The Rhône Valley is home to some of the best wine values in the world
Tracing its roots back to the 1st Century, the estate that comprises Château Maucoil comprises some 56.5 hectares (almost 140 acres) of prime vineyard land in various AOC's within the Southern Rhône Valley. Most of the acreage lies within the Châteauneuf du Pape AOC and has been certified as 100% biodynamically grown.
Originally a Roman army fortress, Château Maucoil experienced a renaissance in 1995 when it was purchased by the Arnaud family, owners of other properties in the region and also Château Cabrieres. The Arnaud family's influence and expertise immediately propelled Château Maucoil into the ranks of well-respected producers of Châteauneuf du Pape. Much of the aged vineyards (60 and 100 years old) were restored and returned to production. Interestingly, a small vineyard was recently replanted beside the ruins of the original Châteauneuf du Pape site that was built in 1320.
The soils that comprise Château Maucoil consist of quartzite pebbles that are raised in a broken red clay matrix. These rocks store the heat of the day and return the heat to the vines during the night. This factor allows for perfect maturation conditions that characterize much of the Châteauneuf du Pape growing area.
The area where Château Maucoil is located is among the driest in France with around 300 days of sunshine. The entire area is swept by the famous mistral (a cold, dry wind that produces excellent skies and sunshine) during the winter and spring and is a major contributing factor to the success of the area's many and varied grape varietals.
Several years ago (in 2013), Château Maucoil was again sold, this time to the Lavau family. While Maison Lavau makes its own Châteauneuf du Pape, Château Maucoil has remained the flagship estate for the company.
France’s Rhône Valley is a gigantic assortment of vineyard land that runs nearly 150 miles from the City of Leon in the northeast of France to the Rhône Delta on the Mediterranean Coast. The entire region is divided into the Northern and Southern Rhône and delineated by a twenty-five mile gap that separates the two growing areas. The northern end is smaller and is dedicated to producing ultra-quality wines while the much larger southern end employs a greater number of varietals that produce a number of superior wines along with a substantial amount of fruit that is often used in blending wines.
The north is filled with granite-based slopes and enjoys the encouraging presence of a continental climate while the more sandy spoils of the south are home to a gentler Mediterranean climate and the moderate heat it generally offers.
Some of the more prestigious wines of the Rhône Valley are historically grown and made in the north and include the likes of age old Hermitage and Côte Rôtie. The fact is that these wines account for a paltry 5% of the Rhône’s total production. The south is home to the revered Châteauneuf du Pape that is widely popular around the globe and gives the south deserved prestige at an international level.
At last count, more than 6,000 growers had plants under vine in this marvelous valley that saw its first plantings around 600 BC. The Roman occupation around 280 AD brought the area great accolades and markets for its first wines. During the 13th Century, the papal residence was moved from Rome to Avignon and this fact further enhanced the status and prominence of Rhône-based wines. Latest figures for the region show that around 105 million gallons of wine are produced annually, or about 6.5% of France’s entire wine production.
The principal grape for the Rhône Valley is the Syrah, which has been scientifically proven to have originated within the Rhône Valley and is sometimes confused with the Shiraz that originated in the Middle East. Almost all red wines from the Rhône Valley are made with at least a portion of this marvelous varietal that features a prune-like under flavor. The Syrah is often blended along with a host of other grapes that are allowed under the strict French Appellation Contrôlée (AOC) laws. The wonderful wines of Gigondas (in the Commune of Vaucluse) were first noted in 1592 are all of the red variety. Gigondas’ climate is a bit warmer than Châteauneuf du Pape, and its wines are made from the Grenache Noir varietal. They are known for their intensity and power and are also capable of lasting more than a decade.
Châteauneuf du Pape whites are mostly made from the Ugni Blanc varietal but more recently, the classic Viognier has emerged with great initial success. Several other varietals are also allowed under AOC regulations.
France: Fun Facts!
• The French Vineyards represent an area of 900,000 hectares, spread over 25,000 winemaking communities.
• In 2015, France reclaimed the top spot as the world's biggest wine producing country for the first time since 2011 (Italy has held the top spot in recent years). France produces over 7 billion bottles of wine per year.
• Wines from Northern France are usually made from a single grape variety (in Burgundy), whereas wines further south are typically blends of varietals (in Bordeaux and the Rhône Valley).
• There are nearly 280 appellations in France, ranging from the huge - Bordeaux appellation or Champagne - to the tiny, single vineyard appellations of Coulée de Serrant in the Loire and Romanée-Conti in Burgundy. There are regional appellations, district appellations, and there are appellations which over only one commune.
• One third of all French wines produced are being exported all around the world, which is worth over 10 billion euros per year.
• Wine has been produced in France since about 600 BC when Greeks from Phocaea founded Massallia (today known as Marseille) and introduced winemaking. Viticulture continued to expand under the Romans, and after the disintegration of the Roman Empire, monks played a key role in maintaining vineyards and preserving winemaking knowledge.
• The word "sommelier" is an old French word meaning butler or an officer in charge of provisions, derived from the Old Provencal saumalier, or pack-animal driver.