La Bastide Blanche, biodynamic Bandol that’s truly worth exploring

Like many other properties in Bandol, there's not much about La Bastide Blanche in English on the web.

That's a real shame given the quality of the wines and the biodynamic/organic approach that Stephane Bourret takes in making superb reds and some rose wines.

I visited with a friend, last month and Stephane, like so many Bandol winemakers, took a couple of hours out of his day to show us around, taste every barrel with us, show us his vineyards and discuss his farming practices.

Whilst my French is not yet good enough to interview/translate in his native language, we did our best to communicate.

First up, here's a bit of background on the property, to give you a little perspective:

La Bastide Blanche has around 28 hectares of vines, making some 55,000 bottles of red and with some very low yields (around 25hL/ha for the best wine, 'Estagnol') and a very high proportion of Mourvèdre across the range of wines. I won't talk about the rose in this post as we only tasted it from barrel, and whilst what we tasted was very nice, I find it hard to judge very young Rose from Bandol, given how it changes after a couple of years in bottle.

Here's a little more from the website of KLwines: "In the early ‘70s Michel and Louis Bronzo acquired the property of the Bastide Blanche, with an eye to produce from appellation Bandol wines the equal of more famous appellations like Chateauneuf. Their painstaking efforts were rewarded in 1993 when vintage conditions created the benchmark year to put Bandol in general and Bastide-Blanche, in particular, on the map of top producers in France. Common each year to their success are their very low yields, never more than 34 or 35 Hl/Ha, and simply impeccable cellar conditions and attention. Situated in St. Anne de Castellet, a terroir of Bandol rich in limestone. This, and the high proportion of Mourvedre gives this domaine some of the most ripe and expressive of Bandol."

Photographs of the vines, the vineyard and the property, tanks and barrel cellar are below.

The wines from barrel we tasted (various parcels from 2015 and 2016) were of course rather tannic, as one would expect from very young Mourvèdre. But the rich, almost creamy silkiness of the wines comes through even from barrel. With a little bottle ageing and some time in the decanter (several hours at least) the 2011 (a super year in the region) and the 2012 can be drunk now. I'd suggest starting with the 2004 and 2006 to get a sense of how the wine ages. I suspect given the high proportions of Mourvèdre it will age up to 30 years in some cases, although I've not yet seen or tried older vintages.

Stephane Bourret, pictured below, explained to us out in the vineyard that although he doesn't really like the idea of certification and it's prescriptive elements, he farms the vineyard biodynamically these days, and is certified organic.

The clay/limestone soil, with lot of pebbles and bigger rocks, is perhaps typical for that part of Bandol and really comes over in the wine. The minerality is there, but so much more also. The word 'expressiveness' is often used to describe Bandol, and it's hard to know what that means in this context until you taste across the wines and get a feel for the soil and the dark, rich, structured, slightly austere, fruit notes and how they age.

People who don't know Bandol often put it in the category of big, 'Parkerised' wines like CNP. But that's to misunderstand Bandol. La Bastide Blanche is a great example of a single grape dominating, yet balanced with one other, which you don't see in CNP. That gives Mourvèdre a chance to shine in a way it can't further north, where not enough of it will ripen fast enough to be given the opportunity. As a result, you get a real sense of the character of Mourvèdre, and it's much more complex than you might think, used properly.

I've discovered, having visited a dozen or so properties, and having tasted perhaps half of the wines from AOC's 55-60 producers, that soil variation and therefore different styles, little known about outside this small region, mean wines such as Ray Jane and Vivonne are completely different from bigger, richer but still austere wines like Bastide Blanche.

It's a wine I strongly recommend you try, and comes in a lot cheaper than better known Bandol wines such as Pibarnon, Pradeaux or Tempier. Those are all also superb in the best years (Tempier doesn't seem to have mediocre years) and have their own unique styles.

For someone who wants to understand the stunning value and complexity offered by the better Bandol wines, (some of the cheaper ones can be distinctly average), there's no better place to start than La Bastide Blanche.

Readers wanting to sample them, should check out the AOC shop website here, where the friendly and super knowledgeable English speaking staff (ask for Jordan) will be happy to ship you some bottles.

Photos below, and some more technical information can be found here.

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Stephane Bourret, winemaker and manager, is on the right here.

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