Bandol, an exceptional terroir!
Table of Contents:
Our Bandol specials from Le Domaine de L’Olivette
The history of Bandol
In the 6th century B.C., the Phocaeans landed on the shore of Provence, in a place where they later founded their colony of Torroeis. Along with their amphoras, they brought the civilization of vine and wine. Under the Roman Empire, Torroeis became Torroentrum. Located in the vicinity of the village of Le Castellet, the vineyard clung to the hillside with vines planted in terraced rows, just as it can be seen today. This privileged site provided ideal conditions for the rapid development of vine growing, one of the most important economic activities in the ancient world. There started the history of Bandol wine.
The terroir in those days was the same as it is today, lying within limits marked by the geological barriers of the Gros Cerveau mountain to the south, the Mont Caume to the east and the Massif de la Sainte-Baume to the north, with the Gulf of Bandol as a natural outlet to the sea. The development of maritime trade, together with the skill of enterprising wine growers brought early fame to what was going to become Bandol wine.
The ability of wine to travel by sea was at the origin of the port of Bandol. Later, a deep-water harbour was constructed especially for this trade. This calling grew stronger and stronger until the end of the 19th century. From this bay, sheltered from both prevailing winds – the east wind and the Mistral – the wine trade could expand and prosper. And it did prosper. Louis XV enjoyed Bandol and had it served at the royal table. In 1846, as many as 9,600 barrels where shipped and the city echoed with the blows of hammers from over a hundred cooperage workshops. The Bandol vineyard acreage reached its highest point around 1870. But the vines were destroyed by the terrible phylloxera epidemic and centuries of hard work were ruined.
To restore the vineyard, the wine growers chose the grape varieties best suited to the terroir, giving preference to those that were traditionally grown in the area. In particular, the Mourvèdre – the “King Grape” of Bandol – made the revival and perpetuation of vine growing possible in this region. Thanks to a handful of clear-minded and determined wine growers, among which Countess Portalis, Messrs de Pissy, Peyraud, Roethlisberger, and a few others, a quality-oriented policy was initiated. This demand for quality made Bandol a precursor in the AOC system of regulation. Bandol was one of the first vineyards to be granted the AOC status by the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine (INAO) in 1941, soon after it was created. From then on, the Bandol wine growers have constantly been striving for quality. In this frame of mind, they regularly revise the founding decree of 1941 to improve it. Proud of their unanimity of views and fortified by their diversity, they are heirs to a constantly evolving patrimony. Bandol wines are the fruit of men’s dedication and scrupulous respect for the appellation and terroir. Each of them bears the imprint of the wine grower who made it and reflects his personality. To understand the true nature of Bandol wines, one needs to go and meet them one by one.
Bandol the terroir of terroirs
From the Massif de la Sainte-Baume down to the shore of the Mediterranean, the vine is an integral part of the landscape and its presence makes itself felt everywhere. Bandol terroir faces due south and benefits from exceptional conditions of light and heat, with nearly 3,000 hours of sun exposure a year. The vineyard lies in a natural amphitheatre. The vines are planted on terraces called restanques on approximately 1,500 hectares. Several generations of vine growers had to shape the hillsides to make them suitable for vine cultivation and these terraced slopes are the result of their perseverance.
A balcony overlooking the sea
In order to prevent ground erosion and to clear it of stones, the vine growers erected piece by piece innumerable low drystone walls, the famous Bandol restanques. They became builders to be able to turn the steep slopes of the hillsides into patches of cultivable land, following the contour lines. These consolidated grounds are particularly favourable for vine growing. The restanques also allow natural regulation of the resources in water. Today, the wine growers carry on the development of the lands abandoned at the beginning of the century. By resisting the pressure of real-estate developers, they make their contribution to the upkeep of the countryside, help protect the environment, and preserve the beauty of the landscape.
