Although this estate is one of the cult wineries of the small Appellation of Bandol, it remains uncompromisingly an old-style family winery by every aspect you look at it. The Domaine is managed now by Françoise Dutheil, whom I met and picture at a tasting gathering women winemakers in Paris, and her son Jean-Baptiste.
This 5-generation winery was among the ones who took part to the setting up of the Appellation status for Bandol. Prior to the era of Appellations certitudes and even in more ancient times, Bandol was already known for making unusually beautiful and long-lasting wines. In the Middle Ages, the wines of the area were named not from Bandol (which wasn't an independant village until 1715) but from La Cadière, which is one of the villages where Bandol wines are made.
Chateau Sainte Anne was also with Thierry Puzelat the initiators of the French natural-wine group AVN (Association des Vins Naturels) with a handful of vignerons like Lapierre and Gramenon. It took place in the Auvergne at the Domaine Peyra. This was some 10 years ago and the goal was to federate winemakers looking for real wines made along the most natural ways, without additives and corrective technology.
As you may know, Bandol has a specific place among the Provence wines. The proximity of the sea, the windy atmosphere between the steep hills there, have created a micro climate which made it possible to plant and grow on terraces in spite of the punishing summer heat. And Mourvèdre, a variety which has elsewhere difficulty to ripe properly, has found its home here, and Bandol reds are usually made with 65 % to 100 %% of Mourvèdre. The Bandol Appellation was officially created in 1941 during the German occupation.
The winery is located at the edge of Sainte Anne d'Evenos, a few kilometers away from the coastline and the Mediterranean. The Bandol Appellation is spread on several villages of the area, like Le Beausset and la Cadière d'Azur. In spite of the village proximity, the Chateau Sainte Anne seems preserved in a time when making wine was still a linear activity rhythmed by the seasons and patient winemaking respecting the nature's pace. You enter the unfenced property by driving between two big cypress trees and beyond a large vineyard plot you reach the facility which sits near an imposing but dusty Provencal manor.
Raphael Etienne, who has been working here for years, is the one who showed us around during our visit and poured us a few wines for tasting.
__ Chateau Sainte Anne rosé 2010. Made with indigenous yeasts, nothing added. The wine is fresh and aromatic, very pleasant. Mr Raphael Etienne, who has a nice Provencal accent when he speaks, says that when a Provence rosé is very fruity it's most of the time because of selected lab yeasts and technology, not the genuine result of what the grapes and traditional winemaking can yield. Still, I'd call that a fairly aromatic wine. At Chateau Sainte Anne, they make Bandol rosé every year, even if they make a majority of bandol reds overall. they may sometimes make Côtes de Provence rosé too.
Otherwise, every year they make two cuvées of red Bandols (the normal blend & the cuvée Collection) and a Côtes de Provence red, which is their entry wine (we bought some, definitely a very good deal in this estate if not with the prized "Bandol" tag). Then they also make a Bandol white. The Côtes-de-Provence & Bandol Appellation zones are very intertwined, for example when you drive through the vineyard after the cypress trees, you first cross a Côte de Provence vineyard, then at the first terrace (we say réstanque over here), meaning after the first low wall, it's a vineyard in the Bandol Appellation. When you walk through these vineyards as we did, it'd hard to understand what real difference in the grapes this could translate. I think that a Côtes de Provence by Chateau Sainte Anne is light-years away from the Côtes de Provence that swell the supermarket shelves, but I guess many of you understand that.
This rosé makes 12,5 ° in alcohol, while around rosé wines are often at 13 °/13,5 ° or even 14 ° strong. Raphael says that there is really a microclimate in Chateau Sainte Anne, with the rocky range of the Gros Cerveau, a peak thanks to which the nights are very cool in summer. Cold air is accumulating here because of complex fluid-mechanics phenomena between the local mountains, and it slows down the maturity. The Mourvèdre of the estate is harvested typically around october 15, which is later than the norm.
At one point we walked with Raphael in the facility itself. It's a high-ceiling cool place even if it's not air-conditioned or insulated. My pictures don't show the place the way I wished as I forgot to bring a particular lens that day, but you'll still have a glimpse of the chai. The place which may look messy as the pre-harvest cleaning hadn't begun yet when this visit took place (early august) gave me an impression of timeless multi-generational experience. Undoubtly, without hype and marketing tools, this place has been making great wines without caring of the appearances. Raphael says that Chateau Sainte Anne has always been making natural wine and it joined the organic certification since 1976 for the vineyard management. And before that in the early 1960s' they always refused to use the weedkillers, pest killers and other miracle products that the chemical industry had designed to "facilitate" the vignerons' life. This was the will of its owner then, François Dutheil de la Rochère, the father of Jean-Baptiste. At this time, very powerful chemical products were allowed and used, like the lead arsenate which is made with lead and arsenic.
