The red Bandol of Domaine Lafran-Veyrolles made our day when we tasted it at the Maison des Vins de Bandol, the Bandol tasting-house where you can taste for free among dozens of Bandol wines and buy bottles if you want to at the estate's price. This wine was very beautiful and intense, with tannins already subdued and gentle, if firm and structured, and I wanted to know more about the estate. I went there alone on a hot august day.
Lafran-Veyrolles has always been an independant winery selling its wine directly to the clients. The estate is located a few kilometers from the mediteranean, between le Plan du Castelet and la Cadière d'Azur, along one of the renowned terroirs of the Appellation, the "chemin de l'Argile" (the "clay path"), not far from two Bandol estate named le Gros Noré and Pibarnon. It has about 10 hectares of vineyards, all around the winery, of which 6,5 hectares of Mourvèdre, the rest in Grenache, Cinsault, and some Clairette and Ugni Blanc. It also rents 2 hectares of vineyards, these ones mostly to make rosé. Overall, the estate is red-bandol centered. The white varieties make up 10 % of the whole surface,which is the average proportion in the whole of the Bandol Appellation btw. The estate is known for its reds, and for its long- and very-long-keep reds, says Michel, who works here to help Jean-Marie Castel, the vineyard manager and vintner in the estate. This is one of the oldest Bandol estates, Mr Ferec having in his time overlooked with Mr Peyraud (Domaine Tempier) the setting-up of the Bandol Appellation. The present owner is Mr Ferec's daughter, and there has been a family continuity in the running of this property. The Lafran name comes from the farthest traced owner (1641), Melchion Lafran, with documents of that time designating this property as land, bastide (farm), vineyards, olive trees and walnut trees.
The vinification and vineyard management at Lafran-Veyrolles is done by Jean-Marie Castel, who also sort of inherited this role, his father having also always worked for the the Ferec family. Even though he went to an enology school before joining Lafran-Veyrolles, Mr Castel continued the winemaking work here in the style of the estate, having a more comfortable vatroom and a cold-temperature system added to the previously rustic facility. As the "Chemin de l'Argile" name suggests it, the soil here is densely clayish, quite tough to work, and on the other hands it sort of keeps the vineroots in the cool, and the Mourvèdre ripens very well on the slopes around here making it particularly fit for a vinification in red. This is a terroir for reds, Michel says, explaining why it makes such powerful wines. From Lafran-Veyrolles up to Pibarnon, you find this same Chemin-de-l'Argile soil.
As I point to the fact that their Bandol Cuvée Spéciale 2005 is already so nice in the mouth, without that astringent side that often comes with young Mourvèdre, Jean-Marie Castel explains that the wines here are relatively strong and robust at the end of the vinification stage, but that the tannins become elegant quite fast during the elevage, and he says that this is something recurrent on the estate. In his opinion, it comes from the soil which is very rich in oligo-elements, and from the work on the soil. About the stems, he tempers the proportion of stem being kept for the vinification. He says that these past 4 to 5 years have been drought years (even for Bandol which is rather dry region) and that it made the "aoutement" (wood ripening) of the stem more arduous, so they tend to take in less whole clusters. They check plot by plot before the harvest each time, to decide which part will go whole-clustered and which part will be destemmed. There's only the old vines, the small-grape Mourvèdres for example which are used for the Cuvée Spéciale, that ripen well in these conditions and that always go for sure whole-clustered. In 2005 for example (the nice Bandol Cuvée Spéciale that we tasted at the Maison des Vins was a 2005) they kept 40 % of stems, and in 2006 and 2007 something between 40 % and 60 %.
Speaking of old Bandol, here is a proof that this estate bottled its wine already in 1947 [pic on left], I would like to taste a Lafran-Veyrolles this old, assuming it would have been stored in proper conditions...
__Lafran-Veyrolles white Bandol 2007. 70% Clairette 30% Ugni Blanc. Lychees, fresh white fruits. 13 Euro (tax included).
__Lafran-Veyrolles Bandol rosé 2007. 65% Mourvèdre, the rest in Grenache & Cinsault. On the market in march (folowing the harvest). Nice richness in the mouth with grapefruit aromas. 12,5 Euro
__Lafran-Veyrolles Bandol red "Tradition" 2005. We taste from 50cl sample bottles designed for the tasting. 65% Mourvèdre, the rest divided between Grenache, Cinsault and Carignan. Ah, Bandol reds, here you are again, unmistakably powerful and intense... Nose : some chocolate, Zan, clove. Nice mouth, with already refined tannins. Bottled in may after 18 months of foudre/cask elevage. 80% destemming here. 15 Euro.
__Lafran-Veyrolles Bandol (red) "Cuvée Spéciale" 2005. The one that took my attention at the Maison des Vins. Very beautiful and complex, black ripe fruits, concentrated aromas that last on the palate, and again, very gentle and thin tannins. A pleasure. 95% Mourvèdre, 20% of it destemmed. Bottled a few months after the Tradition. Yields : 35-36 hectoliter/hectare (maximum authorized by the AOC rules is 40 ho/ha). 19 Euro.
Lafran-Veyrolles will take part to the big independent wineries fair in Paris (this page is outdated and lists 2007) next november and you will have the possibility to taste their wines there, and probably to speak to Mr Castel (check the wineries list on the wall when entering the fair). This huge Paris wine fair takes place twice a year and is a unique opportunity to taste thousands of wine for a single 6-Euro fee.