"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.
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)
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.