Spare. Gigondas Steps out of the Shadows

Spare. Gigondas Steps out of the Shadows

By Tom Prior

Often seen as the little brother to Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas has been quietly stepping out of the shadows. As is the hallmark of any great wine region, top producers here are putting out wines unique in expression of place and varietal.

Producers like Domaine Santa Duc.

The world of wine is taking notice, yet Gigondas remains one of the best value to quality buys in all of France for domaine bottled, small volume and long-lived wines. Particularly when compared to its famous neighbour.

As with Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the red wines of Gigondas are Grenache led, with supporting roles from the likes of Mouvedre, Syrah and Cinsault. They are just 25km apart, and so you could be forgiven in thinking the resulting wines were very much one and the same in style.

But not so readers. There are some very important differences setting these wines apart.

Comparing origins of name, Châteauneuf-du-Pape or ‘New Castle of the Pope’, famously takes its name from the period in the fourteenth century when the seat of the Roman Catholic Church was in nearby Avignon. Under Pope John XXII a castle was built, the remains of which stand proud and centre of the village vista today. It was the first recognised Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in 1936, key to controlling wine production and promoting the regions status.

The origins of the Gigondas name are far less noble. It is believed that the first vineyards here were established by the Second Roman Legion, with the area given to recreation. The name has evolved from Jocunditas, a Latin word meaning ‘to give oneself up for joy’.

Gigondas would receive its AOC in 1971, for red and rosé wines only. Until then, wines had often been sent up to Burgundy to enrich lesser vintages of Pinot Noir. So too, had the wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape up until they were protected in 1936.

To date, white wines made from Gigondas vineyards are labelled as Côtes du Rhône, but from 2023 there will be a recognised Gigondas AOC for white wine production. These wines will require a minimum component of 70% Clairette Blanche. An exciting development.



At 1200ha under vine, the Gigondas AOC is a little over a third the size of Châteauneuf-du-Pape and for the moment more focused, with 99% of production given to red wine. It’s a beautiful village, sitting at elevation on the foothills of the Dentelles de Montmirail, its dramatic and jagged peaks looming above.

Crucially, the vineyards in Gigondas can reach as high as 600m above sea level. A staggering elevation change when considering Châteauneuf-du-Pape reaches a high of 120m. By way of a local comparison the town of Stellenbosch sits at 136m and Grabouw at 334m.

The range of elevation in Gigondas results in a patchwork of soil types and vineyard parcels. Morning shade and the circulating winds from the mountains mark Gigondas as relatively cool compared to its neighbours, with harvest taking place two or three weeks later than in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Handy, given the recent warm vintages in France.

In the winery, producers in Gigondas tend to work more with neutral vessels in maturing their wines than in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Larger oak foudres or concrete, or terracotta amphorae in the case of Domaine Santa Duc.

As a result, top Gigondas wines have a surprising elegance and appeal in youth. I recall my first taste of the Domaine Santa Duc Gigondas Aux Lieux-Dits 2019. A good friend had beaten me to a bottle and included it among a blind tasting line-up at one of our group meetups. I had reasoned, wrongly, that the wine was a young Burgundy Pinot Noir, and a good one at that. Thankfully, reading various articles on the wines of Santa Duc from more respectable tasters, I am not alone in picking out Pinot like finesse in their wines.

Having experienced three vintages of the Aux Lieux-Dits since joining Radford Dale I do count it among my absolute favourite wines today. That view comes from enjoyment, but also in demonstrating to me that I have much to learn about the variety of wines in the Southern Rhone.


Domaine Santa Duc has long been recognised among the standard bearers of the Gigondas AOC. Much of their reputation is down to fifth generation Yves Gras, one of the pioneers of organic farming in the Southern Rhone and achieving certification in 1985. In 2017, the reins were handed over to his son Benjamin.

A generational change is an exciting time. It can bring about new ideas, refinements and generally uplift (or flounder) reputations. In this instance, Benjamin has steered Santa Duc from a great platform and to new heights year on year. He graduated from the University of Dijon, before stints at prestigious names around the world, including the likes of Bodega Vega Sicilia and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

A new state of the art winery was created, and progression to certified biodynamic farming in late 2016. Small French oak barrels have been replaced by large format Stockinger Foudré and amphora to promote freshness and purity. Extraction of the grapes is softer and beautifully judged. Partial destemming is employed according to the wine and vintage, with shorter macerations and natural ferments.

“The introduction of biodynamic agriculture is just another logical step in our work to revive the ecosystem of our soils, but also to strengthen the immune system of the plants. The vines learn to cope with parasites and diseases, rather than relying on molecules and pharmaceuticals. The secret of great wines lies in the soil. And vines that stand in line with their terroir produce balanced grapes and harmonious wine.” Benjamin Gras

Today, the domaine oversees 13ha of vines in Gigondas and 6ha of vineayrd parcels in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.

I’m sure it will hurt some feelings to say an outsider like Gras is producing some of the most compelling examples of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, but keep in mind these are generally tiny-production gems and not easy to track down” Joe Czerwinski, Wine Advocate

A new shipment from France is expected in early February, so stay tuned for the latest intake from Santa Duc and elsewhere in the Rhone Valley.

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