From Dairy to Domaine

Wine Spectator

Agnès Henry has a flock of silver hair and often ends her sentences with a soft laugh. At 52, she seems blissfully content to walk amidst her Mourvèdre vines at Domaine de la Tour du Bon in Bandol.

"It's nice here," she said plainly. "The feeling is you're not quite alone, but it is very quiet."

Henry's 42-acre estate has beautiful vines that grow in a patchwork of deep rust and brilliantly white clay and limestone soils. The parcels form a ring around a small hillock in the middle of the property, giving them a full range of exposures.

"Plus, when the rain comes, it flows off this hill and distributes water evenly throughout the vineyard," said Henry, who farms organically. "And with these clay soils, the humidity stays In the soil longer, which is ideal for Mourvèdre."

Sitting between the hilltop towns of La Cadière-d'Azur and Castellet, Domaine de la Tour du Bon was purchased by Henry's parents in 1968, with just a handful of acres of table grape vines in place. Today she, along with two cellar hands, produces 3,750 cases annually from 30 acres of vines. Production is more than half rosé, along with red and a drop of white, a trend typical in Provence as demand for rosé production has exploded in recent years. 

"80 percent of the area is rosé now," said Henry. "It's vinified, bottled and gone from my cellar by March. I can't argue with it, but ultimately it's not what we do best. Red is really what Bandol is."

Henry started at the estate in 1990, leaving the dairy business for an agrarian pursuit on a more modest scale.

"In the milk business there are lots of stainless steel tanks. Big ones. Frankly, I don't want to see another stainless steel tank again. I like wood and concrete. I don't want to be famous for technology," said Henry, adding her signature laugh at the end.

Vinification here is simple: Reds are destemmed, fermented in concrete vat (lots of Grenache/Cinsault and Grenache/Mourvèdre are usually cofermented) and then aged in foudre for a minimum of 18 months. Whites and rosés are fermented in glass-lined vats called brauthite.

The delightful 2013 Bandol Rosé (60/20/20 Mourvèdre, Grenache and Cinsault) delivers a juicy-edged core of strawberry, peach and white cherry fruit that races along, lined with mineral and bergamot notes. There are just 333 cases of the 2013 Bandol White, made from cofermented Clairette, Ugni Blanc and Rolle. It delivers lively quinine and white peach flavors, with a stony edge and a hint of lemon chiffon on the finish.

The 2011 Bandol (60/30/8/2 Mourvèdre, Grenache, Cinsault and Carignane) has dark currant, fig and blackberry fruit at the core, with well-hewn tannins providing support through the finish, where tobacco, charcoal and sinewy details fill in. The 2011 Bandol St.-Ferréol is a special cuvée not produced every vintage. It draws on three parcels situated on the chalkiest soils of the estate facing northwest, the coolest part of the vineyard and thus last to ripen. It's intense, with great cut to the range of juniper, alder, tobacco, bay and black currant notes.

"As you can easily see, you can't really be a vegetarian if you're going to drink Bandol," said Henry.