A multifaceted geology
The soils in the appellation area are mainly limestone, very pebbly, with, in places, sandy marls and sandstones. They are as diverse as could be expected in such an uneven landscape. The action of natural erosion on the bed-rocks of the upper cretaceous age (calcareous sandstones and sandy marls) resulted in sandstone soils enriched with silico-calcareous elements. Those are the most typical soils of the Bandol appellation. In some places the soils are of Jurassic or even Triassic age and consist of red or white limestone, clay and marl or sand. The main characteristic of the Bandol appellation is the stone-like aridity and low fertility of well-drained, highly calcareous soils. To preserve this character, the writers of the decree made a point of including in the appellation area only the plots of land situated on hillsides. The natural dryness of the soils is balanced by the humidity of the air from the sea and by rainfall (600 mm/year on average), low yet perfect to compensate for the water deficit during summer. The appellation area encompasses eight communes suspended between mountain and sea to the south of the Massif de la Sainte-Baume: Bandol, La Cadière d’Azur, Saint-Cyr-sur-mer, Le Castellet, Le Beausset, Evenos, Ollioules and Sanary.
The wine grower’s know-how the result of commitment
The wine growers dedicate themselves heart and soul to their land and craft. They perpetuate the spirit of their elders: they love to see work well done, patiently, stone by stone, the way the restanques were built on the hillsides. Most often, the land belongs to families rooted in wine making traditions. The Bandol AOC is indeed their common heritage.
A constant rigour
Together with the scrupulous observance of the AOC regulations, the wine growers show permanent vigilance to achieve quality. Young vines intended for the production of red wines are not allowed in the AOC production until the eighth leaf has appeared on their trunk. The yields are controlled at each stage of cultivation. The plantation density must be of at least of 5,000 vines per hectare. Spur pruning, i.e. leaving a two-bud spur on the trunk, is required. As early as June, the “green harvest” lightens the burden on the vine: the excess bunches are ruthlessly cut off to leave only five to six bunches per vine. The wine growers have a motto that expresses this voluntary limitation of the yield : “One vine, one bottle”. Chaptalization is banned as well as “any enrichment or concentration operation, even within the limits of the legal prescriptions in force”. Machine harvesting is forbidden : the grapes are picked by hand to obtain a clean and carefully selected harvest.
Wine growers’ wines
However severe the appellation requirements may be, they will not be sufficient if the vigneron does not take the greatest care of his production. It is a long time since technology entered the cellars, allowing a better control of the work and new progress in quality. Maturation is essential in Bandol, especially for red wines. The oak barrel, traditionally used in the AOC, requires great rigour, but is perfectly suited to the tannic structure of Mourvèdre. Concerning maturation, the wine grower’s know-how consists in bringing the wine to a state of balance through a process of slow, natural stabilization. At each stage of the process, wines are rigorously selected and tasted. They are accepted only if they meet the requirements of their status. A pre-tasting blind test is carried out in June of the first year to allow the wine growers to appreciate the evolution of the vintage. It is a “mock exam” each wine grower will learn a lesson from.
By running their estates with the utmost rigour, the Bandol wine producers have taken the Bandol appellation to the top of the French AOC classification and gained their peers’ respect. The B for Bandol that can be seen branded on old barrels ranks with other great Bs.
A decree grants them the benefit of the controlled designation of origin (AOC)
A decree dating from November 11th, 1941, created the controlled designation of origin “Wine of Bandol” or “Bandol” for some wines harvested on the territories of the towns of Bandol, Sanary, La Cadière d’Azur, Le Castellet, in the Var department. The same decree also planned ahead that this designation would probably be extended to a few specific places in the towns of Ollioules, Evenos, Saint-Cyr-sur-Mer and Beausset. At the same time, it thus imposes on these ennobled wines rather strict production conditions.
Bandol, at least for tourists, usually calls up the sight of this beautiful place with its small colorful harbor bathed in sunlight rather than the idea of vineyards.The truth is that in former times, the harbor of Bandol gave its name to the wines coming from nearby wine-producing towns to board, just like Bordeaux gave its name to the wines of Gironde which were exported there.
