For many of us, the idea of alcohol and religion may be blatant blasphemy—sacrilege for the sacred—and yet, in a world beyond our god-fearing limitations, the two mingle and associate often in forms holier than any. But today is not a rant about the ecclesiastical associations of spirit and well, fermented spirit. Instead, this piece comes straight to you from the reaches of a region whose history is stained a deep hue of red with wine. I am travelling through the vine-lands of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and this is the story of this land. Somewhere in the late medieval era, as Renaissance was catching on in Europe, the Pope’s office came under attack from the local Roman emperor. So serious was this threat that he had to flee and establish himself in France. He chose the city of Avignon, a small town on the banks of the river Rhone, safely nestled behind ramparts that also served to prevent floodwaters entering the city. The church has always made wine for their own use and so it was here, too, that the Pope acquired land and planted vines. He didn’t have much work to do for vines had already existed in the region for centuries. In fact, it was the wines of the Rhone valley, which were used to infuse some colour and vigour (and perhaps also flavour and balance) into the wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy, so much so that they came to be known as the ‘medicine wine’—the one that cured other feeble, lacking wines.
The vineyards were always important but they only gained true rise in status once the Pope left (at the behest of Santa Catarina) who travelled all the way from Italy (Tuscany it was, if I’m not mistaken) to request the Pope to move the seat of the Catholic church back to the Vatican. The Pope acquiesced, but even after he left, his legacy lived on in his adopted abode.
Today, the region of Châteauneuf-du-Pape (roughly translated to mean the ‘Pope’s new castle’) is among the most popular wine-producing regions from the reaches of the Southern Rhone valley.