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A tale of terroir

Rhone Wine Region.JPG

What better way to learn about the nuances of terroir than blending a wine yourself from grapes grown in the same area but on different soil types? Châteauneuf-du-Pape producer Ogier hosted some of our customers along with James Smith and Kenny Gray from our National Accounts Team for a short educational trip in the Southern Rhone, here is what they had to say about it…

Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the oldest appellation (AOC) in France dating back to 1936 and is the biggest and most renowned of the Southern Rhone, spreading over 3150 hectares and over five towns: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Courthézon, Bédarrides, Orange and Sorgues. As is not unusual in France, the wine is made up from a blend of grape varieties, thirteen are permitted, but generally only four or five are used at any one time, the most important being Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault.

Terroir is the complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography and climate. The fabulous variety of soils on which the vineyards of Châteauneuf-du-Pape unfold, bear witness to a long geological history. Linked with the evolution and sedimentation of ancient seas, as well as the old alluvium of the Rhône river which carried an incredible amount of alpine material and sediment downstream. The Appellation boundaries are based on the contours of a plateau running from north-west to south-east, within which are many different geological formations, all this combined, makes Châteauneuf-du-Pape unique.

Ogier winery has been in Châteauneuf-du-Pape for over 155 years, and bring their know-how to preserve, respect and enhance the unique terroir. Anne Roque, Export Manager for UK and Ireland says “Certain grape varieties will grow best and produce better quality on certain soils. The Rhône Valley is a large wine region, covering many kilometres from North to South, the soil types differ as well as the climate.

For example, if you go to the northern part of the Rhône Valley, you will find the conditions perfect to produce excellent quality Syrah but for us, in the Southern Rhône, our climate is hotter and drier. Châteauneuf-du-Pape enjoys 2,800 hours of sunshine per year, making it the driest appellation of the Côtes du Rhône. Here, Grenache is definitely king, it has a great tolerance to heat and drought.”

“I feel like Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a magic word! When someone asks me which wines I represent, and I reply: “Châteauneuf-du-Pape”…their eyes open wider, and I can detect a little smile on their faces. I really enjoy talking to consumers about the region and our wines.

Our appellation represents, for a lot of customers, one of the great wines of France. A full bodied, high in alcohol and warm wine with ripe fruits and soft tannins. A wine that a lot of people would love to be served at any special occasion.”

What is difficult however, is how to convey to a customer how important terroir is, and its influence on the final wine. Talking about it is one thing, but being able to taste it really makes a difference. Most of the Châteauneuf-du-Pape that you enjoy on the market, is a blend of different terroirs within the appellation. So, we at Ogier decided to do something a little different to engage our consumers and help explain the magic! By tasting these wines side by side, you can really understand the true meaning of terroir.

We recently welcomed some of Matthew Clark’s customers: The Cotswold Inn group and Hilton to try it out. First, we got them to understand the influence of soil types on the grapes by trying the four wines separately, we then went a little further and let them become winemakers themselves, blending their very own Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Of course we all perceive aromas and taste differently, so once you understand the complexity involved it really shows off the expertise and importance of the winemaker.

To conclude, we got the groups to taste our 27191 Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Clos de l’Oratoire des Papes £24.42*. The blend for this, our flagship wine, is from parcels picked within three of those terroirs tried: a third each of Eclats Calcaires, Safres, Galets Roulés. We use 80% Grenache, 8% Syrah, 7% Mourvèdre, 5% Cinsault. Of course they all loved it and agreed that Winemaker Didier Couturier had got it spot on!

It was a remarkable demonstration of the importance of terroir in this part of Southern Rhone, and how the Grenache grape (the all-important grape for Châteauneuf-du-Pape, particularly at Ogier) can vary in style from one vineyard to the next. It became a bit of a competition actually, Hilton v Matthew Clark, as to who came up with the best blend. Following an initial lead by Matthew Clark and a tweak by Hilton, we probably all came to a joint decision after four different attempts that turned out to be relatively ‘close’ to a true style of Clos de L’Oratoire!

It certainly made us appreciate the skill and craft of the winemaking team at Ogier and what makes their Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines such high quality. There are so many Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines on the market including so many inferior ones that it demonstrated the importance of provenance.

As far as wine visits go, it was a unique experience to really get involved with the winemaker. Our customers from Hilton, Paul Farrow and Bruce Beardwood, were both very impressed and said that the wine tasting experience was not only very professionally run but also great value in learning more about Ogier wines.

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