The wines of Bandol have a history. The old cellar where barrels filled to the brim were stocked before being loaded on sailboats can still be found near the harbor. You can see, at the wine growers’, diplomas dating back from 1868 awarding prizes to the wines harvested in the towns near Bandol and designated by the name used for a long time “Wines of Bandol”. The annals of the town of Beausset, by Louis Sifroy Bonifay, recount that in 1868, Louis XV and the royal family only drank wine from the Rouve district in this town and indicate that this wine, as well as those from the hills of Castellet, of Cadière-d’Azur and of Saint-Cyr, were known by the name of “Wines of Bandol”. Other ancient authors mention by this name the wines from Ollioules, Saint-Anne-d’Evenos and Saint-Nazaire (former name of Sanary).
Thus, Bandol wines can account for the titles they have been awarded in the past, and prove that the designation they have won is confirmed by the ancient customs, loyal and constant. This fundamental point always is a prerequisite for the National Committee of controlled designation of origins.
It would be false to believe that all the wines harvested in the towns mentionned in the decree will bear the controlled designation of origin “Bandol”. Instead, it implies that the proportion of accepted wines will be quite small.
First of all, in each town, a commission of experts will mark the boundaries of what is called “the production area”. They will take into acount the soil, sun exposure, topography and old customs. High yield vineyards in the plains will continue to deliver ordinary wines. It is mostly in the uneven hills that the wines will have a greater quality, around the ravine of the Grand Vallat, to the West up to the ravine of the Salle and to the East up to the ravine of the Salle. There, the slopes are so steep that the vineyards are set up on terraces upkept at great expanse by their owners.
But within the boundaries of the production areas, the wines of Bandol will have to be the exclusive product of the grape varieties listed in the decree.
For white wines, Ugni blanc, Clairette and Sauvignon are the main types of vine, and Colombeau, Frontignan, Malvoisie and Doucillon are the minor grape varieties and must not exceed 40% of the composition of the wine.
For old red or rosé wines, Mourvèdre, Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan are the main grape varieties while the minor types of vine are Pécoui-Touar, Tibouren, Syrah, Pirrot. As for white wines, the minor grape varieties must not exceed 40% of the composition of the wine.
Among the types of vine intended to make red wine, Mourvèdre formerly played a great role. It contributed to give the wines of Bandol the conservation elements that would allow them to age for a long time while obtaining all their qualities, and to tolerate sailboat trip to “the islands”. For this reason, and for a time period of 5 years, all the wine growers asking for the controlled designation of origin will have to have in their vineyards and in their wine at least 10% of Mourvèdre.
Even though the decree has not enacted any obligation of this kind for Ugni Blanc and Clairette regarding white wines, we strongly advise wine growers to use these two grape varieties from Provence in priority, while Sauvignon, in spite of its nobility, must be used only in small proportions so as not to communicate too strongly its special taste that the southern sunshine heightens.
As far as rosé wines are concerned, it seems that Grenache and Cinsault should dominate to combine smoothness and a fruity taste to a nice proportion of alcohol, while keeping its lightness.
When the wine growers succeed in respecting for their vineyards the conditions of production area and of grape variety, they will also have to cut their vines short and verify that their production does not exceed 40 hl per hectare, that the red and rosé wines be at least a 10.5 % proof, and the white wines be at least 11% proof. Otherwise, they would not be able to claim the controlled designation of origin “Bandol”.
The wine making process, complying with local and old customs, shall not include any addition, and the grape pressings cannot be concentrated in any way. Only the southern sunshine must elaborate their qualities in this magnificent laboratory that is a vintage vineyard.
Thanks to this regulation, we should expect wines of Bandol not to be present on the market in big quantities. In 1940, of the 84,731 hectolitres of wine harvested in the vineyards of Cadière-d’Azur, Castelet, Bandol and Sanary-sur-mer, a little more than a thousand hectolitres only asked for the controlled designation of origin. It must also be taken into account that some of the landowners who had forgotten in the past to ask for this controlled designation of origin, even though harvesting wines of a high quality, will ask today for the AOC “Wine of Bandol” because it is controlled and confers them valuable assets. But how many among them will see their right to this AOC taken back because they have in their vineyards Aramon or Noirs de la Calmette types of vine ? Others will modify their grape varieties in some well-located vineyards, and will claim in a few years the AOC that they would be denied today. All in all, this will result in a certain increase in quantities, but still without reaching an important ratio of the global harvest of the interested towns.