Here until the 1950s' the farm would grow also vegetables for the Toulon market, plus fruit trees, apricot, olive trees, fig trees, in addition to the winemaking part. The vineyard surface in the 60s' in the estate was about 10 hectares maybe while it is today between 15 and 17 hectares, but with more planted surface potentially as the property consists of 60 hectares, much being woods and garrigue.
The rosé wines are half bled rosés and half free-run rosé and they ferment in stainless-steel vats with a cooling made with tap water. The fermentation isn't blocked whatsoever with SO2. Many wineries add SO2 at this stage to preseve the acidity and prevent the malolactic fermentation from starting. At Chateau Sainte Anne they let the wine do its way and complete the malolactic fermentation, which translates in wines that are rich but still fresh and aromatic. And the lack of SO2 gives these wines a plus in the general feel. There's a bit of SO2 added for bottling, something like 2 grams per hectoliter, which is really nothing. And sometimes they don't even add this SO2, depends of the cuvées. They also usually don't ad sulphur for the rackings, except on tough years like for example 2002 where they have used some.
__ Chateau Sainte Anne Côtes de Provence red 2006. They made good volumes of this wine in 2006 and this one comes from a 2nd bottling (everything wasn't bottled at once). Raised in emalled-metal vats. The 2007 is not on the market yet. These wines take their time. The 2003 reached the market later than the 2004 and the 2005 for example : it tasted bad for a while and then turned very beautiful and that's when they released the vintage. Very nice wine and good deal indeed : 9,5 € at the estate.
Appealing nose for this CdP 2006. Speaking of a big difference between the natural wines and the additives ones, Raphael says that the first ones are more supple, more easier to drink because of the virtual absence of SO2. Repeated addings of SO2 makes the conventional wines harsh, and contributes to the fact that you don't drink and down them so easily. This said, he says, some natural wines have sometimes faults and deviant aromas, he tasted a few of this kind and doesn't want to paint the picture as black and white. But still, this alive feel which comes with natural wines brings a plus, which translates into bottles emptying faster than others. He also ads that some tasters are too focused on the early hints of gas or reduction that may appear when the bottle has been opened. This is often not really a problem.
__ Chateau Sainte Anne Bandol red 2008. On the market right now. 60 % Mourvèdre. The wine is not a solar-type Bandol but more in refineness. Quite fresh too. 12,5 ° in alcohol only. The Mourvèdre, says Raphael, has to be picked very ripe, otherwise you get bitter notes. The grapes must have lost some of its elasticity when you take some between your fingers, that's a way to say it's ready. The seeds inside the grape must be brownish also, not green. All the grapes are destemmed, also.
__ Chateau Sainte Anne Bandol 2005. Same 60 % Mourvèdre-majority blend here. Opened 2 days before. They keep older vintages, like as far as 1970. They have some demands for them sometimes. The Mouis XIII in Paris has for example some 1995 Bandols. L'Astrance has a few older vintages also. L'Agapé sells also their Bandols, although he is not sure they have old bottles. Les Fines Gueules, another gastronomic restaurant, has old vintages from Chateau Sainte Anne. B. says that this 2005 has a different structure, mouth touch and feel. The tannins are more outward here. This is unfiltered, like all the reds here as well as the white. The rosé goes through some filtering. They could choose not to filter it, they would almost prefer, but it would be a hard sell as they would be alone to do it and because in the restaurants when the bottle arrives with an end-tag of 30 €, some customers and restaurateurs balk at having a misty rosé on their table. And even when restaurateurs would understand this issue, they haven't time to explain to their customers that a light turbidity is not a problem. This 2005 red Bandol is very nice, and when you think that the bottle was opened two days before and just recorked with its own cork, it's amazing.
__ Chateau Sainte Anne Bandol cuvée Collection 2006. The upper red Bandol. Old vines (75 to 80 years). 95 % Mourvèdre here. Eucalyptus leaves aromas, as well as dry garrigue leaves. Menthol notes. Nice wine.
__ Chateau Sainte Anne Bandol white 2009. Ugni Blanc & Clairette. Unfiltered but no turbidity. The wine tastes fresh, with maturity and lemon peel notes, citrus peel maybe. There's more alcohol feel here maybe compared with the other wines.
Raphael says that the estate follows the biodynamy and Joined Nicolas Joly's Renaissance group (Return to Terroir).
