Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2022: Bring It On


After getting a good glimpse at the 2022 vintage while visiting Gigondas and Vacqueyras last summer and then all the Northern Rhône appellations in autumn, I was eager to see how Châteauneuf-du-Pape performed in 2022, a growing season marked by heat, drought and hail. The short answer is that 2022 is a very good vintage here, clearly surpassing 2021 for the reds but likely not at the same level as 2020. That said, a few wineries performed better in 2022 than in 2020. In 2022, harvests took place relatively early—two weeks earlier than in 2021 and one week ahead of 2020. As a result, many of the 2022s lean toward a red-fruit-driven, ripe and juicy profile instead of displaying overripe or jammy characteristics.

Tender young vine leaves in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

A key element that shaped the 2022 reds was relatively small berries with elevated skin-to-pulp ratios, which necessitated careful extractions in order to manage tannins. Still, 2022 ended up significantly more tannic than both 2021 and 2020. What sorts the wheat from the chaff is how ripe and well-integrated those tannins are. In 2022, that gap is wide; the tannins range from overly astringent to firm and grippy all the way to silky. As I mentioned in last year’s report, Châteauneuf-du-Pape New Releases: Welcome to the Pleasuredome, I don’t subscribe to the mantra that time is all that’s needed to tame obtrusive tannins, especially within the context of Grenache. Why take that bet when there are plenty of wines out there where winemakers got the job right?

Overall consistency for reds in 2022 is higher than in 2021. Moreover, there are plenty of excellent wines cruising in an affordable price range. Among wines that were not yet bottled at the time of my visit, the 2022 Château Rayas, Beaucastel’s Hommage à Jacques Perrin and the Deus Ex Machina from Clos Saint-Jean came out on top. All three wines are shaping up to be superstars. Looking at finished, bottled wines, the 2022 Clos des Papes, the La Réserve from Le Clos du Caillou and the Réserve from Domaine de la Vieille Julienne are deeply impressive. Isabel Ferrando joins this best-in-class group with two wines, the spectacular 2022 Colombis and the eccentric F601. No matter how scorching the sun, how parched the soils or how relentless the hails, these vignerons had one steadfast response to Mother Nature's whims: bring it on.

Similar to the reds, 2022 is a very good vintage for Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc. The wines offer solid substance yet sufficient freshness to balance. That said, the 2021 whites come across as fresher and more agile. The few white 2023s I tasted during this trip showed well, too. Whenever time allowed, I asked winemakers to open older vintages. In the following report, readers will find tasting notes for acclaimed years like 2010 or 2007, but also difficult ones, such as 2002. Besides the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, I included a few interesting wines from nearby appellations that I came across during the past few months.

After thoroughly exploring the 2022 growing season, this report focuses on two crucial topics: the management of old vines and the essentials of running a successful family winery. Mastering these two aspects is vital, especially in the context of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, where failure to do so can spell doom for business. I also include my final verdict on the 2021 vintage, an initial glimpse into the upcoming 2023 and an update on the current market conditions for Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines.

A French oak barrique at the Tavel-based Domaine de la Mordorée.

The 2022 Growing Season

A significant period of rain (340mm) set in from October through November 2021, which replenished water reserves. Mistral winds then lowered temperatures, bringing the first frost on November 20. December 10 saw 1°C (33.8°F) in the morning, accompanied by a few snowflakes. January was dry, with only 1mm of rain and the mistral reaching over 100 km/h. Temperature variations within a month were marked: in December, a minimum of -4°C (24.8°F) and a maximum of 13.5°C (56.3°F); in January, -2.5°C (27.5°F) and 18.5°C (65.3°F), according to Pierre-Vincent Avril of Clos des Papes.

From the end of November until the end of February, combined rainfall was only 100mm. Early March saw frosts return, with temperatures dropping to -3°C (26.6°F) in the morning. The first budbreaks started to appear around March 24, narrowly avoiding another frost four days later due to a swing from 20°C (68°F) in the afternoon to 0°C (32°F) the following morning. In early April, budbreak was far along, and the mistral remained frequent. Easter weekend brought warmer temperatures, reaching 27°C (80.6°F). Vegetation grew significantly despite prevailing dryness. April 23 brought 24mm of rainfall, while the entire period from March until May brought only 50mm of rain against the long-term average of 150mm for the same period.

