Sunday, 3 July 2016

Visan to Chateauneuf-de-Pape

After our amazing drive through France we arrived in the Cotes du Rhone wine region - it's huge an impossible to see everywhere in three days. Our hotel was in the southern Rhone in Visan, a small ancient village. Most villages (and towns) in France are hilltop settlements, the smallest incline seems to have attracted earlier settlers - France has always been a troubled land so high ground was the obvious advantage.

Visan is no exception, a lovely old town with circular streets leading up to a now ruined chateau. The houses all open straight onto the streets with old original walls blending with new extensions.

All that remains of the chateau is a tower and evidence of a few walls, there is now an orientation table at the highest point which was perfect for us to get a little understanding of our location.
Ancient buildings in Visan 
Water trough  
Visan gateway
The ruins of Visan chateau 
Le lavoir (all French villages have these communal washing places) 
Our room was lovely, a little odd when we first arrived arrived as we were shown up two flights of stairs, out a rear door, up outside steps, across a patio, down outside steps to an annexe room (one above us too). It was lovely, very French but modern with our own patio area. The room actually looked out the back of the hotel through big gates to the old cobbled streets.
Looking out of our gates
Looking in through the gates to our room window 
Our reason for staying in this area was our love of Cotes du Rhone wine, we have been enjoying Cellier des Dauphins since the 1990s when we holidayed in France with our young children. It's a co-operative winery of 13 wine growers and was first established in 1965 (a very good year!). Their wine is now available in the UK - Les Dauphins - and is becoming very popular.

We were invited to a private tasting with Steffen and Philibert from Cellier des Dauphin at the Wine University in Suze-la-Rousse, a small village with a chateau not far from Visan. In fact Cellier's main bottling plant was just at the end of our village road.
Cellier des Dauphins main distribution centre 
Before the tasting Nick and I enjoyed lunch a typical tabac bar, run by Monsieur and Madame who served sandwiches, croque-monsieurs with salad and prided themselves on Madame's homemade apple pie which was delicious.

Suze-la-Rousse is another hill top village, this time with an intacted chateau, with old circular roads. Wandering round we saw some very old stonework and indications of the age of the village. It was quite a steep walk up to the chateau however the views (not to mention the wine tasting) were amazing.
The chateau high above the village 
Suze-la-Rouse chateau with Mont Ventoux
in the background 
Suze-la-Rousse cobbled entrance 
Steffen and Philibert were superb hosts - we were very honoured to be in a private room set up with tasting sheets prepared just for us. What a privilege to sit in an old chateau for over an hour tasting and discussing on of our most favourite wine ranges. It would make this post even longer, additionally to do justice to Cellier des Dauphins,  I have written a separate page on our tastings. It's at the top of my blog or on this link.

After our fantastic time with Steffen and Philibert we visited the actual chateau. French chateaux are very different to our stately homes, one noticeable thing is there are not so many possessions as most were stripped during the Revolution, the other is you are free to roam with less ropes to stop you touching.
Original pulley at the well 
Super stairway - such space and grandeur 
Spectacular view from the chateau 
Wednesday we travelled through some of the Cotes du Rhone villages - the wine has various levels, pyramid style, with the highest being the famous Chateauneuf-de-Pape, all with strict rulings. I've explained a little of this on the Cellier des Dauphins page.

Hubby and I are members of the Wine Society and at a recent tasting in Leicester we discovered that Domaine Jaume is the producer of their Cotes du Rhone. Domaine Jaume is in Vinsobres, one of the named villages not far from Visan. We'd arranged a visit for Wednesday and found the domaine on the steep roads of this beautiful village. Isabelle Jaume greeted us in their lovely shop with their wines displayed along with various wine, soil and grape information.

Isabelle invited us to see the 'cave' and after entering what looked like ordinary garage doors we were transported into the serious side of wine growing - the arrival of the grapes, the sorting, the squashing, the huge vats of fermentation and the wonderful room of barrels. The smell of the new wood with the wine was amazing. The barrels were made of oak from various locations to give different flavours to the wines. Thank you Isabelle for a wonderful visit in your cave, another great priviledge.
Vinsobres amongst the vines
The steep narrow streets in the village
Domaine Jaume
Domaine Jaume's Cave
Back in the shop we tried a few Domaine Jaume red wines before deciding on a special bottle Reference which is 50% Syrah, 40% Grenache & 10% Mouvedre. It was our favourite in the tastings, lots of cherries and red fruit with that high note of spice on the finish. Nick and I love glassware especially branded with special places so we were delighted when Isabelle gave us two Domaine Jaume glasses - perfect for our special bottle back home.

Our Domaine Jaume purchases
After Vinsobres we travelled on to Grignan - what amazing views along the way. France has many straight roads but also some very twisty roads and turning some corners the views are breathtaking, especially this one of the lovely village we had just left.
Overlooking Vinsobres and Mont Ventoux
Our next stop was Chateau Grignan, a place I have wanted to visit since my fist trip to France aged 13 although  did not know this was the place. On our school visit we passed a beautiful chateau on a rock and for many years I presumed it was near the main French autoroute 'Route de Soleil'. Each holiday since, when passing through this area, I’ve tried in vain to see it.

