Châteauneuf-du-Pape translates as "New Castle of the Pope" and, indeed, the history of this commune and its wine is firmly entwined with papal history. In 1308, Pope Clement V, former Archbishop of Bordeaux, relocated the papacy to the city of Avignon. Clement V and subsequent "Avignon Popes" were said to be great lovers of Burgundy wines and did much to promote it during the seventy-year duration of the Avignon Papacy. At the time, winegrowing around the town of Avignon was anything but illustrious. While the Avignon Papacy did much to advance the notoriety of Burgundy wines, they were also promoting viticulture of the surrounding area, more specifically the area 5-10 km north of Avignon close to the banks of the Rhône River. Prior to the Avignon Papacy, viticulture of the area had been initiated and maintained by the Bishops of Avignon, largely for local consumption.
Clement V was succeeded by John XXII who, as well as Burgundy wine, regularly drank the wines from the vineyards to the north and did much to improve viticultural practices there. Under John XXII, the wines of this area came to be known as "Vin du Pape", this term later to become Châteauneuf-du-Pape. John XXII is also responsible for erecting the famous castle which stands as a symbol for the appellation.
The village and three other surrounding communes produce wine, and Châteauneuf-du-Pape is an AOC in the southern Rhône wine region. Unlike its northern Rhône neighbors, Châteauneuf-du-Pape permits thirteen different varieties of grape, and the blend is usually predominantly Grenache. Other red grapes include Cinsault, Counoise, Mourvèdre, Muscardin, Syrah, Terret Noir, and Vaccarèse. White grapes include Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Clairette, Picardin, Roussanne, and Picpoul. In recent years the trend has been to include fewer, or even none, of the allowed white varieties, and rely heavily (or solely) upon the Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah. One may suspect that this is a response to international wine-market trends and the desire to have this sometimes-rustic wine appeal to a broader commercial audience.
Before wine critic Robert M. Parker, Jr. began promoting them, the wines of Chateauneuf were considered rustic and of limited appeal in the USA. However, his influence increased their price over fourfold in a decade. In gratitude, the Chateauneuf Winemakers Union pushed for his becoming an honorary citizen of the village.