ABOUT THIS WINE
Bonneau’s barrel aging regime is non-interventionist in the extreme—he simply leaves the wine in wood, racking only once a year, until he feels the time is right for bottling. In a great year this might be determined by how many years it takes for all of his super-ripe fruit’s sugar to ferment.
To produce the wine of Henri Bonneau, the whole berry cluster fruit goes through alcoholic fermentation in traditional concrete vats. At some point in time, the press wine is blended with the must and aged in a combination of 20 hectoliter foudres, demi-muids, and small, crust, moldy looking, oak barrels for 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 years or more! Henri Bonneau is fond of saying the wine is ready when it’s ready.
The decision of what juice goes into which wine is not made right away either. It could take years until he decides if a wine is fit to be sold as Celestins, Marie Beurrier or his Henri Bonneau Chateauneuf du Pape. Because of these potential changes, one never knows when, or if any specific wine will be produced or not, or how many bottles can or will be made in any year.
It’s important to note that everything changes from vintage to vintage at Henri Bonneau. That is all part of the reason the wines are so good. For some unknown reason, the younger vintages of Henri Bonneau have fallen slightly from their previous mythical status with Chateauneuf du Pape collectors.
ABOUT THIS PRODUCER
Henri represents the 12th generation of his family to make wine in Châteauneuf du Pape, dating back to 1667, and his methods today continue to have more in common with the 17th century than with contemporary winemaking. From his inaugural vintage of 1956, Bonneau has stayed the course—he doesn’t de-stem, gently crushes the whole clusters and then ferments for three weeks in concrete tanks with frequent pump-overs for gentle extraction.
Bonneau adds back his vin de presse for structure and then ages the wine in a haphazard collection of neutral foudres, demi-muids and piéces, none of them younger than ten years old. While these details describe the ultimate in traditional Southern Rhône winemaking, they don’t explain just what makes his wines so extraordinary. Bonneau is a man of strong character and opinions, however, some of which lend clues to his wine’s fantastic character.
Mostly located in the famed boulder-covered plateau of the Le Craulieu-dit, his vines average 30 years, the age that Bonneau considers optimum for great fruit. He trusts neither new clones nor vines older than 50 years. A traditionalist to the core, Bonneau is a Grenache partisan. Châteauneuf’s classic varietal makes up 90% of his vines and, ultimately, 90% of his wine. The balance is in Mourvèdre, Syrah, Counoise and Vaccarese.
Henri claims not to know what his yields are. “I’ve no idea” is what he told Rhône Renaissance author Remington Norman, but his wine’s fantastic concentration suggests that they are quite low. Like his friend the late Jacques Reynaud of Château Rayas, another Grenache devotee, Bonneau harvests as late as possible for ripeness and complexity.