Château du Donjon
Situated in Minervois, one of the oldest wine-producing areas in the Languedoc, Château du Donjon has been in the Panis family for 500 years. The 700 year-old Donjon, a fortified Château with a basement and sub-basement to store food and arms in case of siege, is an impressive structure, with an imposing square tower and stone walls more than two feet thick. The winery itself is built right into the Donjon, taking advantage of the excellent insulation properties (though modern temperature controls kick-in when needed).
Guy Panis took over in 1958 at the age of 24, following his father’s death. At that time, the property had 40 acres of vines, mostly Carignan with some Cinsault and Grenache. Despite the impressive old Château (the winery was built into it by Guy’s grandfather) and a pleasant but modest home next door, income was low, with all of the wine sold in bulk to négociants. Guy was a true artisan, both progressive and conservative, and worked tirelessly to improve his vineyards. The western edge of Minervois had good terroir, but without the potential of the new “La Livinière” Appellation to the north, so Guy focused on producing very good wine from modest yields (vs. great wine from tiny yields). In the 1960s more Grenache was planted along with a little more Carignan. In the 1970s Guy was one of the first to plant Merlot, and a few years later Syrah. During the 1980s more Grenache and Syrah went in, equipment in the old Donjon was modernized, and Guy started to estate-bottle his wines. By the mid 1990s, there were almost 100 acres of vines (50 designated AOC Minervois), with all AOC wines estate-bottled at the Château.
In the summer of 1996, Guy became seriously ill with circulatory problems. Just before harvest, he was hospitalized. A call went out to son Jean, a lighting designer in French theaters. Jean had worked with his father in his teens, but had not made wine for over a decade and had never been in charge. After persevering through the challenging 1996 and 1997 vintages, Jean decided to give up the theatre and return home, permanently, to run the Château.
The historic 1998 vintage marked the beginning of a golden era that continues to this day. Jean continues to release successively brilliant wines, and today farms more than 160 acres, including some parcels in the new Appellation of Cabardès (which features both Mediterranean and Atlantic varietals). Every drop of wine, including both AOC and Vin de Pays, is estate-bottled at the Château.
In 2008, Guy passed away at age 74, having seen the Domaine through adversity to new heights of success, and having welcomed two grandchildren into the world.
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