Control is organized by the collaboration of the National Committee of controlled designations of origin, of the syndicate for the defense of Bandol wines, with the help of indirect contributions and fraud control.
Quality will thus be progressively improved by a methodical orientation of the culture and wine making processes. Wine growers, above all, will try to develop wines which possess the characteristics that, in the past, have given this Provence region its reputation.
White wines of Bandol are alcoholized. In 1940, they sometimes were 14% proof. They are dry and flavorful. They age well without maderizing.
They are very well suited to be served with fish, while red wines of Bandol, often full-bodied, are always a good choice when paired with a stew or roast.
The small Bandol wines production makes them inadequate for exportation, allowing for exceptions. Besides, they are not willing to compete with the wines of Corton or Montrachet. Their ambition must be to always appear side by side with the wines of Cassis, and maybe some other wines from Provence someday destined to be considered among the best on the tables of the good hotels in this very region.
Local wines are a part of what make our beautiful French regions so special. It is to be hoped that, in the days of peace, when tourists come to Provence, they can enjoy locally the generous wines of Bandol. In their memories, these wines will then be associated to the brightfully colored fishing boats that sway peacefully on the small, blue-watered harbor.
RED, ROSE, WHITE three colors
The Bandol terroir and savoir-faire express themselves in three colours : red, rosé and white, that is, three styles of wine. Each wine bears the signature of the wine grower who produced it and reflects his own choice of winemaking techniques. Thanks to a great variety in geographical and geological location of the plots and their sun exposure, each wine possesses a rich palette of hues and characteristics.
Excerpt from Gault et Millau June/July 2009 – Thomas Bravo Maza
“Bandol, three colors at the heights of Provence. Between Marseilles and Toulon, the vineyard of Bandol is not restricted to the success of rosé wines from Provence. The best wine growers have managed to tame the fieriness of the Mourvèdre grape variety, which gives the red wines all their spirit. This AOC also produces splendid white wines, still little-known.”
RED the reference
Bandol is definitely red. It is mainly made from Mourvèdre, the “King Grape” of the appellation. Mourvèdre is the chief grape variety in the blend (50% to 95%). It is harmoniously combined with Grenache and Cinsault, the former bringing generosity to the wine, the latter giving it refinement. Powerful, with natural distinction and great character, Bandol red wines, however diverse they may be, all have in common the specific character of Mourvèdre. Bandol red is the spearhead of the AOC. It expresses its true nature in gorgeous aromas of Havana, leathe and undergrowth that blossom on a mineral background, and shows even more complex notes with the subtlety of each vintage.
In its youth, it reveals aromas of liquorice, black fruits, violet, empyreumatic notes… Then, as it ages, it develops the aromas and flavors of red fruits, jam, Morello cherry, spices, humus, undergrowth, leather, truffle… After a minimum of 18 months’ ageing in wood, the tannic character of Mourvèdre will endow it with a complex, ample and elegant structure. Although it is the perfect type of wine for cellaring, one can also enjoy it in all the strength and generosity of youth: that is the paradoxical nature of Bandol red wine. It delivers some part of its enormous potential at every stage of its evolution. To those who can bide their time, a 10, 20 or 25-year-old Bandol will bring all kinds of delight.
Excerpt from Etoile – May/june 2008 – Michel Creignou
“Well-equipped with powerful tannins, the red wines of Bandol assert the soul of Mourvèdre, expressing minerality and exposing a sensual fruitiness by finishing up by strong flavors.”
ROSE WINES, gastronomy and conviviality
Bandol rosés are enchanting. Their roundness and generosity make them different from other rosé wines. Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault combine to give, by direct pressing, a well-built, refined, pale-coloured wine with delicate salmon hues. With all the subtle shades that enhance their color, they voluptuously express the specificity of their terroir.
