If there is one single wine in the appellation that signifies the true level of greatness possible in Chateauneuf du Pape, perhaps it’s Rayas. Like the First Growths of Bordeaux , Rayas could be the wine that stands above all the others in the Southern Rhone Valley. The bouquet is haunting. The purity of fruit can be otherworldly and the textures are extraordinarily sensuous.
Chateau Rayas has been around longer than their oldest vines. The Reynaud family, (who still manage Rayas today) began working at the property in 1880, due to an unforeseen occurrence. Albert Reynaud, who lived and worked in Avignon, which is close to Chateauneuf du Pape went deaf at the age of 45. That caused him to seek a new career. He decided to become a winemaker in the Rhone valley and he purchased Rayas.
After Albert Reynaud passed away, Louis Reynaud inherited Rayas. Under the direction of Louis Reynaud, Rayas became one of the first estates in Chateauneuf du Pape to bottle and sell their own wine. Louis Reynaud began adding the words “Premier Grand Cru” on the labels for Rayas. That wording helped Rayas gain attention for their wine. Even though it was in violation of the newly created appellation laws, it was a clever gambit that paid off and others soon discovered the magic of Rayas.
The Reynaud family continued to add to their holdings, increasing the size of their vineyards. They also purchased other vineyards. In 1935 they bought Chateau des Tours. Ten years later, they added Chateau Fonsalette to their vineyard holdings. In the 1930’s, Rayas built new cellars and wine making facilities in the area of Pignan . This needed to be done because their previous cellars were no longer within the new boundaries of what became the official Chateauneuf du Pape AOC.
Jacques Reynaud managed the family estates from 1978 until he passed away in 1997. The quality of Rayas slipped after Jacques Reynaud died. His nephew, Emmanuel Reynaud took over the property and for a few years, the wines were not at the level of quality capable of being produced at Rayas. Some of that was due a learning curve and to the fact that at the time, much of the wine at Rayas was being produced from young vines. Close to 50% of the vineyards needed replanting, which took place in the 1980’s. Starting with the 2005 vintage, things turned around for Chateau Rayas and once again, Rayas is now producing majestic Chateauneuf du Pape wine. Without question, much of that credit goes to Emmanuel Reynaud.
It is expected that the son of Emmanuel Reynaud, Louis Damien Reynaud will eventually take over managing Chateau Rayas in the future . Chateau Rayas is one the legendary properties from Chateauneuf du Pape. There are many knowledgeable wine lovers that feel Rayas is in fact the top wine in all of Chateauneuf du Pape. The wines are definitely collectible. In fact, some of the older vintages produced by Jacques Reynaud sell for well over $1,000 a bottle today! There is no secret to the quality of the wine. Rayas, like all the world’s best wines is produced from great terroir.
Chateau Rayas owns 23 hectares of land, with 12 hectares of vines in Chateauneuf du Pape. They have 10 hectares in Chateauneuf du Pape that are devoted to the production of red wine and 2 hectares are reserved for making white Chateauneuf du Pape. The vineyard is made up of 15 different parcels in all. Not surprisingly, Rayas has a unique terroir. Rayas has a terroir of red, sandy soils, with small amounts of limestone and clay with a north east exposure. There are very few rocks and stones found at Rayas. The extremely fine, sandy soils feel like beach sand in your hand. The sandy terroir is also naturally cool, because of the large amount of clay in the soils which also helps retain moisture, giving the terroir a lot of humidity, that aids in keeping temperature cool for the appellation. Very few stones are found littering the landscape of Rayas. Those poor soils are a big part of what goes into the singular character found in their wines. Another important factor that bears looking at is the large pine and oak trees found in their vineyards. Those trees clearly alter the micro climate of Chateau Rayas.
All of those factors provide Rayas with a unique micro-climate, making it the coolest terroir in Chateauneuf du Pape. Part of the reason for the cooler terroir is due to the vines being planted on a northern exposure, helping to add slightly cooler temperatures to the terroir. As we mentioned earlier another important factor in the micro climate is due to the influence from the surrounding trees and forest land, which automatically cools the soil. These reasons combine to insure that Rayas has naturally low yields and they are always one of the last properties to harvest in the appellation. Their unique, cooler micro-climate allows them to pick their grapes at the peak levels of ripeness, while also obtaining relatively low alcohol levels, freshness, purity of fruit and and an elegant, silky style.
o produce the wine of Chateau Rayas, it is important to note that Rayas remains a traditional Chateauneuf du Pape estate. Rayas is made from 100% Grenache . Rayas is a long time proponent of low yields that on average range from 12 to 20 hectoliters per hectare. At Rayas, they retain a good portion of their stems. The grapes are whole bunch pressed and vinified in concrete tanks. The wine is then aged in a combination of demi muids and foudres of various capacities for an average of 16 months before bottling. There are no new barrels at Rayas. The barrels are almost as old as their vines. The newest barrels are close to 30 years of age, give or take a few years one way or the other. The age of the barrels dovetails perfectly with the unadorned, bare cellars, with its rough, stone stones and primitive, rock and earth floors. The production of Chateau Rayas is limited to an average of 1,100 cases per vintage.
Pignan is the second wine of Rayas. However, because much of Pignan comes from their more northern vines, it can also be looked at as a unique brand. In some years, like 1990, Pignan is an amazing wine that while not at the level of Rayas, it’s still outstanding. Pignan is produced from almost 100% old vine Grenache and also uses grapes from their young vines. Pignan is aged for 16 months in demi-muids and foudres. Only 650 cases are produced each year.
Rayas produces two red Chateauneuf du Pape wines and one white Chateauneuf du Pape. The white wine is made from an even blend of 50% Grenache Blanc and 50% Clairette . The wine is aged in tank, only 425 cases of Rayas Blanc are produced each year.
Rayas also makes three different Fonsalette wines; Chateau Rayas Fonsalette Cotes du Rhone Cuvee Syrah , Chateau Rayas Fonsalette Cotes du Rhone and Chateau Rayas Fonsalette Cotes du Rhone Blanc. The wines of Fonsalette are made in the cellars of Rayas. In total, Emmanuel Reynaud owns 10 hectares of vines in the Cotes du Rhone appellation. Emmanuel Reynaud also produces: Chateau Rayas la Pialade. Rayas la Pialade is produced from a variety of grape sources including declassified fruit and young vines from Fonsalette, Pignan and Rayas, hence the name. In addition, they also make a red and white Vin de Pays from Vaucluse, Domaine des Tours Rouge, and Domaine des Tours Blanc. Their wine, Chateau des Tours comes from vines planted in the Vacqueyras appellation. Savvy wine buyers looking for style and value should definitely place these wines on their buying list.