The history of this famous French wine in the southern Rhône is closely linked to the Roman Catholic Church. From 1309 to 1377 the city of Avignon was the seat of the popes and from 1378 to 1408 of two counter-popes. Clement V (1264-1314) was here in the year 1309 as the first pope in exile, which was followed by further six. One of them was Pope John XXII (1244-1334), born in Cahors, who chose Châteauneuf Castle as his summer residence. He had the château extended to become a summer residence and gave important impulses to viticulture. He had winegrowers from the Cahors area come here to establish viticulture and produce a red wine called "Vin d'Avignon". This was, so to speak, the predecessor of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but this name only became common in the 19th century. The landmark of the city of Avignon with two crossed keys (those of Saint Peter) reminds on this past.
The boundaries of the 3,200-hectare site were established by a court decision in 1929, and recognition as one of the first appellations followed in 1935. The area classified as Cru (top appellation) is located in the southernmost part of the Côtes du Rhône area on the left bank of the Rhône. It includes the commune of Châteauneuf and several sites in the communes of Bédarrides, Courthézon, Orange and Sorgues. There are different types of soil, from reddish-brown soil covered with stones to sandy, gravel and clay soils. Typical are the bush formations known as garrigue on shallow soils, which give the wines earthy tones with tart plant aromas. Worth mentioning is a provision intended to guarantee high quality through ripe and healthy grapes. At least 5% of grapes of insufficient quality must be rejected (le râpé). The alcohol content must be at least 12.5% vol.
The use of these varieties is entirely up to the winemaker. The usual blend is Grenache Noir (50-70%), Mourvèdre (10-30%), Cinsaut, Counoise, Syrah and Vaccarèse (up to 20%), and the white Bourboulenc, Clairette Blanche and Piquepoul Blanc (up to 10%). There are also pure Grenache Noir types such as Château Rayas, but also (rather few) wineries such as Château de Beaucastel, which use all 13 varieties. The red variety accounts for around 95% of the production volume.
The different terroir or soils and the arbitrary cuvée (mixture of grape varieties) makes a generally valid description of this wine almost impossible, but one can usually distinguish between two basic types. The traditionally produced spicy type is deep dark, high alcohol content up to 14% vol. and can be stored for several decades. The second type is produced with macération carbonique (carbonic maceration), has a marmalade taste and is similar to Beaujolais. A great lover of the wine was the president Charles de Gaulle (1890-1970). Special vintages include 1990, 1995, 1998, 1999 and 2001.