One of the most unusual meetings of our week of visits was with the fascinating Jonqueres d’Oriola (Jon), who lives in an actual castle with his wife and extended family. However, our meeting with him commenced in his small village shop near the castle where he showcases his Chateau de Corneilla wines and takes meetings.
The shop is bright and modern, with the wines arranged in an attractive fashion (more like a high end trade show exhibition than a village shop). He has many lines of wine, reflecting different quality levels and styles. As we taste through the various lines, he tells us a bit about himself, his family, his wines, and his journey.
Jon’s family came to this area just south of Perpignan, France from Spain in 1337. Just how they ended up living in a castle remains a mystery, but Jon did say that his family had connections with the royal family of Spain. Yet with his fair complexion and fiery red hair, Jon looks more like a Scotsman than a Frenchman of Spanish decent. And while it may be natural to assume that Jon was literally “to the manner born,” in the course of our conversation it is clear he paid his dues in various other parts of the wine/spirits/beer industry before taking an active role in working with his father in the family’s wine business. Jon also attended winemaking school in Montpellier.
Jon explains that while the family’s fortified wines have been renowned for many years, it’s only in the past 15 years that their tables wines have gained a similar reputation The family owns about 50 hectares, with the majority planted with Grenache. The most famous wine recently is the comically named Gris Gris, a rosé made from Grenache Noir. The name has a double – even a triple – meaning as Vin Gris is a type of rose and the word also means “lucky charm.” It tastes fresh and delicious and apparently is a big hit in summer at beach restaurants. The label shows a picture of Jon with one of his friends in black and white clothing from the 19th century.
Jon is particularly proud of the red and white Le Canaille, line with the white wine made from an equal blend of Chardonnay and Macabeo, and the red a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, and Syrah. Both wines had great balance. My favorite wine in a long line of tasting was the Calvacade 2015, a blend of majority Syrah with equal part of Grenache and Mourvedre. It had very silky tannins and a powerful mouthfeel.
The sweet wines were a real treat. The Chateau Corneilla 2016 Muscat de Rivesaltes had a delicious aroma of passion fruit and lychee, while the 2007 Chateau de Corneilla Rivesaltes was rich from having spent six years in barrel.
After the tasting, Jon invited us to tour the castle before dinner. I had anticipated dinner in the castle, but it turns out that we would be having dinner in an ancient water well just outside the castle.
Years earlier, Jon decided to turn the old well into a storage area for his wine. The size of a very small studio apartment, the well is outfitted with bottles of aging wine, fine books, candles, and even a table. Though I was initially hesitant to go down the steep ladder that led to the cellar, upon learning that his grandmother and very pregnant wife have made the journey, I bravely climbed down the ladder stairs and was rewarded with delicious wine and a fine meal.