No pain, no gain
Turns out they have a point when they say nothing ventured nothing gained, whether you know what you’re venturing into or not.
Our exit out of Vallon Pont D’Arc was described as a 2km climb but what was omitted was the subsequent climb after climb after climb.
Completely oblivious to the uphill horror, we kept pedaling, hopeful that any second now it would flatten out (after all, our cycle bible made no mention of any subsequent climbs). But they just kept coming at us, until we eventually caved and decided the only way to manage this bitch of a mountain was numerous photo stops as we trundled through what must be said is a very beautiful spot, the Gorges de L’Ardèche (you might notice a fair few gorge pics in the library).
So 42km in and 3 hours since our departure (yes, that’s an embarrassing 14km per hour) we made it to our first stop, the Plus Beaux Village of Aiguèze. Lovely, but at that point we really weren’t feeling love for anything apart from an ice cold drink.
However the rest of the day is where the ‘gaining’ part came into play. Flat terrain, cooler climbs and shit loads of vines. We were definitely heading into wine country again. This time the winiest of them all: Châteauneuf du Pape. The name translates as “new castle of the Pope”. It was built in the 14th Century for his holiness and the vines laid in his honour. To be honest, the Chateau itself has seen better days and now stands dilapidated atop its hill, but who cares because the vines have fookin’ flourished!
Châteauneuf du Pape is the most famous wine producing village in the world. Medical Fact. It was the first to be given the appellation of Origin Controllée and to this day there are only thirteen grape varieties allowed, and lots of other strict criteria each vigneron must adhere to if they want to put the prestigious name on their bottles (one stipulation being Rosé is not allowed. JK’s kinda wine town).
Turns out that a big part of what makes it such a great area for le vin is the large pebbles/small rocks left all over the soil. Known locally as galets, these sizable quartz stones have been deposited by the nearby Rhône river, and they act as a natural electric blanket for the vines: storing up the sun’s heat in the day and keeping it trapped on the soil all night, hastening the ripening and effectively almost doubling the growing season compared to a normal wine region.
You might be wondering, if this is the key to such success, why don’t other wine regions lay down loads of massive pebbles all over their vines too? Well it’s a good fucking question but one you’ll be left wondering the answer to, as we have asked three vignerons now and they all just look blankly and say “because the Rhône hasn’t deposited them there”. Outside the box thinking is not a French forté.
But the wine is, and so it would be rude not to indulge in a glass or two. Or why not the bottle. Or two bottles. Either way, it’s time for us to get amongst it in this town and kindly bid you adieu.