Domaine des Bernardins was, as the name suggests, once owned by Bernadine monks, better known to most of us as Cistercians, but the history of wine making here goes back to Roman times when Pliny the Elder waxed rhapsodic about the muscat wines of the area.
The Castaud family have been farming the domaine since the early 19th century and today the fifth generation, Elisabeth, her husband Andrew Hall and their son Romain, manage the 22 hectares. Her grandfather Louis was at the forefront of producers in Beaumes de Venise and was instrumental in gaining appellation status for the red wines of the area in 1945. At the domain reds account for five hectares planted grenache, syrah and cinsault, while 17 hectares are given over to muscat à petits grains blanc and muscat à petits grains noir.
Great care is taken in the vineyard with all work carried out by hand to ensure that each vine is nurtured on its own merits as part of a regime of sustainable viticulture. Biodiversity is positively encouraged and olives, almonds, wild rosemary and capers all grow around the vines.
For their luscious sweet muscat wines both the black and white variants of the grape are used, the former giving a lovely golden tint to the wines. These famous dessert wines are harvested late and by hand, having achieved a natural sugar level of at least 252 grams/litre, well above the minimum requirement for the appellation of Muscat de Beaumes de Venise at 110g/l. The juice is fermented through the action of natural yeasts immediately after pressing and the process is carefully monitored so that the fermentation can be stopped at precisely the right moment by the addition of grape spirit, bringing the alcohol level to 15% abv. The wine is then aged in stainless steel for 6 months to retain the vivid aromatic scent and fresh fruit flavours of the muscat.
In the winery, fermentation takes place immediately after pressing to ferment the juice without skins. Only natural yeasts are used and, being a vin doux naturel, the alcoholic fermentation has to be closely watched so it can be stopped at the right time to preserve the grapes' natural sweetness by the addition of grape spirit (95% ABV). The wine is then aged in stainless steel tanks for 6 months before bottling. The result is one of the great vin doux naturel of France.