Today begins with an early jaunt over to the ruins of the castle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. What a fascinating place! Situated high atop a hill with a view extending about 30 miles, this was a prime location for a fortified home of, arguably, the most powerful man of his time, Pope John XXII (1316-1334).

View from Castel Gandolfo

Ruins of Castel Gandolfo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was a time, before its repeated sacking and burning by protestants in the 16th century and the destruction of its north face by German forces stationed there in 1944, that this was a cultural center of the civilized world as well as the home of the finest wine cellar on the planet. From this location, one will marvel at vineyards planted as far as the eye can see.

So many world-renowned wineries exist here that it is mind-boggling. Today, we will visit with one of the tiniest wineries in the region, Domaine Jerome Gradassi. Mr. Gradassi, the former owner of a Michelin-starred restaurant (a fact that will reveal its value soon enough) biodynamically farms only 3.3ha of vineyards in the nearby outlying area of Bois-Dauphin.

First we got a look at some of Mr. Gradassi’s vineyards. Two vineyard locations just about half-a-mile from one-another exhibited strikingly different soil types.

Grenache and Mourvèdre vines atop a hill. More forgiving soils here.

It’s tough to make a living as a Grenache vine here on the valley floor. Old river bed stones dominate the landscape and force vine strain.

All of these vines are harvested manually in small containers then driven to the small garage winery in the center of the town of Châteauneuf-du-Pape where they are sorted for quality and, ultimately, vinified.

Domaine Jerome Gradassi’s garage winery.

Tight quarters in the tiny garage winery of Jerome Gradassi.

You will notice a large horizontal wooden press and large fiberglass tank dominating about a third of the space of this garage. Sorting, pressing, and fermentation of the red wine takes place here. Below is a small barrel cellar where the white wine is fermented and all the wines are aged. Here we tasted through the 2009-2011 red bottlings as well as barrel samples of the 2012 white and red. Mr. Gradassi provided an impressive buffet showing off his equally obvious skills in the kitchen.

Large horizontal wooden press.

The tiny Gradassi barrel cellar. This represents all of the winery’s production.

  • 2012 Domaine Jerome Gradassi Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc (tank sample): See that very small fiberglass tank in the back of the cellar in the photo above? That’s all the white wine produced annually here (roughly 350 bottles). Tasting this was a very special opportunity. 90% Clairette/10% Grenache Blanc vinified and aged entirely in fiberglass tank. Golden with green edges. Rich pear, melon, and ginger flavors. Full and fruitful with a grainy mineral edge. Mr. Gradassi projects 20 years of ageabilty with this wine.

It’s gold, Jerry! Gold!

The reds (typically 80% Grenache/18% +/- Mourvèdre with a touch of Syrah, Clairette, and Bourbolenc field blended in) were sensational across the board. These are all wines I would love to drink and offer my customers. Vintage variances were obvious, however, with the 2009 and 2011 showing denser, riper, gamier blackberry fruit. The 2010 was a far leaner, higher-toned raspberry expression.

The Gradassi home-cooked buffet. Brilliant winemaker and chef?!?This man is the catch of the century.

  • 2012 Domaine Jerome Gradassi Châteauneuf-du-Pape Rouge (slated for April 2014 release) will be a star. Lithe, bright, and focused raspberry fruit with sanguine and earthy undertones, this is already showing exceptional balance though a bit light on its feet. I cannot wait for this release.
These wines are very traditional. I have stated repeatedly over the last few years that I have never been more disappointed in wines than when I have opened Châteauneuf-du-Pape from the last decade. It is refreshing to find a winemaker who is not looking to meet the American palate and make flabby, short-lived, unstructured Châteauneuf-du-Pape as has been the mode of so many for the last two decades. These are wines of elegance and finesse, never sacrificing structure for extraction. These are wines I want to drink.
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