Château de Caladroy, Côtes du Roussillon-Villages

Château de Caladroy label

Country & RegionFrance, Roussillon
Appellation(s)Côtes du Roussillon Villages,
Muscat de Rivesaltes
FoundedThe turn of the 20th century
ProducerNicolas Lebarq

In its heyday, Château de Caladroy was a small outpost high on an arid mountaintop behind Perpignan. It had its own school, workers’ quarters, stables, an elegant nineteenth-century chapel, a manor house and other dwellings, and an ancient fortress dating from the 12th century—for Caladroy was once a fortress on the ancient Kingdom of Majorca’s frontier. In the 13th and 14th centuries, Majorca had a kingdom. Who knew? It controlled a good portion of Catalonia, the Baleraic Islands and an enclave around Montpellier.

Château de Caladroy balcony

Today, that fortress and the rest of what became Caladroy can be found perched on a knoll at a mountain pass; below, on a broad saddle of a ridge, grow the vineyards. The school no longer functions, the workers’ quarters lie empty except at harvest, and the manor stands majestically unoccupied, as if lost in time. You drive up from Perpignan, a city which has a whole lot more in common with Barcelona just over the border than it does with distant Paris, and climb winding roads into the hills where the sparsely populated land is rocky and covered with scrub hardwoods and the ever-present garrigue. At the top of the last rise, the road turns onto the saddle of vineyards; at the far end, beyond a windbreak of cedars, rises the Caladroy knoll with white buildings and red clay-tiled roofs. Looming in the distance are the snow-capped Pyrenees.

This is Roussillon, the sunniest viticultural area in France, forever battered by a dry wind that sweeps off the high Pyrenees known as the tramontane. Fully exposed at over 1,000 feet above the nearby Mediterranean, Caladroy and its vineyards occupy the top of the Fenouillèdes hills, isolated between two river valleys. This altitude, combined with the schist terroir, gives Caladroy’s wines a measure of acid structure and finesse that nicely balances their darkly concentrated flavors. The photo below was taken en route from Limoux entering Roussillon; Caladroy is up in the distant hills.

Château de Caladroy landscape

At the turn of this century, the cellar was completely revamped and many vineyard parcels were replanted, with Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvèdre dominating. Yields here, because of the meager rainfall and poor soils, average 25hl/ha, far below the permissible 45hl/ha granted “Côte du Roussillon-Villages,” which is the top appellation designation.

Château de Caladroy cellar door

The Wines

Côtes du Roussillon Villages "Les Schistes"
A blend of Syrah, Carignan, Grenache noir and MourvèdreThe soils on this rugged mountain ridge are a mix of sand and clay on top of black schist. Schist(es) terroir for French vineyards can be found in pockets of Languedoc (notable Faugères); parts of Anjou; and up in the northern Rhône in part of Côte-Rôtie and across the river in Seyssuel. And there’s a big swath of it over the border in Spain’s Priorat. Schist tends to emphasize fruit rather than tannin, and red wine from these terroirs typically show a fruit purity in a decidedly darker profile than limestone’s red notes (deep with a verticality too, rather than broadly horizontal on the palate, along with a lift of minerality). You’ll get this in Caladroy’s lithe yet intense black and blue fruit profile.

The grapes are hand-picked, and up to 10% of the wine for this cuvée may be aged in oak barrels for 10-12 months while the rest is raised in tank.
Muscat de RivesaltesMuscat Petit Grain (70%) , Muscat Alexandria grape (30%) This is a traditional sweet wine made by stopping the primary fermentation with the addition of neutral alcohol at the halfway mark, thereby capturing primary fruit aromas and flavors (the nose and flavors are explosive). This method was perfected in the 13th century by a Catalan alchemist in Montpellier and became widely used in Roussillon, which made itself the center of vin doux naturel production back in the day. Some four hundred years later the method was adopted in the Douro Valley for the production of Port.