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Vine Trail visit at Château Sainte-Anne on May 16th 2011

Raphael Etienne.jpgWe visited Château Sainte-Anne on May 16th of this year. A family property since 5 generations, owned by the Dutheil de la Rochère family, Château Sainte-Anne always had a wine-producing tradition. The domaine was built in the XVIth century by the congregation of the Oratory Fathers who already cultivated vines and olive trees; they built arched, stone cellars which are still used today. The vineyard was restructured to be in compliance with the requirements of the Bandol AC. A modern cellar was built next to the former one, allowing modern methods in the wine making and in the vineyard management to be added to the old traditions. Today more than 35 % of the production is exported to the European Union, the U.S.A. and Japan; and we are very happy to have become the exclusive importers for the United Kingdom. For the rest of the sales, a lot of private customers come every year to the Château to follow the evolution of the wines and choose among the old vintages still available. A few Bandol red 1964 are still lying in the cellar... 

On the road of the impressive gorges of Ollioules, you should not miss the stage of Sainte-Anne-d'Evenos and the old village of Evenos, perched on a hilltop and dotted with the stone houses made from a mix of local limestone and volcanic basalt. Raphaël Etienne, who gives the impression of having always worked with the family helping out with the sales and administrative side, had the kindness to give us a complete tour of the area around the domaine, and we were able to see first hand Château Sainte-Anne and its vineyards "which do not face the sea". Françoise Dutheil de La Rochère maintained the traditions of the domain, in particular after the death of her husband in 1995, but she was given a real boost by being joined by her son Jean-Baptiste, who is just 25-years-old, and has taken on the majority of the work in the vineyard and in the cellar - Françoise still having for the time being the last word at the important moment of assemblage of the cuvées from the latest vintage.

Ste Anne-label.gifThe total surface planted with vines is 14ha (10.8ha in the Bandol AC and the rest in the Côtes-de-Provence AC) with the following distribution of the grapes: 55 % mourvèdre, 20% cinsault , 15% grenache, 10% ugni blanc and clairette. Their vineyards are worked without chemicals (organically certified by Ecocert), and with a northern and eastern aspect, comprise essentially of hillsides or "restanques" with clay and limestone soils and an important presence of underground silica. The northerly aspects help to keep alcohol levels down to 12.5% - many Bandols with a southerly aspect weigh in at 14.5% or more! In this north east corner of the appellation, the mourvèdre slowly matures, after the beneficial early autumn rains which are quickly dried by the mistral. Geology in this corner is very complicated, as can be seen from this picture of Nick and me standing under a massive wedge of limestone (300 metres away from a Sainte Anne vineyard), which has been upended and lies on its side during the process of mountain formation in the nearby Alps. It provides the perfect canvas for French Banksies!

Nick&Lionel_Ste Anne.jpg

At Sainte-Anne, the harvests are collected in small boxes. The vinification is also traditional, and wines are vinified using only the natural, indigenous yeasts with a low level of sulphites used throughout their elevage. Rose and white wines are obtained by direct pressing. After the alcoholic fermentation has finished, reds are made from cuvaisons of 8 to 10 days with control of the temperatures and are then aged for 18 to 24 months in old foudres of 50 hl.

Sainte-Anne Bandols are always sappy and elegant, with a spicy edge, and not wild and powerful by contrast to most Bandols. The numerous vintages we were able to enjoy are characterised by an intense and fresh fruit, a very fine texture and a subtle harmony. According to Raphaël we have "an elegance due to the slow and late maturation of grapes, but also to the veins of sand that we found in the subsoil ". Françoise Dutheil has always been attached to the notion of harmony in the wine, from the aromatic potential until its freshness on the finish.

In short Sainte-Anne is a top Bandol, very pure, without excessive power. It is rare to find several very old vintages still available for tasting at the domaine. For example, Bandol white 2000, fat, smooth and fresh, or the Côtes-de-Provence red 2000, very ripe, full and delicious! You get the strong feeling that they are very happy working away without any ostentation, under pines and cedars, away from the excitement of the world...

After the visit of the vineyards and the historic village of Sainte-Anne-d'Evenos, we proceeded to the tasting of the following wines which we started to import in the UK this year:

Château Sainte-Anne 2005 rouge

(60% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache, 20% Cinsault) : elegant and subtle nose with hints of dates, red berries and flowers (rose) and light mentholated and spiced notes. Mineral inflections also with notes of graphite. Rather rich and ample in the mouth with a fine and delicate texture. The mouth, very tense, has a nervous and vibrant character always supported by a beautiful acidity. Long, elegant and complex finish with a sensation of pure fresh grapes. As for all the Sainte-Anne wines, the alcohol is always near 12.5 % and allows the wine to keep a lot of freshness. The wine is showing now superbly and has all the qualities required to age well.