They are to be drunk in their youth and their great freshness seduces; however, the presence of Mourvèdre brings out their typicity and encourages laying them down, as is the rule for red wines. Long-lived rosés acquire exceptional temperament and flavours. They are served at the most renowned tables. Such wines arouse enthusiasm. Their complexity allows a great variety in food pairings.
Excerpt from Cuisine et Vins de France – June/August 2009 – Karine Valentin “Good terroirs never lie, rosé wines have at Bandol this exceptional soul that makes them unique. Moreover, they are not “rosé”, they are “Bandol colored”. The only rosé wines in the world that can be drunk young or aged…”
WHITE, Seductive whites
To penetrate the secret of Bandol, one must also taste its white wines. The wine growers take delight in surprising wine lovers with this type of wine, produced in very low quantities. Clairette, Bourboulenc and Ugni Blanc are the base of the varietal mix.
Made from grapes often growing on hillsides facing north, invigorated by the sea breeze that heightens their freshness, Bandol whites have a clean attack followed by a complex harmony of aromas (white flowers, citrus fruits, exotic fruits or fruits from the orchard…).
Excerpt from Gault et Millau – June/July 2009 – Thomas Bravo Maza
“Among red wines, Mourvèdre is a master of the kind. More than a grape variety, Mourvèdre is a philosophy in Bandol. This flavorful red wine has a rare virtue in our impatient world : waiting. For the wine grower, it is very diva-like, with its searing intensity and its whims.”
Refusing to do it the easy way
Mourvèdre is an upright bush vine that bears its stems with majesty. In time it forms a short stumpy trunk that will stand up to the mistral wind with vigour if carefully tended by the vine grower. Preference is given to “gobelet” pruning. This little-productive vine bears triangular bunches with small, tight, dark grapes. In other wine regions, it is used very sparingly because of the strength of its character. Nowhere else is Mourvèdre added in such proportions to the varietal mix. Bandol is the only appellation wine in which Mourvèdre is the dominant grape variety: it represents at least 50% of the blend in red wines. As fans of Mourvèdre, the Bandol wine growers take up the challenge and often go beyond this limit, adding up to 80 or even 95% of it to the mix. Whereas the authorised yield is 40 hectolitres per hectare, the wine growers do their best to control the productivity of Mourvèdre and keep it within lower yields (25 to 30 hl), so as to express its essence.
Part of the secret
Mourvèdre is a late season grape variety that keeps the wine grower waiting until it reaches its full potential and reveals its virtuosity. All the excellence of the Bandol terroir (soil, subsoil, optimal sun exposure, sea influence and prevailing winds) is necessary to obtain beautiful, slow and full maturity. Rich in tannins, it contributes to the extraordinary ageing ability of Bandol red wines and gives them an original and complex typicity, their distinctive feature. Mourvèdre also gives rosé wines power and remarkable ageing ability. This superb grape variety has found its place of choosing in Bandol.
Welcome to Le Domaine de L’Olivette
KNOW-HOW HANDED DOWN FROM GENERATION TO GENERATION
For two centuries now, the vineyard has been under the loving protection of one family…
Over the years, they have been able to preserve all the local and typical characteristics of this wine.
The conditions for qualifying for the AOC Bandol (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), are here not only complied with, but in fact, even surpassed.
Yield is deliberately kept low : 37 hl per hectare, enabling the wine to fully blossom and keep all its fragrance, body and flavour.
At the same time, the family has not neglected the technical aspect, keeping up-to-date with technology, and aiming at new heights in expressing all the characteristics of this exceptional soil.
Temperature-controlled facilities complement the work of the oak barrels : computerisation of production data works alongside human know-how and skills, all under the watchful eye of the estate’s oenological laboratory.
Vintage after vintage, generation after generation, the character of the ” Domaine de l’Olivette ” wines bursts into blossom.
Sources: http://www.domaine-olivette.com/en/ ; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Provence_wine ; http://www.vinsdebandol.com/en/