cement tanks while their Pinot friends from the next row over get to age in wood barrels.

Grenache is the most common variety; it produces a sweet juice. It is frequently mixed with Syrah or Mourvèdre. I had a picture of Grenache labels at the end of rows of vines, but this one came out better.  Although the town is known for its reds, this is one of the varieties of grape that is used in making whites.