The Wine-Knows group is in the Southern Rhone where we’ve leased a wine-making chateau near Chateauneuf du Pape from which to explore this world-class wine district. Our group recently visited two of the area’s crème de la crème properties: Chateau Le Nerthe and Chateau Beaucastel. At both venues we were taken into the vineyards to view “the stones.” Called in French ‘galets,’ these are an important part of the famous wine appellation’s terroir.
Galets are remnants of Alpine glaciers that have been carried down over milleniums by the nearby Rhone River which has often over-flowed it banks. The constant churning by the Rhone is responsible for the rocks’ rounded, almost polished characteristics. As the river has receded, it’s left in its wake land that is sometimes yards deep with these tumbled stones. These galets have several important effects on making the appellation’s world renown wines.
First, the galets are extremely hard and dense which means that they retain the daytime heat and then release it back to the vines during the colder nights. This natural system of “incubation” hastens the ripening of the grapes, and protects the vines from the extreme cold during the winter. Second, this top layer of rock debris from ancient mammoth ice fields serves as a protective cover to help retain moisture in the soil during the dry, hot summer months. Last, the upper stratum of tumbled stones means that the vines must send their roots far down to seek water and nutrients retained in the lower levels of earth. In the deeper layers of terrain, the vines not only find water but come in contact with several different minerals that add immensely to the wine’s complexity.
Chateauneuf du Pape is legendary for its world-class wines. While there are numerous factors that contribute to the making of these special wines, none, perhaps, is more influential than the galets. In some ways, it’s all about the stones.