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Henri Bonneau

I cannot think of a more legendary producer in Chateauneuf-du-Pape today than Henri Bonneau.  Henri himself is the 12th generation of a winemaking family dating back to 1667 in Chateauneuf, although now in his mid 70s his son Marcel has been working alongside his father for the past decade or so.

church-opposite-bonneau.jpgThere is no more traditional, nor more mythical producer in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, who basically permits no visitors (including wine professionals and critics save a select few) and whose style is firmly entrenched in tradition. The cellars also date from the mid 17th century, although they're almost anonymous in the village (opposite the church, as seen in the photo) and certainly not open to visitors or customers!

There is no new oak in sight in Bonneau's cellars, and many of the barrels and foudres are very old - some decades at least.  The fruit comes from a modest 6.5 hectares across 13 plots, including the jewel of 2.3 ha in the famous lieu dit La Crau.  Surprisingly, the average vine age is only a little over 30 years, yet the wines they produce are incredibly concentrated and rich.  Winemaking is very traditional, from about 90% Grenache and the balance small quantities of Mourvedre, Syrah, Vaccarese and Counoise.  The grapes are rarely de-stemmed (only in poor vintages) and lightly crushed prior to a two-to-three week maceration and fermentation.  Pumo-overs are regular.  

The length of time the wine spends in foudre seems difficult to understand from the outside - anything from two to four years, in a combination of 20hl foudres, demi-mouds and barriques - all old.  The wine is lightly egg-white fined but unfiltered before being bottled by hand.

A selection and decision as to which wines will be produced in any given vintage are often made years after vintage - a highly unusual occurence.  A regular cuvee is made most years (considered the standard level for the estate), and when there is some particularly good wine, this will go into a cuvee called 'Marie Beurrier'.  Exceptional wine may make a 'Reserve des Celestins', which is his top wine, and produced irregularly in quantities of perhps 750 to 1,000 cases.  Twice - in 1990 and 1998 - he has released a 'Cuvee Speciale' which has even higher alcohol and more residual sugar, a truly monumental wine that is quite unique in style (and often divisive).

Bonneau's wines are as rare as they are idiosyncratic, and are truly deserving of a place in every great cellar.

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