Since the late 19th century, winemakers have prioritized high-quality production and have equipped themselves with the necessary means to achieve it, including the implementation of strict and rigorous farming practices.
The local winemakers have set strict rules for themselves to ensure an original and high-quality product. Hand harvesting, berry sorting, a yield set at 35hl/ha – making it one of the lowest in France – are all obligations that contribute to the creation of exceptional wines.
The vineyard has a very low planting density : 3000 to 3500 vines per hectare. In the last century, this spacing allowed draft horses to pass each other in the vineyard. Today, it is a guarantee of quality. For vines trained in a ‘goblet’ shape, each vine has enough space to thrive under the best conditions.
The pruning and vine training methods adhere to imposed rules. Except for Syrah, only short pruning with a maximum of two buds per spur is allowed. For vines under 40 years old, the maximum number of buds is set at 12 per vine. For those over 40 years old, it increases to a maximum of 15 buds per vine. For the Grenache Noir, Mourvèdre, Picpoul Noir, and Terret Noir grape varieties, only ‘goblet’ training is permitted.
These production conditions are monitored and controlled throughout the year. They are regulated by several decrees, updated over time, with the latest modification dated November 16, 2011.
At the beginning of the process, during the harvest, the grapes undergo sorting. Harvesters discard damaged, poorly colored, or dried-out berries. In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, sorting is a requirement, outlined in the appellation’s specifications.
Within the AOC, the tradition leans towards whole-cluster fermentation. The tannins present in the stems then combine with those of the grapes. The stems, when well-ripened, provide structure to the wines, an essential element for the production of age-worthy wines. The Grenache, the flagship grape of the appellation, which is low in tannins, justifies this choice. However, in the last decade, many winemakers have opted for destemming. The wines gain finesse and can be enjoyed more quickly. Some still adopt an intermediate approach, destemming only a portion of their harvest. This is known as ‘partial destemming,’ aiming for balance.
After this step, the harvest is crushed. The bursting of the berries leads to the partial release of the juices. Fermentation and maceration can then begin.
Traditionally in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, vinification takes place in concrete tanks. Since the 1980s, many winemakers have opted for stainless steel tanks, which are more efficient. Recently, there has been a return to traditional methods, with concrete tanks making a reappearance after significant improvements.
Another trend emerging in the vineyards is the use of wooden conical tanks for winemaking. These containers impart tannins and wood aromas to the wines, gaining in suppleness and complexity. Like concrete, wood possesses qualities of thermal inertia.
When introducing the grapes into the tank, winemakers have two options. The first is to blend several grape varieties within the same tank to enhance the expression of each through their combination. The second is to vinify the grape varieties separately to preserve their characteristics intact, only blending them later.
The vinification of red wines lasts from ten to twenty-five days, depending on the desired color and tannic structure. The malolactic fermentation then takes over. Malic acid, transforming into lactic acid, softens the wine, refines its aromas, and stabilizes it over time. Once this process is complete, the wine is ready for aging.
The vinification of white wines takes less time. The grapes are pressed upon entering the cellar, after being crushed and possibly destemmed. The juice is stored in a fermentation tank where it undergoes settling : solid parts are separated from the must. This is followed by alcoholic fermentation, where the must transforms into wine. It can be complemented by malolactic fermentation. Aging, whether in tanks or barrels, lasts only a few months.
The curiosity of Châteauneuf-du-Pape winemakers leads them to consider aging wines in all its forms: in large wooden casks (foudre), barrels or demi-muids, amphorae, jars—some rooted in tradition, others marked by modernity. In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, wines have always flourished in large wooden casks (or foudres) ranging from 150 to 200 hl. This aging method allows the wines to benefit from a regular supply of oxygen. From this slow and harmonious maturation, complete, rich, and complex wines emerge.
The barrel, of a more modest size, has made its appearance in the cellars: it holds 225 liters in its Bordeaux version and 228 liters in its Burgundian version. It softens the wine’s tannins and emphasizes vanilla and toasty notes. In the cellars, winemakers engage in skillful blending to reveal the expression of their terroir.