New rainfall remained scarce, with a combined 69mm from January 1 to June 1. Antoine Daumen of Domaine de la Vieille Julienne praised the vast October and November rains that recharged underground aquifers and helped the vines cope with the scant rainfall throughout the first half of the new year. Rain finally arrived on June 5th with 30mm, but unfortunately, it was accompanied by hail. June saw temperatures rising, peaking at 37.5°C (99.5°F), while June 24 saw another brief episode of hail. Luckily, this didn't affect quality but reduced quantity. Paul-Vincent Avril noted the lack of need for a green harvest as nature had done it already. By July 12, véraison started, and by July 25, temperatures had not dropped below 39°C (102.2°F) during the hottest parts of the day for two weeks. As a result, the first signs of water stress started to become visible, yet the vines were generally coping well. By August 5th, véraison was almost complete.

Château Rayas food pairing at an Alsatian Restaurant.

August 14 and 15 went down as two of the most impactful days of the entire 2022 growing season because of hail. Vincent Maurel of Clos Saint-Jean vividly remembers hail coming down not just vertically but also horizontally. Julien Barrot of Domaine de la Barroche was so affected by his Pure parcel that he couldn’t vinify a Cuvée Pure in 2022. It was the same story at Domaine de Marcoux, where there will be no Cuvée Vieilles Vignes because the Charbonnières lieu-dit was heavily affected. Laurence Féraud also cited hail damage as one of the reasons why she chose not to vinify a Cuvée Da Capo in 2022. Le Clos du Caillou, on the other hand, was largely spared; their vineyards sit at the edge of where the hailstorms hit.

Hail damage also raised the disease pressure flag. “After the damages occurred, we thought that diseases would follow, and we wouldn’t be able to harvest the grapes with the desired level of ripeness and quality,” Veronique Maret of Domaine de la Charbonnière remembers. The reliable mistral wind and good weather throughout the remaining growing season saved them and most others. “On August 19th, a light mistral dried the bunches, and most of the damaged berries fell off automatically,” Paul-Vincent Avril recalls. By the end of August, it was still very hot, but nights were cooler, around 17°C (62.6°F), helping to slow down ripening and preserve acidities.

What followed was an exceptionally early harvest that started on August 17 for white grapes and August 23 for Syrah. Julien Barrot of Domaine de la Barroche remembers the 2022 harvest as the earliest of his career, starting to pick the first grapes on August 24th. Claire Michel of Le Vieux Donjon recalls finishing the 2022 harvest on September 9, one week earlier than in 2020 and two weeks ahead of 2021. At Famille Isabel Ferrando, they harvested the last 2022 Mourvèdre grapes on September 28. Château Rayas picked their final black grapes on October 23. Average yields for the entire Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC came in at 27.50hL/ha in 2022, virtually the same as in 2021 (27.40hL/ha) but still significantly less than in 2020 (31.95hL/ha).

Laetitia and Julien Barrot of Domaine La Barroche taking a break from vineyard work.

Old Vines In Focus

Many attribute the glory of Châteauneuf-du-Pape's wines to its old vines, which can easily be over a century old. Managing these venerable plants requires a thoughtful approach, especially compared to farming young vines. Antoine Daumen of Domaine de la Vieille Julienne emphasizes the importance of not exhausting the old vines: "During pruning, we ensure that we keep a lower number of buds than on young vines to have fewer grape bunches." This management extends to shoot-thinning and gentle pruning practices that respect the plant’s vitality. Daumen highlights that these efforts result in balanced outputs and healthier vines.

Axel Vacheron of Clos du Caillou confirms that the oldest vines on their estate date back to 1922, noting that old vines are more resilient to drought conditions because of their deeper root systems. That said, Vacheron explains that extra care and maintenance are put into the shape and stature of these old vines, making sure they don’t take up too much volume within the row or start to lose balance in growing upright. Stéphane Usseglio of Domaine Raymond Usseglio & Fils adds the link to terroir: "Of course, an established root system allows the vine to react better to drought conditions," he explains. However, the terroir's composition plays a critical role. Vines on stony soils, even if they are old, will be less resistant to drought compared to those on clay soils with better water retention capabilities. Usseglio recounts advice from his uncle Pierre about the long-term benefits of patient vineyard management, illustrating the foresight needed in winemaking.

Veronique Maret of Domaine de la Charbonnière connects old vines to humans in their prime, requiring careful handling to avoid damaging fine roots. "The key is that the older the vines, the more developed their roots are," she explains. Tilling must be done cautiously to prevent harm. While old vines produce lower yields, she sees the quality of the grapes as superior, resulting in wines with more concentration, length and complexity. Maret stresses the patience required, as young vines take decades to reach such quality. Paul-Vincent Avril advocates for a natural and adaptive approach. He avoids fertilizers, instead relying on natural composting and foliar applications of necessary nutrients. "I believe in adapting to the vine’s needs, especially older vines, providing supplements only when necessary," he says.