Château Sainte-Anne 2009 blanc

(50% Clairette, 50% Ugni Blanc): light yellow colour. The nose is complex, dense and still young, with hints of straw, honey, grapefruit, marshmallow and fresh almond. We find some salty and balsamic notes as well. The attack in the mouth is luxurious with a light fat giving roundness to the wine, and this salty character brings a beautiful tension. The distinctive aromas of citrus fruits, fennel and anise are strengthened by a beautiful chalky minerality. It is a powerful wine with a lot of elegance and grace, which remains fresh thanks to an alcohol perfectly handled (12.5 %). One of the great white wines from the southeast of France, just like the Château Simone in the Palette AC!

Château Sainte-Anne 2010 rosé

(40% Mourvèdre, 30% Grenache, 30% Cinsault): steady pinkish colour. Very attractive and rather powerful nose, earthy with complex notes of red berries, orange peels, and spices. The mouth shows a beautiful concentration with a very vinous character. As with the red, the minerality and the freshness characterise this wine. It is unmistakably a top rosé which can be enjoyed from now on and which will certainly benefit to be kept on one year or more. The natural aspect of the wine stands out here with very pure and clear aromas, very close to the grape; which for Raphaël is the sign of a wine made only with natural yeasts (more and more rare in the region, especially regarding the production of rosé wines).

Raphaël then had the kindness to make us travel in the time by digging up several old vintages of Bandol red:

Château Sainte-Anne 2001 (60% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache, 20% Cinsault) : hints of raspberry, black cherry and blackcurrant on the nose; floral inflections also. The mouth offers slightly wild, leather aromas showing a beautiful evolution. Still a good concentration, very elegant. The ripe tannins are now perfectly coated and give a silky character to the long finish.

Château Sainte-Anne 2001 Cuvée Collection (95-98% Mourvèdre) : delicious, fresh and complex nose with hints of leather, ripe plum, raspberry and cherry, with some mentholated notes. The mouth is concentrated, ripe, rich and very round also. The minerality is characterized by pronounced notes of graphite. The grain of the tannins is particularly fine and the length is very subtle with some notes of liquorice.

Château Sainte-Anne 2000 (60% Mourvèdre, 20% Grenache, 20% Cinsault) : on the nose, we still find these typical notes of leather, liquorice, prune and spices. The mouth is delicate, almost etherial, presenting an exceptional quality of tannins. We still note here slightly mentholated aromas which confer to Sainte-Anne's red this extraordinary freshness.

Château Sainte-Anne 2000 Cuvée Collection (95-98% Mourvèdre) : less evolved on the nose than the 2001 but presenting a spicier character. The mouth shows a tannic structure still firm with an impressive concentration. Considering the natural acidity, the tannins and the freshness still present, it seemed to us that this wine was still promised to a long future.

We were also able to taste older vintages of Bandol white (in particular 2007, 2006 and 2005) and the ageing potential of this wine became clearly apparent. The aromatic palette evolves with grace and the wine is getting more and more weight with always an ideal balance between the fat of the wine and the acidity. Also, Raphaël made it a point of honour to extract from the old cellars of the Château a 2001 Bandol rosé to show us that even the rosé could age splendidly! We were presented with a fully developed wine,with a slightly orangey evolved colour, still very much alive in the mouth with a pleasant fruit and a finish, although henceforth relatively short, very clear and fresh.

All the wines we tasted that day stunned us all by their balance, their freshness, their density and their drinkability. Indeed, we are at the exact opposite of the strong and muscular aspect that the mourvèdre grape can give to numerous wines of Bandol; here, everything is about delicacy and subtlety. As for Cyril Fhal in Roussillon, the vinifications are soft and the cuvaisons are more similar to infusions, with little intervention on the wines (pigeage and remontage are kept to a minimum). Nothing is forced and the result is in the glass with wines of sensational colour, not an over-extracted black, with very delicate aromas of small red berries which allow the soil to mark its mineral imprint. Great wines from the South, very representative of the soil of Bandol and its grapes, where the blend of mourvèdre, cinsault and grenache for red and rosés bring some complexity in the wines while making them more approchable in their youth.

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