The iconic wines from this part of the southern Rhône hardly need an introduction – such is their fame!
This is very much Mediterranean country, where one is reminded at every turn of the influence of the Romans and their amazing architecture. The terrain is hilly, with pine trees and olive groves in abundance. There is the smell of lavender, thyme and the garrigue on the warm winds. And of course there is the inevitable cross-stitch of vineyards on both hill and plain, invariably planted on the round pebbles called galets roulés that so characterise the region.
The appellation of Châteauneuf-du-Pape encompasses more than 100,000 acres. Unsurprisingly for such a big area, the terroir is hugely varied with the river-rolled boulders over clay and iron-rich soils to the east of the AOC. In the south, one encounters gravel closer to the river and in other parts more sand and fine stones are to be found.
The style of Châteauneuf varies considerably too, from light, fruity, jammy offerings made in a similar style to Beaujolais through to deep, dark, glycerous wines with sumptuously spicy, garrigue-infused fruit. For the reds, one can use, in theory, up to 13 grape varieties, however, in practice, most domaines use three or four of the key varieties – Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre being the main protagonists.
La Fagotière is based to the north of the town of Châteauneuf, neighbouring the famous vineyards of Château de Beaucastel. It is a 30-hectare family-run domaine that is now under the skilful guidance of 5th-generation brother and sister Pascal Chastan and Valérie Leoty.
The terroir comprises clay over limestone and, in many parts, the galets pebbles and boulders are very much in evidence. Grenache is the most-planted variety, with Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cinsault also planted for the red wines. For their rather rare white wines, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne and Picpoul are the main varieties. The low-yielding vines are between 45 and 60 years old and are hand harvested. The family is committed to organic viticulture, with thriving insect life, healthy soils and hence healthy vines being the key objective. The winemaking is classical, with different parcels fermented separately in a mix of concrete tanks for the reds and stainless steel for the whites. A five- to seven-day fermentation takes place using whole berries for extra fruitiness, with daily pumpovers. The wine is then aged in old foudres (large oak barrels) for between 10 and 18 months.