Château St. Jean/Christian Meffre

Château Saint Jean is owned by the well-respected Meffre family, whose winemaking history dates back several generations. Gabriel Meffre, who founded a negoçiant business in 1936, and became famous for his excellent-quality Gigondas, went on to own the largest vineyard area in France, with an empire that reached 900 hectares before his death in the 1980s.

His three children inherited their father's various châteaux and estates, and Château Saint Jean and Château Raspail went to Gabriel's youngest son, Christian. He remains the manager, although it is now his own son, François, who runs the estates. Château Saint Jean is situated to the east of Orange, and covers around 140 hectares, with vineyards split between three appellations: Châteauneuf du Pape, Côtes-du-Rhône, and Côtes-du-Rhône Villages Plan de Dieu.

This latter appellation, situated below Cairanne and Rasteau, was only granted Côtes-du-Rhône Villages status in 2005, but has been known as an excellent area for vineyards since the Middle Ages. The region gets its name - meaning 'God's plain' - from its reputation during the Middle Ages as a dangerous terrain to cross; in doing so, one put oneself in the hands of God!

Like much of the Rhône, the climate here is Mediterranean, with cooling influences from the Mistral, which blows through the vines and helps to keep them free from disease. The chalky gravel soil, interspersed with blue clay and sandstone, helps water to reach the vines during the summer droughts. Mourvèdre, grenache and syrah - the principal grapes in the estate's wines - grow particularly well in these conditions.

Wines from this region, all of which are red, are herby, aromatic and juicy, and provide a superb-value option as an alternative to its pricier neighbours, Châteauneuf and Gigondas. However, Christian also still upholds his father's reputation for wonderful Gigondas at Château Raspail, which remains an important estate in the appellation.

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