From the Massif de la Sainte-Baume down to the shore of the Mediterranean, the vine is an integral part of the landscape and its presence makes itself felt everywhere. Bandol terroir faces due south and benefits from exceptional conditions of light and heat, with nearly 3,000 hours of sun exposure a year. The vineyard lies in a natural amphitheatre. The vines are planted on terraces called restanques on approximately 1,500 hectares. Several generations of vine growers had to shape the hillsides to make them suitable for vine cultivation and these terraced slopes are the result of their perseverance.
A balcony overlooking the sea
In order to prevent ground erosion and to clear it of stones, the vine growers erected piece by piece innumerable low drystone walls, the famous Bandol restanques. They became builders to be able to turn the steep slopes of the hillsides into patches of cultivable land, following the contour lines. These consolidated grounds are particularly favourable for vine growing. The restanques also allow natural regulation of the resources in water. Today, the wine growers carry on the development of the lands abandoned at the beginning of the century. By resisting the pressure of real-estate developers, they make their contribution to the upkeep of the countryside, help protect the environment, and preserve the beauty of the landscape.
A multifaceted geology
The soils in the appellation area are mainly limestone, very pebbly, with, in places, sandy marls and sandstones. They are as diverse as could be expected in such an uneven landscape. The action of natural erosion on the bed-rocks of the upper cretaceous age (calcareous sandstones and sandy marls) resulted in sandstone soils enriched with silico-calcareous elements. Those are the most typical soils of the Bandol appellation. In some places the soils are of Jurassic or even Triassic age and consist of red or white limestone, clay and marl or sand. The main characteristic of the Bandol appellation is the stone-like aridity and low fertility of well-drained, highly calcareous soils. To preserve this character, the writers of the decree made a point of including in the appellation area only the plots of land situated on hillsides. The natural dryness of the soils is balanced by the humidity of the air from the sea and by rainfall (600 mm/year on average), low yet perfect to compensate for the water deficit during summer. The appellation area encompasses eight communes suspended between mountain and sea to the south of the Massif de la Sainte-Baume: Bandol, La Cadière d’Azur, Saint-Cyr-sur-mer, Le Castellet, Le Beausset, Evenos, Ollioules and Sanary.
The wine growers dedicate themselves heart and soul to their land and craft. They perpetuate the spirit of their elders: they love to see work well done, patiently, stone by stone, the way the restanques were built on the hillsides. Most often, the land belongs to families rooted in wine making traditions. The Bandol AOC is indeed their common heritage.
A constant rigour
Together with the scrupulous observance of the AOC regulations, the wine growers show permanent vigilance to achieve quality. Young vines intended for the production of red wines are not allowed in the AOC production until the eighth leaf has appeared on their trunk. The yields are controlled at each stage of cultivation. The plantation density must be of at least of 5,000 vines per hectare. Spur pruning, i.e. leaving a two-bud spur on the trunk, is required. As early as June, the “green harvest” lightens the burden on the vine: the excess bunches are ruthlessly cut off to leave only five to six bunches per vine. The wine growers have a motto that expresses this voluntary limitation of the yield : “One vine, one bottle”. Chaptalization is banned as well as “any enrichment or concentration operation, even within the limits of the legal prescriptions in force”. Machine harvesting is forbidden : the grapes are picked by hand to obtain a clean and carefully selected harvest.
Wine growers’ wines
However severe the appellation requirements may be, they will not be sufficient if the vigneron does not take the greatest care of his production. It is a long time since technology entered the cellars, allowing a better control of the work and new progress in quality. Maturation is essential in Bandol, especially for red wines. The oak barrel, traditionally used in the AOC, requires great rigour, but is perfectly suited to the tannic structure of Mourvèdre. Concerning maturation, the wine grower’s know-how consists in bringing the wine to a state of balance through a process of slow, natural stabilization. At each stage of the process, wines are rigorously selected and tasted. They are accepted only if they meet the requirements of their status. A pre-tasting blind test is carried out in June of the first year to allow the wine growers to appreciate the evolution of the vintage. It is a “mock exam” each wine grower will learn a lesson from.
By running their estates with the utmost rigour, the Bandol wine producers have taken the Bandol appellation to the top of the French AOC classification and gained their peers’ respect. The B for Bandol that can be seen branded on old barrels ranks with other great Bs.