The Ginger Man

Archives: April 2016

Birth of a Grand Cru

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Cru is “a vineyard or group of vineyards, especially one of recognized quality”.  It is a French wine term which is traditionally translated as “growth”, as it was originally the past participle of the verb “croitre” (to grow). As a wine term it is closely connected to terroir in the sense of an “extent of terrain having a certain physical homogeneity . . .considered from the point of view of the nature of the soil as communicating a particular character to its produce, notably to wine”.  It may thus be defined as: “Terroir as a place of production” or an “Ensemble of terrains considered from the point of view of what grows there, from a particular cultivation.” More specifically, cru is often used to indicate a specifically named and legally defined vineyard or ensemble of vineyards and the vines “which grow on [such] a reputed terroir; by extension of good quality.”  The term is also used to refer to the wine produced from such vines. The term cru is often used within classifications of French wine. By implication, a wine that displays (or is allowed to display) the name of its cru on its wine label is supposed to exhibit the typical characteristics of this cru. The terms Premier Cru, Grand Cru, etc., are generally translated into English as First Growth, Great Growth, etc.; they designate levels of presumed quality that are variously defined in different wine regions.

Grand cru (French for great growth) is a regional wine classification that designates a vineyard known for its favorable reputation in producing wine. Although often used to describe grapes, wine or cognac, the term is not technically a classification of wine quality per se, but is intended to indicate the potential of the vineyard or terroir. It is the highest level of classification of AOC wines from Burgundy or Alsace. The same term is applied to Châteaux in Saint-Émilion, although in that region it has a different meaning and does not represent the top tier of classification. In Burgundy the level immediately below grand cru is known as premier cru, sometimes written as 1er cru.

Bandol AOC

The Bandol wine region of France, located near the coast east of Marseille and Cassis, is one of Provence’s most internationally recognized wine regions. Based around the fishing village of Bandol, west of Toulon, the Bandol AOC covers the production of 8 communes with silicon & limestone soils. Those soils and the warm, coastal climate are ideally suited for the late ripening Mourvèdre grape which is the major varietal of the region. For both the red and rosé wines, Mourvèdre must account for at least 50% of the blend, though most producers will use significantly more, with Grenache & Cinsaut usually filling out the rest of the wine’s composition.

Bandol has had limited exposure in the United States, until now.

THE TERROIR

From the Massif de la Sante-Baume down to the shore of the Mediterranean, the vine is an integral part of the landscape and its presence is 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 “restanqes” on approx 1,500 hectares (over 3,700 acres). 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 innumerable low dry-stone walls piece by piece, creating the famous Bandol “restanques”. The vine growers became builders in order to turn the steep slopes of the hillsides into patches of cultivable land, following the contour lines of the terrain. These grounds are particularly favorable for vine growing, and the very nature of the restanques allow for natural regulation of water resources. 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 and very pebbly, with sandy marls and sandstones in places. They are as diverse as could be expected in such an uneven landscape. The action of natural erosion on the bedrocks of the upper cretaceous age (calcareous sandstones and sandy marls) resulted in sandstone soils enriched in 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 Bandol 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 (600mm/yr on average); the rainfall amount is 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, Ollioules and Sanary.

BANDOL and MOURVEDRE

United for better

Just say “Mourvèdre” to a fine wine drinker and he or she will answer “Bandol”. Mourvèdre is a late-ripening, difficult and demanding grape variety. In Bandol, the character of the geology and microclimate constitute an ecological niche in which the Mourvèdre grape’s strong personality can blossom. Being enthusiastic fans of Mourvèdre, the Bandol wine growers have made Bandol its best-suited terroir. Today, their expertise in growing this uncommon grape variety is acknowledged all over the world.

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 of France with vigor if carefully tended by the vine grower. Bandol vine growers give preference to “gobelet” pruning in order to reduce the amount of foliage and help the low-producing vine to bear triangular bunches with small, tight, dark grapes.

In other wine regions, Mourvèdre 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. Inspired by the challenge of working with Mourvèdre, Bandol wine growers often go beyond this limit, adding up to 80% or even 95% of it to the mix. Where the authorized 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. Every essence of the Bandol terroir (soil, subsoil, optimal sun exposure, sea influence and prevailing winds) collaborates to obtain beautiful, slow and full maturity. Rich in tannins, Mourvèdre contributes to the extraordinary aging ability of Bandol red wines and gives them an original and complex typicity, or their distinctive feature. Mourvèdre also gives rosé wines power and remarkable aging ability. This superb grape variety has found its home in Bandol.

