“There’s no way to translate wine making in French” says Daniel Ravier, director of Domaine Tempier in Bandol, France.
“Wine making doesn’t mean anything, 95% of the job is done in the vines, if you want to have good wine, you must have good vines”, he answers.
A truism perhaps, but that belies the sheer focus on vines and vineyard health at Tempier.
It’s hard to overstate what my recent visit to Tempier was like, given the hospitality, and enormous volume of information I received from Daniel when I visited Tempier in March this year. I wish I had recorded much more than the 18 minutes on this interview.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit a fair few wineries since I became obsessed with wine, particularly French wine, about six years ago.
I’ve been lucky enough to visit such hallowed places as Latour, Petrus, Cheval Blanc, Cos D’Estournel, Haut Brion and many many others in Bordeaux since then. I’ve also had the fortune to tour some of the greatest names in Piedmont, Languedoc and elsewhere.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have tasted the 2012 parcels at Petrus from the tanks, and again at Le Pin. But never have I had a tour quite like visiting Tempier. Closest would be Sacha Lichine’s D’Esclans a couple of days later, (and so different) but more on that in another post.
In March, at Tempier, we tasted out of every barrel, discussed every grape in fine detail, talked about the history of Bandol, climate change, yeasts, harvest, organics, biodynamics and grapes.
They focus mainly on Mourvedre, but also grow and use Cinsault, Carignan, Grenache, and Clairette, Ugni blanc, Bourboulenc and Marsanne.
The four main reds are quite different.
Their Cuvée Classique blend combines grapes from the estate’s different terrors. In their own words, “This fruity, well balanced wine can be enjoyed after 3 or 4 years, but develops extremely pleasant tertiary aromas (leather, animal and undergrowth) with further ageing. The wine’s balance gives it an ageing potential of 15 years or more.”
The others were more interesting to me given the higher Mourvedre content.
As the Wine Society points out on their website:
“La Migoua’s clay soils range from red and ochre to almost blue in places. It generally contains only the minimum mourvèdre levels, making way for a healthy dollop of cinsault as well as some grenache, and produces wines that have wild, animal notes.
La Tourtine comes from well-exposed, 40-year-old vines, and contains a much higher proportion of mourvèdre – usually around 80% – creating concentrated, spicy wines with excellent ageing potential.
Cabassaou is even more mourvèdre-heavy, at around 95% of the blend. It is a rare cuvée thanks to its low yields and ideal shelter from the Mistral winds, meaning the grapes reach maximum ripeness. Robust, powerful and concentrated, this wine can age for decades.”
Having tasted some lovely recent rose and red vintages across the board, we finished with half a bottle of the 1980 Tempier, pictured below. I was too busy asking questions to take any real tasting notes.
In total, nearly three hours of conversation and tasting. A unique experience.
And I can safely say I’ve never had a wine like the 1980 Tempier we tasted (drank).
Yes much of the fruit had gone, but like a 1947 Haut Bailly I once had, and a 1937 Segla, there was more than enough still there to make it a truly unique experience with a wine you would be lucky to find available anywhere.
You can’t imagine a south of France wine outside Bandol, except perhaps Trevallon, lasting that long. I do also have a bottle of 1987 Terrebrune that may still be good, I shall find out shortly.
Tempier have spent 60 years or more focusing on their vines, “being grateful to the terroir by respecting it, and this means being organic”, says Daniel.
Their history in the region is unrivalled. Whilst not much information is available in English about Bandol (at least where I’ve looked) both the famous wine critic Robert Parker in his 1987 book “The Wines of the Rhone Valley and Provence”, and well known wine merchant Kermit Lynch, in his 1988 tome “Adventures on the Wine Route – A Wine Buyers Tour of France” rave about Tempier.
Having visited, I can see why. The famous hospitality they mention seems to live on. In a more modern sense, Tempier is rated top of the tree in Bandol by just about everyone I know in the wine business, who know about Provence.
That said, the future of places such as Tempier is by no means guaranteed, despite their longevity. It gets seriously hot in Provence in summer, and whilst being only a couple of kilometres from the sea helps cool things down, that will only go so far.
Climate change and temperature rises are serious threat to the future of Bandol, as they are elsewhere in France. More on that, here. (Continues below, scroll down for the audio interview with Daniel Ravier)
Full size at: http://sustainablewineblog.com/content/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/huglin.jpg
So in the interview Daniel and I spent some time discussing this and what he and the team at Tempier might do about this.
The answer has to be looking at how nature can help them adapt. More on that in the interview. A big part of this approach will be biodynamic wine making.
Daniel and the team at Tempier moved to biodynamic wine making three years ago, having experimented with herbal inputs and teas for a long time.
They believe it’s their best hope against the challenges of climate change, which Daniel believes has moved the harvest considerably further forward in the last fifteen years.
Enough from me. Listen to the expert. A fascinating interview below. Enjoy. I know I certainly did when taping it. There are lots of pictures below, with some captions.
For more on Tempier in general, their website is likely the best guide, here.
2013 is still too young, but even now, you can tell how different Tempier is. The elegance comes through even though young Mourvedre based wines are often tough drinking until at least 5-7 years old.
Trying this was a genuine treat. Daniel Ravier had me blind taste it, and I picked it out as early ’90s. How wrong I was. Still a wine, and it must have been magnificent in its day
Tempier rose is exceptional. Bandol rose tends to be more structured than most, given the use of the thick skinned Mourvedre grape, but Tempier’s has this elegance and length that most others fail to achieve
A march visit doesn’t show the vines at their best, but on the other hand, you can really see the detail of the dormant vines
Mourvedre is a big, thick-skinned, late ripening grape that is notoriously hard to make great wine with. And the restrained use of oak means there is no place to hide for the winemaker
The stark beauty of late winter in a Bandol vineyard
At Tempier, in their own words: “Mourvedre has a low yield, producing small blue-tinged grapes with juicy flesh and a concentrated flavour which give character to the AOC reds. It is combined with Grenache to give the wine body and fruit, and with Cinsault which provides refinement and balance”
Note the wide vine spacing with uncut grass for the local sheep to graze on. Their droppings help fertilise the vines for later in the year
Daniel Ravier at Tempier has moved from just using steel to fermentation in both steel and concrete. The neutrality of concrete vats is seen by many winemakers to offer enhanced winemaking
Delicious from the tank. Early drinking wines are needed in Bandol given how long you need to wait for the reds to develop
Already excellent, but can age much longer than other Rose wines, given the thick skinned Mourvedre grape
A 50 HL stainless steel fermentation tank. Obviously
Not much new oak in the barrel cellar, a common approach, which helps with the clean flavours of Bandol wines
Huge “foudres” are used for barrel ageing, rather than smaller new oak barrels one sees in Bordeaux. Using these mean you taste the wine, not the barrel, when eventually drinking it
Tasting different parcels direct from the barrel with Daniel Ravier. My palate is not anything like as good as his, but I was sure I could taste the difference in the parcels and blends. They pick the Grenache and Cinsault to blend with Mourvedre earlier, as they can ripen up to a month earlier
Already very tasty, one day this will be a hell of a wine
Did I mention the 1980 was a really special treat? I’ll stop now