Burgundian Bandol – Domaine de Terrebrune

Terrebrune is in more ways than one an outlier in the appellation of Bandol. It is the lone estate located in Ollioulles, whereas most of its Bandol producing colleagues can be found around La Cadière d’Azur or Le Castellet. Moreso, the wines also have a distinctiveness to them, with a focus on elegance, freshness and refinement, all impressions that would not always be associated with Bandol. 

The vineyards of Terrebrune are the only ones in Bandol that offer you a literal window on the Mediterranean Sea. It is one of the more idyllic spots I encountered during the time spent in the appellation, and a closer look at the surroundings goes a long way in explaining the particularities of Terrebrune. Even as the vineyards are at roughly the same altitude as those found in the heart of appellation, the grapes ripen more slowly here. Looking to the South, there is the proximity to the sea, a source of cool breezes that can dampen the furnace conditions in the heart of summer. The mountains of Le Gros Cerveau rising up behind the estate shelter the vineyards have a similar influence.

What does set Terrebrune further apart is the composition of the soils in the vineyard, or at least the emphasis the estate puts on its role in crafting its identity. As the vineyards are located at the base of Le Gros Cerveau, soils here find their origin in the erosion of these mountains, with the oldest parts dating back to the Trias era, 200 million years ago. The result is a thin top soil on a complex mix of brown clay (hence ‘Terrebrune’), limestone and mineral salts. This mix creates a looser soil than the one you would find in the rest of Bandol, making it easier for a vine’s roots to dig for water. Aside from slower ripening thanks to the Mediterranean Sea and the mountains, hydric stress can thus be avoided, allowing the grapes to better keep their acidity as well. 

Now, it the Delille family a while to figure all this out. The estate was initially purchased by Georges Delille in the early sixties, simply because he had fallen in love with a lovely Provençal Bastide that just happened to be surrounded by flowers, olive trees, and a few abandoned vines here and there. It was only after meeting Lucien Peyraud (Tempier) that he decided to dedicate his time to the restoration of the vineyards. It took more than a decade to restore the terraces, to work the soil, to plant the vineyards and to nurse the remaining vines back to health. The first vintage was bottled in 1980, just as his son, Reynald Delille joined the estate.

The estate has grown to 30 hectares in recent days, and all vineyards are farmed organically, eschewing herbicides and minimizing the use of sulfites and copper. The yields are restricted to 38hl/ha, and harvest is done completely by hand, with the grape bunches collected in small crates to ensure that they arrive unbruised in the cellar.

Following Tempier’s example, grape bunches are destemmed completely and the different varieties go through fermentation together. In order to ensure a good control of the final tannic presence in the wine, Reynald prefers remontage (pumping over the wine on top of the cap during the fermentation) over pigeage (breaking the cap and punching down), as he believes that this allows for gentler flavor extraction. Ageing takes place in large old foudres (4000 – 6000l) for the appellation dictated 18 months, and upon bottling the wines spend an additional year in the cellar before they are released.

The Terrebrune rouge 2013 is surprisingly accessible on the nose showing incense, red fruit and a light touch of violet. What strikes right away is the freshness and delicacy that counters a wall of tannins. It does come across as being in bits and pieces for the moment, but I am confident that it will settle beautifully. The 2011 is true to the hot vintage, warm and intense, especially on a nose that goes more on black rather than red fruit, yet with the tannins starting to calm down, you get a good impression of a layered structure underneath. 2006 is at a perfect point in its evolution: red fruit being pushed to the background in favor of liquorice, a bit more fleshed out and a hint of tertiary tobacco leaves. So suave and elegant in structure, you would be forgiven for not placing this in Bandol, let alone in the Provence. The 1989 then goes in the woods, mushrooms, forest floor, reminiscent of older Burgundy actually. While it is really remarkable that there is still a straightness and freshness to it, it is going downhill.

The nuance that I love in the red cuvée is also present in the estate’s rosé. This is a blend of 60% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache and 20% Cinsault. The cellar is set up in such a way that the fermentation cuves can be fed without using pumps, everything is done with the help of gravity, ensuring a smooth and unforceful transfer from press to tank. Contrary to the red wine, grapes are only partially destemmed, and fermentation is a bit shorter, around 15 days.

The 2016 is quite pale in colour, salmon pink would be accurate and quite tight in the nose. Grapefruit, red fruit and with a remarkably creamy impression on the palate, only to finish quite tight again. Clearly a rosé that needs  bit of time in the cellar to come around. The 2007 is in a great place, blossom honey, raspberry and again a bit of grapefruit. Unfolding quite nicely, it comes across very gentle, very inviting overall. Finally, the 1990, the first vintage that Terrebrune produced rosé, is evidently evolved with a distinct onion peel tint. The nose is stunning with still hints of fruit, autumn and basically liveliness. The palate was as expected from a 27-year old rosé wine, and fell apart, but just the fact that the wine still showed a bit of life and energy is amazing.

Finally, a word on a rarity in Bandol: white wine. It is something that most estates add to the range just because they have to offer it to their clients in my opinion, but few take it very seriously. Consequently, only 5% of the wines produced in the appellation are white. I came across two interesting whites, with Terrebrune being one of them. It is a blend of 50% Clairette, 20% Ugni Blanc, 20% Bourboulenc, 5% Rolle and 5% Marsanne. Fermentation lasts for about 15 to 20 days, and the wine spends about half a year in stainless steel tanks afterwards. Whereas I found a lot of white Bandol wines at other estates to be a bit overly aromatic and ripe on the nose, the Terrebrune blanc 2016 is quite subtle and fresh. Pears, a bit of grapefruit and peach, a blossoming orchard. Subdued on the palate, a bit less expressive than I had expected based on the nose, and actually more linear than you would normally get in a Provencal white, almost lean with a slightly bitter grapefruit touch in the finish. Young, but refreshing next to so many plump whites.

Aside from perhaps the older wines of La Tour du Bon, I would definitely consider Terrebrune to be the estate that produces the most elegant wines that I have come across in Bandol. Everything oozes restraint and nuance across all colours, and these are wines that are clearly produced on finesse instead of concentration and power. To me, it is further proof that Mourvèdre is an immensely versatile variety, and that an almost Burgundian expression suits it extremely well.

The Provence Series

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