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Clos des Papes

clos-des-papes-sign.jpgOne of the older domaines, established in 1902, the Avril family has been making wine in Chateauneuf-du-Pape since the early 18th century.  Today the domaine is about 35 hectares, mostly red, and whilst traditional in style, perfectly straddles the stylistic divide between clean, pure fruit-driven wines and the powerful, structured, thick wines more commonly thought of as traditionalistic.paul-vincent-cdp.jpg

I believe that Clos des Pape's current position as one of the region's absolute stars - notwithstanding the family's (and the domaine's) long history of excellence - has much to do with Paul-Vincent's international experience.  In a small village of barely 2,000, many vignerons have barely travelled outside of the region, let alone to other continents.  At teh age of 16 Paul-Vincent left Chateauneuf and studied enology at school in Burgundy.  He then travelled the world, along the way working at Chateau Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux and in the Yarra Valley in Australia, learning much about technical winemaking, and even attended business school in Paris - studying marketing.

Returning to Chataeuneuf-du-Pape in 1987 and joining his father at the family domaine, he put this wealth of experience into practice, resulting in Clos des Pape's quickly being recognised as a fresh, well-balanced, elegant wine of noticeable finesse and without overt alcohol.  Today Clos des Papes has 24 distinct plots throughout the region, and planted on a wide variety of soil types.  

Only a clos-des-papes.jpgsingle red (and a single white) are produced at the domaine, as Paul-Vincent (and his father before him) feels strongly that to produce a 'luxury cuvee' would inevitably diminish the quality of their regular cuvee, a prospect that does not appeal.  And whilst Grenache is the primary grape variety used, accounting for around 65% of the final blend, in addition to Mourvedre (generally 20%) and Syrah (10%) there are significant proportions of other varieties used each year - roughly 5% each for Vaccarese, Counoise and Muscardin - which is uncommon.

Average vine age is in excess of 50 years, and yields are low even for Chateauneuf - a maximum of 28 hl/ha and as low as 20 hl/ha for the oldest plots.  This is a result of severe pruning of the vines, green harvest and strict selection at vintage.  Since 1991 the grapes have been totally de-stemmed, and fermentations take place in large concrete vats over three weeks, with twice-daily pumpovers.  Unusually the wine is egg-white fined prior to being placed in large, old oak foudres where it matures for 12 months on fine lees.  It is bottled from two 150hl tanks (which are both drawn from at bottling to ensure homogeneity) without further fining and without filtration.

clos-des-papes-vats.jpgClos des Papes also produces one of the region's finest white wines, a blend of equal parts Clairette, Bourboulenc, Grenache blanc, Roussanne and Picpoul.  It is fermented and aged (for six months) in stainless steel, seeing no oak, and does not undergo malolactic fermentation.  Whilst it will age superbly for at least 10-12 years, I much prefer the wine young, fresh and vibrant, around two to four years from vintage.

clos-des-papes-barrels.jpgFinally, Clos des Papes also makes a noteworthy vin de table called Le Petit d'Avril, a blend of wine from the previous three vintages that comes from young vines or does not possess sufficient richness and complexity for Clos des Papes.  It is a lovely, fresh and uncomplicated early-drinking style (that is also given to the vineyard workers for their personal consumption!).

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