Paul Vincent Avril may have had some very large shoes to fill when he joined the family domaine in 1988. His great-grandfather Paul Avril not only founded the domaine in 1896, but also played a key role in helping to establish the very first appellation rules for Chateauneuf du Pape, the first of its kind in France. Régis, Paul Vincent’s grandfather and second generation to run the domaine, sold their wines to two presidents in France, General de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou. His father, the second Paul Avril, studied winemaking at Dijon and joined Régis in 1963, helping to establish the domaine as one of the top Chateauneuf du Pape producers in the region, as well as a reference point for age-worthy wines from this region.
But Vincent, as he preferred to be known as, was ready to apply his own experience to the family’s wines. Armed with his degree in oenology whilst studying in Beaune, and hands-on experience through working at prestigious wineries such as Domaine Ott in Provence, Mount Mary Vineyard in the Yarra Valley and Mouton Rothschild in Bordeaux, this combination of experience was just the right formula for him to “build it from a local legend to a global star” according to Jane Anson of Decanter Magazine.
Blessed with thirty-two hectares of old vines – many up to 80 years old – spread across 25 plots, there is a wide range of complexity in the soils alone, ranging from sand, limestone and gravel in the west and south-east to rocks, stones and clay in the north-east. Yields are inherently low, at 20 hl/ha, with most of these organic and biodynamically farmed vines devoted to his red wines, only 10% going towards his whites. “We can have 10 days of difference in harvesting for the same grape variety depending on its location, so I begin the blending during the picking process” Vincent explains. This wide spread terroir accounts for the signature complexity in his wine, of which he only produces one single label, eschewing a common practice of many vignerons in the region to bottle a prestige cuvee so he can focus his efforts on pursuing the finest expression of Chateauneuf du Pape that he can. And in this pursuit, finesse rather than power is the key. As Vincent puts it, "studying winemaking in Burgundy gave both my father and then me a lesson in elegance".
Grenache as always will make up the majority of his assemblage, around 55-65 percent, which is followed by 20-30 percent Mourvedre, 10 percent Syrah and 5 percent of other permitted varieties such as Muscardin, Vaccarese and Counoise. They have also been producing a white since 1955, a blend of Clairette, Picpoul, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, and Bourboulenc vinified in stainless steel tanks.
He blends grapes from his different plots to co-ferment in large vats, after which he then re-blends in to large 20-55 hectoliter wooden foudres (casks) to mature for 15 months. New or small barrels are never used, “I like the oak to make an indirect impact – I only want tannins from the grape skins not even the pips and certainly not the stalks” says Avril. And though it may not be widely known, this domaine has been buying corks from the same producer in Portugal ever since 1926!
The wines are no doubt enticing, garnering great praise from many publications and critics such as Wine Spectator who awarded their 2005 vintage as “Wine of the Year”, stating that “in the Southern Rhône's recent trio of great vintages starting with 2003, no other Châteauneuf-du-Pape domaine has produced better wines than Clos des Papes”. But the accolades don’t stop there, as Robert Parker followed on to pronounce the 2007 vintage “the greatest Chateauneuf du Pape made since 1978 and 1990”.
We at Ginsberg+Chan are extremely proud to be the exclusive distributors of Clos des Papes, and with good volumes of both red and white back vintages too, we can ensure you a wide range of drinking windows for your cellar.