Variety: 90% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre, Counoise and Vaccarese
Country, Region: France, Rhone Valley
Appellation: Vin de France
Made from a vineyard worked by Henri’s son, Marcel, in the Gard (west of Châteauneuf on the western side of the Rhône River) and so sometimes contains declassified Châteauneuf from his own vineyards. Has all the hallmarks of a great Châteauneuf with astonishing freshness, depth and complexity with a floral spice lift that belies its age. This is a wine that most Châteauneuf producers would be happy to their 'regular' Châteauneuf, however this is anything but 'regular'.
“The Bonneau wines rest alone at the absolute summit of the appellation, and to a certain degree, they transcend it in much the same way that Château d’Yquem does in Sauternes.” John Gilman, A View From The Cellar.
Henri Bonneau (1938-2016) was 12th generation of a family of wine growers. He made his first vintage in 1956. His domaine covers only 6.5 ha., mainly planted with Grenache that counts for about 90% of the blend added with small amounts of Mourvèdre, Counoise and Vaccarèse. He feels Syrah is not suited to Châteauneuf-du-Pape and he also distrusts new clones and does not like vines that are over 50 years old finding 30 to 50 years to be ideal.
Up to 5 different red wines are produced here depending on the vintage and the evolution of the wines. His decision about cuvées is taken several years after the harvest - just before bottling. The blend of the four cuvées and the treatment in the cellars are not differing. With 13 different plots the largest is situated in La Crau with another situated in Grand Pierre beside Rayas and it's probably from these vineyards the best cuvées are selected. Bonneau also has 3.5 ha of vines west of the Rhone in the Gard which goes to make his similarly styled vin de table Les Rouliers which is usually a blend of 2 vintages and which can also contain some de-classified Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
The vinification and ageing of the wines is in fact very simple. When the fermentation in cement tanks is finished the wine goes into a mixture of foudres, demi-muids and small old barrels from Burgundy. Here it stays until Bonneau finds it ready to be bottled - maybe after 6, 8 or 10 years. The grapes are rarely de-stemmed and the wines are fined with egg whites before bottling. Henri Bonneau's ageing cellars are from the 17th century and are legendary. You can't find a barrel there less than 10 years old and most of them are very ancient. When you walk around these tiny cellars you feel you are visiting a museum. This is classic, old-style Châteauneuf-du-Pape made as it was several hundred years ago.