RED, WHITE and ROSE

Three Colors, Three Great Styles

The Bandol terroir and savoir-faire are expressed in three colors: red, rosé and white, three very different 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 the geographical diversity and the geological conditions of the vineyards in Bandol—and their exposure to the sun, each wine possesses a rich palette of hues and characteristics.

Red: The Reference

Bandol is definitively red. The red wines of Bandol are primarily made from Mourvèdre, the “King Grape” of the appellation. Mourvèdre is the chief grape varietal in the blend (with a range of 50% – 95% used by different winemakers). It is harmoniously combined with Grenache and Cinsault, the former bringing generosity to the wine, the latter giving it finesse. Powerful, with natural distinction and great character, Bandol red wines, however diverse they may be, all have the specific character of Mourvèdre in common. Bandol red is the spearhead of the appellation.

It expresses its true nature in aromas of Havana, leather, and undergrowth that blossom against a mineral background, and shows even more complex notes with the subtlety of each vintage. In its youth, it reveals aromas of licorice, black fruits and violet notes. As it ages, it uncovers flavors of red fruits, jam, Morello cherry, spices, humus, undergrowth, leather, and truffle. After a minimum 18 months’ aging 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 its 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 be delightfully enjoyable.

Rosé: 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-colored wine with delicate salmon hues. With all the subtle shades that enhance their color, Bandol rosés whole-heartedly express the specific characteristics of their terroir. They are to be enjoyed in their youth when their great freshness is most captivating; 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 flavors. They are served at the most renowned tables; their complexity allows a great variety in food pairings.

Seductive Whites

To unveil the secret of Bandol, one must also taste its white wines. The wine growers take delight in surprising wine lovers with this style of wine, produced in very low quantities. Clairette, Bourboulenc and Ugni Blanc are the base of the varietal mix. Often made from grapes growing on hillsides facing north, which are invigorated by the sea breeze that heightens their freshness, Bandol whites have a clean attack followed by a complex harmony of aromas such as white flowers, citrus, exotic fruits or fruits from the orchard.

THE VIGNERON’S SAVOIR-FAIRE

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 appellation is indeed their common heritage.

A Constant Rigor

Together with the scrupulous observance of the appellation regulations, the wine growers maintain 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 at least 5,000 vines per hectare. Spur pruning, i.e. leaving two-bud spurs on the trunk, is required. As early as June, the “green harvest” lightens the burden on the vines: 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, or adding sugar to unfermented grapes to increase the wine’s alcohol content, 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.

Vigneron’s Wines

However severe the appellation requirements may be, they will not be sufficient if the vigneron, or the wine grower, does not take the greatest care of his production. Technology has entered the cellars, allowing 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 appellation, requires great rigor, but is perfectly suited to the tannic structure of Mourvèdre. Concerning maturation, the vigneron’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 carefully selected and tasted. They are accepted only if they meet the requirements of their status. A blind tasting test is carried out in June of the first year to allow the wine growers to examine the evolution of the vintage. It is a“mock exam” from which each wine grower learns critical lessons of their trade.

By running their estates with the utmost attention, 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 the other great B’s of French wines.

THE ESTATES

Domaine Tempier

Of all of the domaines we represent, no other serves more as our cornerstone, stands more in the defense of terroir, and is more intricately interwoven with our own history, than that of the iconic Peyraud family of Domaine Tempier. The pages that Kermit has written about them alone rival those of his dear friend, Richard Olney, who wrote the definitive history of the domaine and was the first to introduce Kermit to the family in 1976. Their story might be considered mythic if it were not true.

When Lucie “Lulu” Tempier married Lucien Peyraud in 1936, her father gave them Domaine Tempier, an active farm that had been in the family since 1834, near Le Plan du Castellet, just outside the Mediterranean seaport village of Bandol. Tasting a pre-phylloxera bottle of Domaine Tempier Bandol (a wedding gift from his father-in-law) inspired Lucien to research the terroir of Bandol extensively.  Up until that point, old vineyards planted with Mourvèdre had been systematically replanted to higher-yielding varietals. However, more research not only showed its historical roots to the area, but the grape proved to be more resistant to oxidation, producing wines with great aging potential. By 1941, with the assistance of neighboring vignerons, Lucien worked with the I.N.A.O. (Institut National des Appellations d’Origines) to establish Bandol as its own A.O.C. Needless to say, large-scale replanting of Mourvèdre ensued, and Bandol now requires a fifty percent minimum in all reds. Lucien will forever be celebrated as the Godfather of Bandol, but also as the man who revived Mourvèdre to its former glory. Raising deep and structured wines of such refinement and longevity has made Domaine Tempier truly a grand cru de Provence.

