Chateau Unang Cotes du Ventoux 2019
In 867, the Bishop of Venasque was given Chateau Unang, then known as Villa Unango.* The nearby village of Venasque was the capital of the Comtat Venaissin until 1320, when the seat of government moved to Carpentras. The Venaissin state (comtat) was an independent enclave within France that came to house the Roman Curia and eventually gave rise to the Wine of the Pope, ie, Chateauneuf-du-Pape. For over 800 years Unang was passed down from one bishop to another, until it was sold at the end of the 17th century (while Papal control of the Comtat continued until 1791, when France absorbed the enclave following the Revolution). Presumably, since the 9th century, a cross has stood on top of Unang’s hill.
In the late 18th century, an Italian aristocrat married into the family that owned Unang. Subsequently, the chateau was spruced up with a facelift, and a formal garden was designed to step down the hillside, following the path of a natural spring. Three terraced gardens were planted, each anchored by a fountain fed from the spring. In 1882 a six-meter wooden cross was mounted on a stone plinth on the hilltop, a restoration of an earlier cross. Frustratingly, the original date of the cross and other inscriptions in the stone have weathered away; much of that history, along with the origins of the name Unang, has been lost.
The property sits deep in the tail end of the Nesque Valley, named after the Nesque River that flows out of the high Vaucluse Plateau to the east and runs through a rugged limestone gorge. Unang is an isolated, self-contained domaine with, interestingly enough, its own geological category: les sables d'Unang. This refers to a particular type of sandy soil that lies overtop limestone. Apart from Unang’s hillside, pockets of the sands of Unang are also found in the Gigondas AOC.
Unang’s vineyards all grow on site, facing east and south between 220 and 320 meters above sea level, and are completely surrounded by forest. It’s cooler here than many other parts of the Ventoux appellation, and certainly cooler than the Rhône Valley floor to the west. The Giant of Provence, Mount Ventoux, stands guard to the north, its bald dome of white limestone lending it all the gravitas a guardian needs. UNESCO recognized the mountain as a World Heritage Site in 1990.
When James and Joanna King bought Unang in 2001, there were twenty hectares (49 acres) of vines in various parcels up and down the hillside, and in varying degrees of health. Six hectares (15 acres) of poorly sited and/or diseased vines were torn out, and a new cellar was put in. In 2003, James slowly began to replant, and he plans to grow to eighteen hectares of vines, or a little more than forty-four acres. The white varieties grow farthest down the hillside in the coolest zone, while the reds occupy the mid and upper slopes. What James likes in wine is elegance and depth, and his site enables him to make such wines par excellence. These are high-altitude wines of freshness, vigor, and minerality.
All grapes are hand-harvested at Unang, and the farming is certified organic.
Stretching across the slopes of the Ventoux mountain in the southeastern region of the Rhône River Valley, Cotes du Ventoux excels in the production of spicy and characterful red blends based on Grenache, Syrah, and other indigenous varieties. The region also produces rich and aromatic whites and rosés.
With bold fruit flavors and accents of sweet spice, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre form the base of the classic Rhône Red Blend, while Carignan, Cinsault and Counoise often come in to play. Though they originated from France’s southern Rhône Valley, with some creative interpretation, Rhône blends have also become popular in other countries. Somm Secret—Putting their own local spin on the Rhône Red Blend, those from Priorat often include Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. In California, it is not uncommon to see Petite Sirah make an appearance.