We then walk into the vatroom to taste the Bandol white 2010 which is still in a vat. Color is less gold. Almost a Sauvignon feel on the nose, interesting. This visit in the facility is very impressive because you feel the continuity with the mid-20th century, no concession to hype or photogenic visual improvement for marketing purposes. as said, there's a messy side here, but Raphael says that before the harvest begins, everything is cleaned or taken out so that the hygiene conditions are optimal. And that leaves all the yeast "ambiance" of the walls and uninsulated roof intact, and we know that this is very important for the fermentations with wild yeasts.
They work with non-pneumatic presses, there are a few of them here and there. Even on this issue, it's not very technological. The varieties are pressed separately and fement samely separately before the blending.
As a remnant of the diverse farm production, they sell also olive oil from Chateau Sainte Anne, as you can see on the pic on left.
__ Chateau Sainte Anne Bandol rosé 2003. Color showing the age. Pleasant nose even if not usual. Beautiful wine, a pleasure. 2003 was the heat-wave year and that always interesting to see that beautiful wines can come out of this very harsh summer of 2003. Classy mouth. B. says that the mouth delivers not only orange peel, but also rose (flower) notes, and the whole thing is very alive. Again, the rosé wines of Bandol age very well if made by good wineries, and Mourvèdre is one of the reasons, but also in these good wineries, the fact that the wine is not overwhelmed by SO2 leaves it the ability to age in a proper way, otherwise the SO2 and multicorrection of the wine wit additives freezes it in a limbo with little room to evolve.
Raphael says that Provence has 26 000 hectares of planted vineyard and rosés make 87 % of the total, but much of this wine is uninteresting and industrial, first because of the lab yeasts and an excess of technology and even of new oak. Some even taste grapefruit which is very alien to what can be obtained by natural means. Sometimes you even feel like artificial raspberry aromas. Usually, the commercial wineries use lab yeasts to get their fancy aromas but there's suspicion that some may use also tiny doses of synthesis aromas like the ones used by the yogurt industry, which is really forbidden. There's another issue I wrote about a couple years ago for the rosé wines, it is the color question : the commercial wineries have adapted the color of their wines to the market, the consumer being known apparently for loving pale rosé color. the problem is that getting the right color in a press is quite difficult, so there are products which help tp correct te color, going from a darker color to the desired clear one. This page shows you with test tubes and various dosages of additives how you can tamper with the color of the rosé (without the end consumer knowing it of course). Choose a color nuance and apply the related dosage, you'll get the best chances on the supermarket shelves, isn't that simple ? I don't want to spoil your rosé apéritif (I'm also drinking rosé from these commercial wineries) but this has to be reminded from time to time.
3 people work full-time in Chateau Sainte Anne, most of the work being in the vineyard. See this old Fergusson tractor on the side, it still works fine and fits perfectly in the whole picture.
From the 15 producing hectares in the estate, they make 20 % of rosé, which is very small compared with the wineries of the region, with even the Bandol reegion making 80 % of rosé in average. Here at Sainte Anne, there is 75 % of red wines made, with maybe 5 % of white wine. Raphael says that Bandol was well known initially for its reds, not its rosé.
55 to 60 % of the Chateau Sainte Anne wines are exported, to Canada (Quebec - Vin-Vin, Diane Turcotte), United States (New York -Ten Bells), Germany (Naturian), the United Kingdom (Vine Trail), Belgium (Le Grenier à Vins Bio), Hong Kong (La Cabane à Vin) [ take note : natural wines are setting a foot in China !!! ], Switzerland (Cantina Del Mulino), Denmark (Esprit du Vin) among others. They used to sell much in Japan but they don't sell there right now.
In Paris they sell in Lavinia, Caves Augé, Le Verre Volé, le Baratin, L'Agapé, le Chateaubriand, le Bistrot Paul Bert, la Boulangerie, L'Ebauchoir, le Siffleur de Ballon, le Dirigeable, le Repaire de Cartouche, Que du Bon, Louis XIII, Pierre Gagnaire, L'Astrance, La Maison Blanche, L'Auberge du 15 and others. Also in Marseille at Passedat and L'Epuisette, plus Les Buvard and La Passerelle, two natural-wine venues. In Aix-en-Provence, Carton Rouge, in Nice, La Part des Anges and le Bistrot du Fromager, in Troyes, Les Crieurs de Vin. All these places sell natural wine, so that's a proof that natural wines found their way in the major French cities.
A few bottle prices listed by the Maison des vins de Bandol
The informative page about the estate by Pascal of La Maison des Vins de Bandol, a tasting room in downtown Bandol where you can taste for free many Bandol wines, whites, rosés and reds...
History of Bandol wines (in French)