Lulu and Lucien raised seven children, and nourishing family, friends, and wine lovers at table is a regularly celebrated tradition at the domaine. Much of that is attributed to Lulu, the beautiful, Marseillaise materfamilias who has carried on the great Tempier family ritual of serving guests fresh, cool rosé, hearty, soulful reds, and copious amounts of delicious homemade Provençal cuisine. Her traditional hearth cooking has attracted attention throughout France, even bringing Alice Waters over from California to learn in Lulu’s kitchen. When Lucien retired, sons François and Jean-Marie shared management of the domaine with François in the vineyards and Jean-Marie in the cellars. The two made a formidable team. Though Lucien passed away in 1996, and his sons have now since retired, the torch has been passed to the young, energetic, and talented Daniel Ravier, who has just the right savoir faire to carry on the great tradition and style of the domaine.

Beyond our affection and the enduring bonds of our friendship, objectively the celebrity of Domaine Tempier also lies deep in the soils of Bandol. Variations of clay and limestone soils between the vineyards produce wines that are undeniably world class. Whether it is the cult following they have established through their refreshing, age-worthy rosé (once praised by Robert Parker as the greatest rosé in the world), their Bandol Blanc, or the distinctive cuvées of Bandol rouge, the wines of Domaine Tempier stand as the proud benchmark when talking about Provençal wines. Through their passion, pioneering, and advocacy for Bandol, the Peyrauds have become legendary. We are fortunate to have their wines serve as the flagship of our portfolio, and even more grateful to have the Peyrauds and their extended family as cherished friends. If any wine can be said to have soul, it’s Tempier.

Domaine Gros Nore

Alain Pascal could be a character pulled right out of a Marcel Pagnol novel—a kind of Provençal Hercules. Like his father, Honoré, for whom the domaine is named, Alain is a strong, husky man with hands the size of bear claws. That he is a former boxer and an avid hunter should be no surprise, yet his physique matches both his spirit and his wine—this gentle giant and his cuvées are all heart. Of the many stories recorded in Kermit’s Inspiring Thirst, those of Alain are among the most entertaining. For years he sold his prized fruit from Bandol to Domaine Ott and Château de Pibarnon. Though he and his father would bottle their own wine for family consumption, they never labeled it under their own domaine name. Kermit has called those early family wines, “Magnificent Bandols made in the simplest manner, très franc de goût, with a whole lotta soul.” In 1997 after his father’s death, Alain officially started Domaine du Gros ‘Noré, a real shift that has brought him more than just casual notice. Alain is already a leading contender in Bandol, the appellation regarded as the grand cru of Provence.

He farms sixteen hectares of vineyards with the help of his brother, Guy, on the rolling hillsides around La Cadière d’Azur. The vineyards are composed of both clay and limestone, imparting a pronounced structure of earthy, splintered rock. This microclimate near the Mediterranean brings warm weather and full sun, tempered by the persistent Mistral. Alain leaves his grapes to mature fully on the vine, lending great intensity to the fruit. Where appellation law demands that each blend includes at least 50 percent Mourvèdre, Alain uses 80 percent—a choice that gives more power and concentration to the final assemblage.   Do not be fooled by the strength and boldness of the Gros ‘Noré Bandol, though; underneath a big exterior is a wine of character, depth, complexity, soul, and finesse.

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Les Vignobles Gueissard

Les Vignobles Gueissard was born of a passion for the art of winemaking and a determination to produce only the best wines from Côtes de Provence and Bandol. Working together, experts of vine and soil team up with the best winemakers in the Gueissard cellar to nurture the delicate palette and fragrances of Provence in all of our wines. Bottling, the final stage in the winemaking process, is truly an exciting experience for us. It sees all of our expertise brought together, from the skills of our field experts to the talent of our production team. The resulting product is an exceptional vintage wine from Provence. Now we want to share our art and passion with the world.

Providing more than simple pleasure, Gueissard wines evoke true emotion. This is because they are based on a philosophy rooted in traditional know-how combined with modern techniques. We select the best winegrowing regions and then strive for excellence in processing the wine. From the start, we decided to preserve the vines by limiting production, thereby ensuring the quality of our wine for years to come. Grapes are selectively picked by hand during the harvest. These values are at the center of the Gueissard vineyards, giving us the confidence to know we are achieving something truly special: some of Provence’s greatest wines.

Creating wines from both the Bandol and Côtes de Provence, Domaine Gueissard is an extraordinary find for us.  Having previously served as winemaker at famous Domaine Tempier in Bandol, Clément Minne is creating some spectacular wines at Gueissard. He limits production (35-40 hectolitres per hectare), harvests manually and observes organic production methods. 

           LES VINS DE BANDOL SONT LA!