The soil

In connexion with the rise of the Alps in the Tertiary period was at the same time created a depression in North-South direction vest of the Alps. This depression was the beginning of the Rhone Valley for a long time partly overfloaded by the Mediterranean Sea. 
As the Alps continued to uplift, sheets and islands of cretaceous limestone were thrust into these sediments.
On the eastern side of the Rhône, floods of the Ice Age reworked the sediments, adding debris of their own to build extensive terraces and gravel plateaux.

The prehistoric events in the area especially those of the Ice Age left Chateauneuf du Pape with a variety of different types of soil:

- small or large rounded stones (in French galets roules)
- lime stones and gravels
- sand
- clay

These elements are always present in different compositions.
A general soil profile from Beaucastel shows the following:
  • 20 cm 28% clay, 40% loam, 42% sand
  • 20 cm to 50 cm 16% sand, 34% loam, 50% sand, red in color, with cobbles
  • 50 cm to 85 cm 40% clay, 40% loam, 20% sand
  • 85 cm to 100 cm 8% clay, 17% loam, 75% calcareous sand

It has to be noted to this profile, that it describes a field like the one seen on the photos to the right. If the copples are there they will steal the picture after a day of rain.

In addition to these diversified soil characteristics come multiple situations: plateaus, banks, hills, flat areas.

Generally the big water roulled stones are most common in the Northern part, the Southern part is more gravelled and sandy and the Western part has more limestone.

You can't say that the best wines are made in fields with many stones,  with most clay or with most sand. It's often said that the warmth in the wines comes from the stones. They collect heath in the sunny days and keep it for the cooler nights. This is true, but have wines from fields without stones less quality? No, one of the most famous properties, Chateau Rayas, has very few stones and much clay. 

More likely the "secret" of Chateauneuf du Pape is that nearly all properties have small parcels on many different kinds of soil. Some properties have up to 50 parcels spread all over the appellation.
Furthermore the many grape varieties planted on parcels suited for them and the very high ages of many vines (50-100 years). All this brings complexity to the wines.
The stones have perhaps most importance in giving drainage and in preventing drying out in periods without rain.

The photos to the right are from Beaucastel and Rayas.

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