What all producers have in common is a deep respect for the old vines’ needs and potential. They agree on the importance of deep root systems and the value of patient, long-term vineyard management. Each producer adapts their techniques to their specific terroir and challenges, but all aim to produce the highest quality grapes possible. The expertise of these winemakers showcases the delicate balance between respecting old vines' natural growth and the rigorous care required to maintain their health and productivity. This collective wisdom underscores the importance of experience, patience and adaptability in the ever-evolving art of viticulture.

Sisters Caroline and Veronique Maret produced excellent 2022s at Domaine de la Charbonnière.

2021 – The Final Verdict

Two thousand twenty-one doesn’t have the glamour of the surrounding vintages or their consistency, but dismissing this vintage entirely would be a missed opportunity. If elegance and freshness matter to you, 2021 welcomes you with open arms. The wines are less concentrated than what has become standard, but lower concentration also comes with lower alcohol levels. This attribute plays an ever-increasing role in many wine consumers' lives. Another advantage of 2021 is their earlier approachability; few will require extended bottle-aging to unleash their full potential.

While the magnificent 2021 Château Rayas carries the crown for the finest red of the vintage, six more wines are total knock-outs and deserve all the praise they get: Beaucastel’s Hommage à Jacques Perrin, Vieille Julienne’s Réserve, Clos Saint-Jean’s Deus Ex Machina, Le Clos du Caillou’s La Réserve, Isabel Ferrando’s Colombis and the Vieilles Vignes from Domaine de la Janasse. In addition to these reds, I encourage readers to seek out white Châteauneuf-du-Pape, as the 2021 vintage is truly exceptional pour les blancs.

A Brief Outlook on 2023

Water remains paramount in 2023. From October 18 until the end of the year in 2022, it rained 218mm, roughly one-third less than the year before. By late May, temperatures rose gradually, reaching up to 32.5°C (90.5°F), with a significant hailstorm bringing 63mm of rain in just two hours. June saw continued vine growth with morning humidity and warmth, while the mistral helped keep the vines healthy despite elevated downy mildew pressure. A prolonged heat period, with 38°C (100.4° ) from July 10 up to 43°C (109.4°F) by August 22, put severe water stress on some vines.

On August 26, temperatures dropped, and a welcome 30mm of rain fell, followed by the mistral drying of the vegetation and grape clusters. Harvest began in early September with high daytime temperatures, requiring occasional pauses in harvesting to avoid bringing in overly warm grapes, which increases the risk of spoilage organisms and oxidation. During this trip, I was able to taste a dozen 2023 white wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape, some from barrel and some having just been bottled. At first glance, the overall qualities are similar to those achieved in the 2022 vintage, with both the Cuvée Spéciale Vieilles Clairettes from Famille Isabel Ferrando and Roussanne Vieilles Vignes from Château de Beaucastel scoring highest. I’m looking forward to tasting the 2023 reds later this year.

Head winemaker Bruno Gaspard and Axel, Marilou and Sylvie Vacheron are steering Clos du Caillou in the right direction.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape – A Family Affair

Châteauneuf-du-Pape owes much of its success to the dedicated families who have cultivated its vineyards for generations. That said, working with family members, especially across multiple generations, also brings challenges. I was eager to investigate common success factors across various Châteauneuf-du-Pape family domaines.

Francois Perrin of Château de Beaucastel attributes their success to strong family values and strategic diversification. "We created activities without changing Beaucastel,” he explains. By expanding their business with ventures like Miraval, the Perrin family ensured that each member could find their place within the group. This approach strengthened their core operations, allowing them to focus on excellence at Beaucastel. Perrin also addresses the monthly family meeting, fostering communication and collaboration: “All family members present their current obstacles, what they are doing to overcome them, and opening the floor to other family members to share their experiences.” Perrin also stresses that everyone works for the family, not themselves. “I tell my son César, the wines he makes at Beaucastel, they’re not his wines—it’s family work.”

Ambre Delorme of Domaine de la Mordorée began her business life with a commercial background. However, her love for the outdoors and connection to nature drew her to the family’s vineyards. "The winery is centered around beautiful vineyards, so it's always very satisfying, and being here, it’s what I enjoy the most," she says. Delorme's mother manages administrative tasks and ecotourism, allowing Ambre to focus on vineyard management and the more enjoyable aspects of winemaking. This division of labor reflects a common theme among winemaking families: leveraging individual strengths to maintain a successful operation.