Grignan is another wine label we know well so when planning our holiday I had already decided to visit the town, doing more research I suddenly found my chateau!

June is the season in France for outdoor concerts and events, the chateau’s outer area was being set up with staging for one such ‘son et luminere’. Chateau Grignan inside was beautiful, very different to Suze in that it had plush furnishings and rooms set out. The chateau had been in ruins and was restored in 1912 by Marie Fontaine a wealthy widow.
Grignan Chateau - the view I remember
Circular Lavoir in the town 
Narrow steep streets as in every village
Superb stairway inside the chateau
Not sure how comfy it would be 
One of two huge fireplaces in the grand hall
Outside the staircase
Grignan Chateau - such a beautiful place 
The views from the terrace were superb, looking right across the vine fields. It’s easy to see why I was so taken with it at a young age as it stands magnificently on high.

Wednesday evening was our last night in Visan, a really enjoyable evening spent in Caffe du Siecle with new friends and promises of visiting again next year but for a longer time as there is so much to see. We met a local winemaker Xavier Combe but unfortunately did not have time to visit his domaine Vignoble Art Mas, we did however try his wine and next year a visit will be a top priority visit as it was one of the best wines in all our tastings.

Caffe du Siecle
Leaving Visan was with mixed feelings, we’d had a great time so a little sad to leave so soon but Thursday was Chateauneuf du Pape day so full of anticipation. Travelling further sound we passed through some of the other named Cotes du Rhone villages, making notes for our next visit. Nearing the most famous village of the area we called at Celliers des Princes, I had already contacted them and Florence was there to greet us.

Celliers des Princes is a huge place full of Chateauneuf du Pape wine and other regional produce. Florence was such a lovely host, explaining all about the three types of soil, the origin of the two main grape varieties Grenache and Syrah and the difference in the areas wine status. The village’s name is founded from when the Pope lived in France in Avignon (our next stopover). In the summer the city became unbearable so the Pope moved a little north to the nearest high spot and built a summer chateau – hence the name ‘new castle of the Pope’.

Florence guided us through an eye opening tasting beginning with a white from the region, a lovely white very similar to ones we already knew. Our second tasting was a white Chateauneuf du Pape, a new wine to both of us. What a difference; the depth, complexity, fullness was such a contrast to our first white, a really delicious wine.

Our host followed the white  revelation with a triple tasting of red, the same wine but different years starting with the youngest 20  then 2010 and finally 2009. The development of the wine as it aged was amazing, the youngest bottle tasting much much lighter than the 2009 although still more complex than ordinary Cotes du Rhone which is one reason why Chateauneuf du Pape is at the top of this regions wine pyramid.

Our final three tasting were of different locations but all still in Chateauneuf du Pape, the wine was either from pebble soil, craggy rock soil or from sandy soil. Again it was an eye opening experience to see how the soil made such a difference to each wine. Thank you Florence for a wonderful experience and for being such an informative generous host.

White tastings
Beautiful white Cahteauneuf du Pape and a great Chardonnay Viognier
Same wine - different vintages
2009 to be drunk now - 2010 perfect but would keep - 2014 needs more time
Three different soils used to make these super reds 
Examples from Chateauneuf du Pape's very different terroirs
Wine by the pump 
Cellier des Princes 
Special purchases stored safely in the car we set off into the village itself, so many caves, some names we recognised, some new to us. Typical of our findings so far, and a reason for the Pope settling here, the village is on a steep hill with the chateau at the top. A good climb up with more amazing views, the ruins of the chateau stands tall above the village. Our climb up and walk down was rewarded with a great lunch in one of the many bars and a quick visit to Ogier cave.
The famous wine village
Chateau on high over the vines 
One of the many caves in the village
Now that's my style of 'night club'
The remaining chateau tower
Views towards Avignon 
Ogier's Cave
Ogier is a brand name not commonly known in the UK as it’s a high priced ranged, however I discovered it as they do produce wine for the UK under the name Leon Perdigal, a wine we’ve enjoyed from Majestic and a Chateauneuf du Pape from Asda. Leon Perdigal was Ogier’s first wine maker hence the name.

The Cave has many Ogier wines and brands at reasonable prices increasing to ‘hold your breath’ prices. It was another great opportunity to delve further into the Cotes du Rhones world.

What an amazing three days in the Cotes du Rhone region and a place we will be returning to next year to see more of the superb countryside and try more of the amazing wines.

After Chateauneuf du Pape we spent two nights in Avignon .... but more about that next post. 


  1. Some lovely scenic photos. I should have read this post with a glass of read wine in hand to really get myself in the mood. This post reminded me that there is still so much of France I haven't seen. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thanks Mary - it was lovely and we plan to go back next year. I'd definitely grab that glass of red !!

  2. How great to be back in Vaucluse and Drome with you, we visited Suze in April and Grignan last year, such lovely places. I'm glad you had great time there. xxx


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