Joe & Patrick in the vineyard with Cedric Gravier
"We used to say that rosé wasn't a real wine, but now it is," said Cedric Gravier, the winegrower and proprietor at Domaine la Suffrene. In 2003/2004, the production of rosé wines in Bandol surpassed that of red, and currently rosé now totals 70% of all wine produced in Bandol, "But we hope it'll go down to 50%," added Cedric, "so we can make more red." And though most everyone knows that best red wines in Provence come from Bandol, after having the opportunity to taste through a number of vintages of the Domaine la Suffrene Bandol "Les Lauves", including Cedric's first vintage in 1996, we can most certainly attest to his desire or need to make more red.
With approximately 52ha planted to vines that are parcellated like patchwork, 47ha are classified Bandol and 5ha are Vins des Pays, which are located around the winery itself. At 300m, Dm la Suffrene is the only winery to have vines located at the top of the hill at "Les Lauves" (1ha), where their altitude and proximity to the sea provide humidity and cool summer nights, yielding age-worth reds and wines that are fresh. Located in Var, between the two mountain ranges of the Castellet: the Cadiere and Sainte Anne De Castellet, the soils here are littered with shells, planted to olive trees, wild flowers and wild rosemary, and range from calcareous sandstone at the top of the hill to soils of stoney calcareous clay just below. The winery's south facing slopes are also home to the mistral, which helps ensure that the vines remain disease free.
With parcels named "The Twisted Ones", "Strawberry Square", "Chèvre" and "Les Lauves", the property here contains an old stone wall that was once a part of a shepherd's house with a pen for animals. From the near top of the hill, one can see the Mediterranean Sea, with the port of Cassis only 30km away. And though Bandol sees over 3,000 hours of sun annually, with fall and winter rains that fall below 650mm, the soils drain well while maintaining moisture, which is the perfect environment for the roots of Mourvèdre, a varietal with one of the longest growing seasons.
Home to 70-year-old Carignan and 50-year-old Mourvedre vines, this estate has been farmed by the Gravier family for many generations. Farming organic but not certified, in 1996 Cedric began working closely with his grandfather, so that he could learn the ways of production and become the first in his family to construct a cellar and start bottling their wines.
After sorting, destemming and crushing the fruit for his rosé, Cedric presses and lets the juice sit in tank for 48 hours to 'decant' until the sediment settles and the juice has reached 8-10 degrees celsius, before pumping the clear juice to another tank for a 10-12 day fermentation. For his red wines, including "Les Lauves", Cedric de-stems up to 85% and co-ferments in oak, only if the fruits' maturity permits. Preferring to co-ferment, because – "If you can mix in the tank by fermentation," said Cedric, "then it's more homogenous." – he added: "We use big foudres of 4,000 to 6,000 litres," said Cedric, "we're not looking to impart flavors and tannins."
Co-fermenting the Grenache and Cinsault, as a rule, Cedric will also co-ferment the Mourvedre and the Carignan if permissible, while the Mourvedre, as the last to be harvested is often fermented on its own at the end. And if after two to three weeks, there hasn't been enough extraction, he then continues remontage for another week, before aging in foudres and demi-muids for a minimum of 18 months.
We tasted through a number of vintages on our visit, which you can read about here.
Click here to read more about the wines of Domaine la Suffrene.