Vignobles Mayard, nestled in the heart of the prestigious village of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, is a family run estate with a long history in the appellation. At the end of the 19th century, when phylloxera had all but destroyed his vineyards, Gratien Mayard contemplated moving to the United States and starting over. But his devotion eventually won out and instead he chose to stay and re-plant his vineyards, vine by vine.
Today the estate is run by fifth generation winemaker Françoise Roumieux along with her sister Béatrice and brother Didier. They have preserved the traditions started by their family and continue to make improvements by modernizing the winery and committing to sustainable agriculture and environmentally friendly methods. Rather than using chemical fertilizers and weed killers, they work the soil with machines and have also begun to employ biodynamic practices in recent years. As Françoise explains, “It is necessary to respect the soil and the people who work in the vines, as it is the future for everyone.“
The property is comprised of 43 hectares and roughly 40 parcels spread across highly diverse terroirs, some of them planted over a century ago. Walking through the vineyards, you notice what seems like a carpet of the famous galets roulés, the remnants of Alpine glaciers that have been rounded over millennia by the Rhône river. These stones retain the heat during the day and release it at night, thereby facilitating perfect ripening. The subsoils at Mayard vary depending on the zone, each terrain lending a different element to the wine and contributing to a complex patchwork that is the hallmark of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Moderate rainfall and the cooling influence of the mistral wind combine to temper the heat of Southern Rhône, allowing the expression of this terroir to come into focus.
Most of the vineyards at Mayard can be found in the south of the appellation and are composed sand, limestone and pebbles. Clos du Calvaire is their entry-level Châteauneuf-du-Pape and is a blend of these various plots. The family also owns 8 hectares in the 300 hectare lieu-dit of La Crau in the northeast, where they have 100 year old Grenache vines planted on clay soils. These old vines are very low yielding and the clay helps them retain moisture, a great help in the hottest years. One of these parcels was originally owned by Françoise’s paternal grandmother, Marie Louis Mayard, who worked at the domaine alongside her husband at a time when women were still in the background. A quick glance through a book of old correspondence and invoices with clients from around the world shows the level of her involvement as far back as the 1920s. In honor of his mother, Françoise’s father called this specific parcel La Crau de Ma Mere, a name that Françoise and her siblings in turn labeled their top cuvee.
The winemaking at Mayard emphasizes gentle handling at every stage. All grapes are picked by hand into small crates to avoid the risk of crushing and oxidation. After destemming, the grapes are gravity-fed into epoxy-lined concrete vats and fermentation begins naturally with native yeasts. To extract color and tannins, they employ gentle delestage once per day during fermentation. Clos du Calvaire is aged in concrete while La Crau de Ma Mere spends 18 months in neutral foudres.
With a dynamic history and an eye toward the future, the Roumieux trio is putting out naturally farmed wines with finesse, class and a freshness and lift that elude so many of today’s Châteuneuf-du-Pape.