At Domaine de la Vieille Julienne, Antoine Daumen's transition into the family business involved learning both from his formal education in commerce and from his father, Jean-Paul. Daumen explains, "My father has always been very hands-on. He supports me by taking on tasks he's more experienced with, allowing me to learn and improve." This mentorship also allows Daumen to develop his own vision for the vineyard while benefiting from his father's extensive knowledge. Jean-Paul Daumen's approach ensures that the wisdom of previous generations is preserved and adapted to contemporary practices. At Le Vieux Donjon, Claire Michel works closely with her brother, Francois, maintaining a seamless transition from their parents' management. "Our parents trusted us and let us be free," Claire Michel notes. Today, their goal is to preserve the estate's identity without major changes. The siblings' similar tastes in wine and mutual respect help them navigate the challenges of running a family business. Claire Michel emphasizes the importance of continuity: "We are just passing through, but the vines and the wine, they remain."

The narrow alleys in the heart of Châteauneuf-du-Pape invite you to stroll and explore.

Laetitia and Julien Barrot of Domaine la Barroche highlight the importance of shared values and complementary skills in a family business. "The secret is to be educated, to have the fortune of having parents who passed on good values to us," says Julien Barrot. The siblings manage different aspects of the estate, with Julien Barrot focusing on the vineyard and cellar while Laetitia handles the commercial side. Their shared goal of excellence drives their success, ensuring the family legacy thrives. Axel Vacheron of Clos du Caillou underscores the importance of honoring each generation's contributions while also embracing new practices. "The key is the respect for each generation and the will to work together," he says. Axel Vacheron and his sister, Marilou, gradually took on responsibilities, guided by the trust and support of their mother, Sylvie, and long-time winemaker Bruno Gaspard. This balance between tradition and innovation is crucial for the continuity and evolution of the estate.

Sisters Veronique and Caroline Maret of Domaine de la Charbonnière bring in the aspect of harmonious succession planning. "We do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past," Veronique Maret explains, noting that modern family businesses avoid the rigid hierarchies of earlier times. Their father remains actively involved in the vineyards, while the sisters manage different aspects of the business. This collaborative approach ensures that knowledge and passion are passed down effectively, fostering a dynamic and resilient family enterprise.

Across these diverse family operations, several common themes emerge. Each family emphasizes the importance of respecting the contributions of previous generations while allowing room for new ideas and practices. Mutual respect, clear division of responsibilities and shared values underpin their success. By balancing tradition with innovation and maintaining strong family bonds, these winemaking families ensure that their legacies stand the test of time. Generational winemaking traditions of Châteauneuf-du-Pape are a testament to the enduring power of family. Through dedication, collaboration and deep respect for their heritage, these families continue to produce exceptional wines that honor their history while embracing the future.

Vieux Donjon owner and winemaker Claire Michel explaining their different terroirs.

Looking at Markets

The current state of the US wine market for Châteauneuf-du-Pape remains challenging. Several retailers report a gradual demand decline over recent years, with a notable downturn beginning around the 2017 vintage. Despite the intrinsic qualities of 2021, the vintage has seen particularly low US demand, heavily influenced by vintage reputation. Rising release prices have further dampened sales. On the bright side, there is solid demand for library vintages and in the trade sector, with the latter due to restaurants continuing to see value in Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines, regardless of vintage. The strength of the US dollar against the Euro has kept prices stable, but any dollar weakening could significantly impact pricing and sales.

I tasted the majority of the wines from this report in Châteauneuf-du-Pape in April 2024. In order to publish future reports in a more timely fashon, I will now combine my annual trips to Gigondas and Vacqueyras at the end of the summer with Châteauneuf-du-Pape. There will still be a separate report for each appellation.

© 2024, Vinous. No portion of this article may be copied, shared or re-distributed without prior consent from Vinous. Doing so is not only a violation of our copyright, but also threatens the survival of independent wine criticism.

You Might Also Enjoy

Châteauneuf-du-Pape New Releases: Welcome to the Pleasuredome, Nicolas Greinacher, June 2023

Northern Rhône: Where Diversity Ignites the Senses, Nicolas Greinacher, March 2024

Gigondas: The Southern Rhône Jewel Shines and Adapts, Nicolas Greinacher, January 2024

Vacqueyras New Releases: Walking the Underdog, Nicolas Greinacher, November 2023