Tempiers's wines were already well known in the 19th century and women have played an important role in the ups of both Domaine Tempier and Bandol wines at large. Léonie Tempier, first : she won a gold medal for her wine in 1885, when Phyloxera had already begun its rampage. It was'nt labelled Bandol wine as the Appellation had'nt been formally established then (it would be in 1941) , but Mourvèdre, the flagship grape-variety of Bandol, was already central in Tempier's wines then. The following years brought havoc to the region and many vignerons let down Mourvèdre and replanted high-yield varieties after the destruction of the vineyards by Phyloxera across the wine regions of Provence. Later, in 1936, Lucie Tempier married an aspiring-to-be vigneron, Lucien Peyraud, who was the one who did so much to bring Bandol wines out of trouble:
Having been offered a very old millesime Bandol by his father in law, he was stunned by the uniqueness of this wine and understood that Mourvèdre had to be given back a central role in the region. He himself played an active role in the new Bandol Appellation (created in 1941) and replanted Mourvèdre along with Grenache and Cinsault at Domaine Tempier.
Domaine tempier is located in the middle of the appellation zone, near Plan du Castellet, a few kilometers inland from the coastal village of Bandol. The region has changed a lot with first, the divided highway (in the 70's) and then lots of construction everywhere not only along the coast but also in the charming valleys, the lastest one nearby being a modern highschool being built right now a few hundreds meters from the winery. Yet, the Domaine still sits with its vineyards around and with a great view on La Cadière d'Azur [picture upper left], (another village part of Bandol Appellation) sitting on a hilltop a couple of kilometers away.
What few people know is that until the late 40's, Bandol wines were only shipped by casks, not bottles. These casks were specially designed for shipping (with a 110, 120 liter capacity) and loaded onto boats or trains for their various destinations. It was only in 1945-46 that Domaine Tempier began to bottle its wines. All the while, the vineyard surface of the estate grew, after years of replanting with massal selections of old roots obtained from neighbors like Chateau Pradeaux and Chateau Simone, reaching 15-16 hectares in the 1960's (and 30 hectares today).
The big technological jump here happened in 1979-80 when they installed temperature-control systems to prevent the juice's temperature to go too high. And they acquired the range of stainless-steel vats for the separate fermentations in 1998 [picture upper right]. While the rosé is vinified with (neutral) yeast adding, the reds ferment with their indigenous yeasts, usually for 3 weeks. With the exceptional weather here, the vineyard and grapes are very healthy and the indigenous strains are good at finishing their job. They actually never used chemicals in the estate, except for a little sulphur and copper.
They regulate the yields with the right pruning, trellising, plowing and scraping, de-budding and green harvest. On vineyards with lots of wind for example, they use goblet and wire training to increase foliage surface. Mourvèdre is very capricious and when you allow too many clusters on the vines, the leaves begin to fall and ripening stops. Francois Peyraud says that you make the mistake once and never do it again.
The cask cellar is worth the visit : a big room with about 40 big-capacity foudres [see pic on top], ideal for the long elevage of Bandol reds. Most are 50-hectoliter casks plus a few 25- and 15-hectoliter casks for small cuvées. Some of them (the oldest) were bought from a brewery in Switzerland in 1969-70. The Domaine could thus acquire 23 foudres of the best quality, with a 7 centimeter-thick outer shell...
The fact is, long elevage reds are the thing in Bandol. At Tempier, they just make a vat of rosé (they used to make more), a vat of white (40 hectoliter) and the rest being these beautiful, dark and complex reds, articulated here in several cuvées to express the different terroirs with names like La Tourtine, La Migoua, and Cabassaou. The classic Cuvée is a blend from different cuvées. They look for optimal maturity and blend after malolactic fermentation, on the 2nd year in the casks.
Francois Peyraud walks to a foudre for a sample
__1 Pure Mourvèdre, from a big foudre. Sorry, but my writing is so bad that I can't understand what I wrote for this wine (I am seriously considering using a recorder instead of a notebook...).
__2 Bandol La Migoua 2006. A plot located near Le Beausset. From a sign on the cask, we know that it comes from the 4th fermentation vat (was precocious). Here, the blend is already done, and this is the only foudre (2006 wine) with its blend done already : 50% Mourvèdre, 30% Cinsault and 20% Grenache. Seems more supple than the last one. Malo done.
__3 Bandol Rouge 2005. Blended now. This one was'nt moved for a year now. The wine has notes of fruits, with hints of Muscat and spices. Some wood, but not marqued.
__4 Bandol La Migoua 2005 (specific terroir), from a 25-hectoliter cask [pic with filling glass]. Nose is more closed here. Mourvèdre has cycles. Mouth: some mushrooms. Nose on the empty glass turns to cherry, morello cherry.
__5 Tempier Bandol Rosé 1970. Francois grabbed the bottle in the bottle cellar. I feel honored by such a privilege. The cork is not in the best shape and the bottle has a 6 or 7 centimeters lower-fill level. He uncorks it carefully and pours the wine. Gorgeous color. I love the nose, with its Xeres style. Of course, the wine is very different than what it was 30 years ago, but it's nonetheless a nice oxydative mouth which keeps telling things sip after sip. You don't get such a good surprise with every low-fill bottle, and I think that Mourvèdre is why. 2 or 3 minutes later, the nose opens, with quince notes. He says that 1970 was a very ripe year, but with still lots of acidity in the wines, and the acidity comes up here. I can't but think to the old Bandol Rosés that B. and I tasted last year...
__6 Tempier Bandol, Cuvée Spéciale La Migoua 2002 (bottle also). 50% Mourvèdre here. Spices on the nose. Served at 16-17°C from a bottle opened a few days ago. Refined tannins in spite of the cool serving temperature. He says that in the early years like here (4 years is nothing for Bandols) tertiary aromas are'nt there yet. Deep and fruity, still. 27 Euro at the estate.
__7 Tempier Bandol , Cuvée Spéciale La Tourtine 2002 (bottle). 75% Mourvèdre here. More austere. This cuvée needs more time. Both reds here had a longer fermentation time, about 3 weeks long. 27 Euro.
__8 Tempier Bandol Cuvée Spéciale Cabassaou 1994 (bottle). Not a very high-valued millesime, he says. 15 days maceration/fermentation here. 98% Mourvèdre in this one. 1994 was rainy. Some reduction on the nose. Needs to be carafed. After 3 minutes, this is another story, and it opens itself with mushroom and underwood smells. Speaking of rain in the region, he says that there was'nt any equinox rain in the last 10 years. Mourvèdre needs to reach 13° or more at harvest. The Mourvèdre harvest in 1996, for example, finished october 10th while now it is rather end of september. Beautiful mouth. Balanced and good length. The Bandol Cabassaou available for sale now is the 2002, at 41 Euro.
Wine has to do with passion, talent, and special people, and I can't but suggest you to read or re-read Kermit Lynch's "Adventures On The Wine Route" in which you'll learn a lot about Domaine Tempier and the family behind it. Enjoy !