The story of the people behind Domaine Tempier is one of France's most inspiring wine histories. The Tempier family established the estate in 1834, building a house just outside the seaport village of Bandol between Toulon and Marseilles in the Provence region. Over the next century, the family overcame both the phylloxera crisis and the 1929 worldwide financial meltdown, and even won their first gold medal in 1855, until a new chapter was marked in 1936.
In this year, Lucie Tempier married Lucien Peyraud, a man who had fallen deeply in love both with Lucie and with the idea of being a winemaker. He and Lucie replanted the 38 hectares of family vineyards with noble varieties like grenache, cinsault and mourvèdre. With vines spread out across the steep slopes which lead down to the Mediterranean coast in a natural amphitheatre and vineyards lined with cypress trees, it is not hard to see why the estate held such appeal to the newlyweds.
Lucien's passion was not limited to his own domaine. Over the 40 years that he managed the estate, he became much better known for his tireless campaigning, both for the mourvèdre grape (which he knew to be ideally suited to the terroir here, and in which he saw great ageing potential) and more importantly for raising the status of Bandol winemakers.
It is thanks in part to him that AOC Bandol is now recognised as a great winemaking region, and also that all AOC Bandol red wines must contain a minimum of 50% mourvèdre. Even today, winemakers regard Lucien as a beacon for their wines, although he was always disappointed he couldn't do even more for his beloved Bandol: 'It's a hell of a job being a winegrower,' he said, 'you need to live your life over again to do it well.'
Lucien's sons Jean-Marie and Francois joined the team in 1960, managing the cellar and the vineyards respectively. Variations of limestone and clay soils made for diverse growing conditions, and the brothers noticed three parcels in particular that displayed impressive individuality. They decided to bottle them separately, and these single vineyard sites - La Migoua, La Tourtine and Cabassaou - are now the domaine's most famous names.
La Migoua's clay soils range from red and ochre to almost blue in places. It generally contains only the minimum mourvèdre levels, making way for a healthy dollop of cinsault as well as some grenache, and produces wines that have wild, animal notes.
La Tourtine comes from well-exposed, 40-year-old vines, and contains a much higher proportion of mourvèdre - usually around 80% - creating concentrated, spicy wines with excellent ageing potential.
Cabassaou is even more mourvèdre-heavy, at around 95% of the blend. It is a rare cuvée thanks to its low yields and ideal shelter from the Mistral winds, meaning the grapes reach maximum ripeness. Robust, powerful and concentrated, this wine can age for decades.
The brothers retired in 2000, but Domaine Tempier is still managed by the Peyraud family: their sisters take an active role in maintaining their heritage for the future, alongside current manager Daniel Ravier, a young, energetic winemaker who shares the family goal of producing benchmark Bandol wines.
Today, these vineyards are managed without the use of herbicides or pesticides, and the wine cellar is equipped with the latest technology in order to get the best out of the grapes. In accordance with Bandol appellation regulations, reds are aged for a minimum of 18 months. This takes place in Tempier's air-conditioned cellars, in a mixture of various-sized barrels for added complexity.
The estate's rosé, grown on 20-year-old vines, has developed a cult following over the years. A classic Provençal salmon-pink colour, it was once called the greatest rosé in the world by Robert Parker.
Grower profile: updated 22/10/2013