WINE OF THE MONTH: 2006 Domaine Tempier, Bandol Rosé ($30)

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(Photo credit: Benjamin Saltzman)

Producing extremely small yields, using entirely organic practices, and boasting a work force of eight, Domaine Tempier is easily the greatest producer of wine in the Bandol region and, for that matter, most of southern France. The Domaine is located at Le Plan du Castellet and its vineyards stretch over three different communities — Le Castellet, Le Beausset and La Cadière. The plots of land are far apart and thus require extra work, but the soil of these different areas yields distinctive cuvées — Spéciale, Migoua, Tourtine and Cabassaou. These cuvées are then blended together for their blanc and rosé. Within the region of Bandol, the primary grape is Mourvèdre, which must account for up at least 50% of these blends.

The Bandol region lies between Marseilles and Toulon on the hillside of a natural amphitheater and runs down to the shore of the Mediterranean sea. Historians believe the first vineyard existed 500 years B.C., when the Phoceans landed there. Domaine Tempier lies in the heart of the vineyard boundaries. It existed during the reign of King Louis XV, and the “bastide” was built on the family’s property in 1834. The Domain has remained a family owned estate since 1834. In 1880, after the phylloxera epidemic had ruined the French wine trade, Léonie Tempier began the renewal by having her vineyard completely replanted on root-stocks, and a cellar built with wooden and cement vats. However, the 1929 crash caused the wine business to plunge. As a result, the vines were partly replaced by peach and apple trees. In 1936, Lucie Tempier, whose father was a leather importer in Marseilles, married Lucien Peyraud whose father dealt in silk and ribbons and grandfather was a gunsmith in Saint-Etienne close to Lyon. Lucien Peyraud wanted to be a wine-grower. He studied farming in Aix and had several work experiences in the region before he and Lucie settled at Domaine Tempier in 1940, this was the beginning of a grand epic for Bandol wine.

On October 27, 1943, Lucien Peyraud bottled his first wine, a rosé. In 1945, he became President of the Association to Promote the Bandol Label of Origin and subsequently became known as the father of Bandol wine.

But, as Alder of Vinography.com, has noted, “it’s almost futile to try and do justice to Domaine Tempier as a vintner from any perspective — historical, cultural, oenological. Certainly it’s hard to do a better job than Kermit Lynch, the importer who is responsible for bringing their wines to the US and who wrote about them in his wonderful book Adventures on the Wine Route.” Lynch writes:

Domaine Tempier is a place in Provence, a home with its winery and vineyards, its olive trees and cypresses. It is home to a large joyful Provencal family. It is a wine. And while it must be inadvertent, one of those fortuitous miracles that embellish existence (there is no recipe for it dispensed at wine school), there is a certain vital spirit that one imbibes with each gorgeous swallow of Domaine Tempier’s wine.

The Domaine is known best for its traditional and detail-oriented winemaking techniques. The Mourvèdre is grown by hand in incredibly small yields and on terraced stone hillsides that are “so steep and narrow that the family’s tractors need rollbars to avoid certain death should they topple down the hill.” They use no herbicides and no irrigation. They also insist on weeding and fertilizing by hand, using the remains of the must from the previous year’s vintage. Finally, the grapes are all destemmed since Mourvèdre stems remain green even when ripe and can contribute undesirable flavors to the wine. Moreover, the Domaine refuses to use foreign yeasts in the fermentation of the wine. And, “in a remarkable showing of patience and vinicultural tradition, the wines are allowed to finish their fermentation naturally no matter how long it takes.” (The 1971 vintage took four years!) All of the patience and attentiveness is what makes this wine so damn good!

Most of the information I have provided comes directly from Domaine Tempier’s website. For more information on the Domaine, click here.

For the record, we enjoyed this gorgeous wine with the gorgeous women in our lives while watching a free Shakespeare in the Park performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream put on by the Independent Shakespeare Company.

- AMS/BAS