Outside the village of Sorgues, just a short ride from the famous winemaking village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Château Gigognan has been considered a little slice of heaven since the 12th century. Originally owned by the bishops of Avignon, the château eventually became the Priory of Gigognan from the 14th to 18th centuries, where monks cultivated vines, orchards and olive groves. Jacques and Anne Callet bought the estate in 1996, but the years had taken their toll on the property, so they began extensive renovations to the château, the winery and the vineyards. Today, the Callets farm 72 hectares of vineyards in three appellations—22 hectares in Côtes-du-Rhône, 20 hectares in Côtes-du-Rhône Villages and 30 hectares in Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe.
The Callets sought the help of their friend, Eloi Dürrbach of the celebrated Domaine de Trévallon, to lead the property in a new direction. In 2007, they began their conversion to organic and biodynamic farming, eliminating all synthetic chemicals from the vineyards and implementing integrated pest management. The vineyards earned official organic certification in 2010. Sand and limestone soils in their Côtes-du-Rhône and Côtes-du-Rhône Villages vineyards, and galets roulés (rounded limestone) in Châteauneuf-du-Pâpe have given the Callets the best raw materials possible to realize their dream. Here in the southern Rhône, the stones insulate the vines from temperature fluctuations while the sun and mistral work to balance conditions for optimal grape growing—the sun to achieve terrific ripeness; the mistral to cool the grapes and act as a natural disinfectant against disease. In lowering the yields well below the appellations’ norms, they have been able to better harness the flavor intensity and finesse of the grapes.
The ancient cellars, carved into the stone beneath the winery long ago, coupled with the introduction of a modern winemaking facility and gravity-fed, temperature-controlled fermentation tanks, provide the château with the best of both old and new technologies. The grapes are entirely de-stemmed, crushed, and pressed gently. Fermentations are long and occur entirely in stainless steel, cement, and open wooden vats. Malolactic fermentations start naturally. The Côtes-du-Rhône and Côtes-du-Rhône Villages age in tank until the spring following the harvest, while the Châteauneuf-du-Pâpes age in oak foudres for approximately 18 months.
Since making such improvements, the inherent purity of the wines shows the enormous possibilities that come from melding old-fashioned common sense with modern winemaking techniques. And if you want to experience that slice of heaven for yourself, the château now is also a charming bed-and-breakfast that’s well worth the visit.
For more information, please see: www.chateau-gigognan.fr