One of the main reasons we went to Avignon is due to the fact that in 1309, the Papacy moved from Rome and set up residence there.
Forget the religion though, what we are interested in is Châteauneuf du Pape! This one of the most prestigious and well known wine areas in the Rhône wine region.
We awoke on the Sunday morning to a fairly miserable looking day so we made the most of it by heading off to the Palace of the Popes to taste some wine. A fine and inexpensive experience, but not a memorable one. We remembered our time in Alsace, wandering around looking for wineries, so we decided to do this right. We asked around and were recommended a company called Avignon Wine Tour. I called and we signed up for the Monday tour, unfortunately not for Châteauneuf du Pape, but for Lirac, Tavel and Costières de Nîmes.
Monday came, we stood outside our hotel as arranged, and right on time François bounded over to meet us and shepherded the two of us into his minivan (it was not strictly a private tour, he can take up to 6 people, but on our day it was just us). François is Avignon Wine Tour; he started almost a year ago, after many years in the restaurant industry, he filled out all the right paperwork, and set up a slick little company replete with official guide headgear. He is very proud of his achievement, and rightly so. He is full of energy, friendly and very knowledgeable. There are other companies which offer wine tours, but one must be careful of what they offer – is it a bus ride around several tasting rooms, or is there valuable insight on the complex subject of wine. We were lucky in Tuscany two years ago meeting Rebecca, and lucky to meet François who offers a similar experience.
First of all we start talking about the Rugby (François, speaks fluent English, but all men in France speak enough English to converse about the Rugby), France is doing well! Then, as he drives, he points out things and tells us all kinds of interesting historical information: even better than the official audio guides as both Sarah and I suddenly realize that the bridge of which only two arches remain, originally extended way beyond the point we believed – we both had the same image of a bridge with two large arches and twenty little tiny ones to fit all of them into the space.
We had a great time visiting several different types of wineries, (co-operative, shared and family owned) learning how to taste, and that good wine can cost less than $2, it can even be sold like gasoline into bring-your-own containers.
There was even an example of a winery which has reconstructed Roman wine making facilities, to make small batches of a very strange historical product. We did not expect to find a Siberian mammoth, but we did, proving that France has many surprises.