Our trusty driver Francis picked us up from our hotel in Valence...we checked out since we were going to make our way to the Southern Rhone and end up at our second hotel in Provence by nightfall.
Our destination for the day was the appellation of Chateau Neuf du Pape, one of the oldest and most prestigious AOCs in southern France. This area is steeped in history, going back to the 1300s. It gets its name from the fact that this beautiful area was the summer retreat of the Popes - Chateau Neuf du Pape literally means "new chateau of the Pope - seems the Popes would come here to enjoy the breezes of the Rhone River valley and escape the hot summers in Avignon.
Our guide for the day was Jean-Louis, from Domaine du Vieux Lazeret, one of the largest estates within Chateau Neuf. This Domaine is only one of the four that is owned and managed by the Family Quiot, who have been growing wine in this region for thirteen generations. We could tell right way that we would love Jean-Louis...we was friendly, fun and very passionate about his wine. He met us at the door of the winery offices and hopped on our bus...telling us we needed to "go to the vines to really understand the wines of Chateau Neuf"...so we went! He took us to several of the vineyards, explaining the uniqueness of the Southern Rhone landscape and how it created such beautiful and exceptional wines. He showed us the "soil"...which really wasn't soil, but rock. The amazing thing about the vineyards in this region is that they are truly composed of rock...various types of rock that are from the Rhone River. It's almost unbelievable to see the vines rising up from beds of rock...but, as Jean-Louis explained, this is what makes the vines strong and allows them to produce such rich reds and minerally whites. He took us to two different vineyards, showing us the different kinds of rock...some round and brown/tan and some sharp and white/pink...each producing unique grapes and therefore unique wines.
Like most of our French hosts, Jean-Louis was very proud of his home town, so he also worked all sorts of interesting facts about the area into his discussion and even took us up to the historic ruins of the Chateau Neuf du Pape so we could get the whole experience. (he also wanted to make sure Rosie could get some good pics...not surprisingly, Jean-Louis was very attentive to our girl Rose!!)
Don and Jean-Louis discussing wine.
Elaine, Michele and Rose ready for a fun day in the vineyards
Jean-Louis giving us a lesson in the vineyards
Our passionate and fun guide, Jean-Louis
Rocks of the Southern Rhone Vineyards
The view from the site of the Chateau Neuf du Pape ruins
Jean-Louis making sure Rosie got the perfect shot
After a great morning in the vineyards we went back to the winery office where we were met by our host, Monsieur Jerome Quiot, the patriarch of the Quiot family and President of the Vignobles Famille Quiot. We were treated to a lovely lunch by Monsieur Quiot, the consummate French gentleman...he was gracious, full of charm and stories of his family's history of winemaking. We enjoyed a multi-course, 2-hour lunch and were treated to a tasting of several of his best wines, accompanied by an explanation of French winemaking and a lengthy discourse on French politics! Our lunch with Monsier Quiot and Jean-Louis was a special treat and gave us a great view into what life and winemaking in Chateau Neuf du Pape was really like.
We enjoyed a lovely lunch and wine tasting
Our next tasting if the day was at Beaucastel, a very old and prestigious winery in the Southern Rhone, especially well-known for the fact that it grows and uses all 13 varieties of grapes allowed in the AOC of Chateau Neuf du Pape. We enjoyed the lovely chateau and grounds, as well as the rich wines grown by this Domaine.
The grounds and vineyards of Beaucastel were beautiful
After a full day of wine in the Southern Rhone, we climbed back on the bus and headed to Saint Remy-de-Provence and The Villa Glanum, our home base for the rest of the trip. Saint Remy proved to be a small and picturesque Provençal town, quiet and charming. We enjoyed dinner in a local restaurant, of course, accompanied by several bottles of local wine, then turned in...all of us thrilled at the great day we'd had in the Southern Rhone.
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