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WINES BY REGION

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Vieux Donjon

Le Vieux Donjon is one of the great, traditional producers of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. From a little over 30 acres of vines – of which more than 80% are approaching 100 years of age – Claire Michel creates beautiful, powerful-yet-refined Chateauneuf-du-Papes in the same manner of her father, Lucien, before her.

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Winemaking is relatively simple. Claire has a strong belief that great wines are made in the vineyard, not the winery, so it’s really the fruit that is the key to these wines. The blend is always around 80% Grenache, with 10% Syrah, 5% Mourvedre and the remaining few percent a field blend of Cinsault and various other traditional yet lesser-known varieties, and yields are naturally kept very low (around 30 hl/ha). The vineyards have been farmed organically now since the mid 1990s, and harvests tend to be relative late for the region. Most of the grapes – perhaps three- quarters – are destemmed, although this proportion varies slightly from year-to-year depending on the vintage conditions. Macerations tend to be extended and slow, with the wine’s ageing and elevage taking place in a mixture of old oak foudres, concrete tanks and stainless steel tanks. No new oak barriques are utilized. The wine is one of the last remaining in Chateauneuf to be bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Perhaps the most striking point to make about Le Vieux Donjon is the fact that they only make a single red wine each year. Unlike most other producers, there is no ‘deluxe cuvee’, no ‘reserve’, single-vineyard or single-variety bottling. Just a single, great wine each vintage.

Although the wine sounds like, and indeed is, a traditional-style of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Claire is in fact a well-travelled and highly skilled winemaker, having had hands-on experience at some of the world’s great producers, including several years as an assistant winemaker at the extraordinary Harlan Estate in the Napa Valley.

img-2521.jpgDuring a recent visit to the annual ‘Les Printemps’, where in early April some 80 Chateauneuf-du-Pape producers gather in a hall in Chateauneuf itself and show all of their wines I was struck that amongst many outstanding wines, the purity and authenticity of Vieux Donjon’s single wine each year shone like a beacon, clearly reflecting and conveying the respective vintage’s strengths and merits. I find the wines exceptionally attractive for this.

It is worth noting that they are unbelievably well-priced vis-à-vis other top Chateauneuf producers, a happy combination of reasonable exchange rates, sensible pricing at the domaine, and Fine Wine Merchant proudly importing these wines directly - and exclusively - for Australia.