Domaine Château Pradeaux
Neal Rosenthal, well-known importer of productions from the best French and Italian terroirs has dedicated one chapter of his book Reflections of a Wine Merchant to the question of succession among wine-growers. He notably evokes the great affection he has for the Portalis family, owner of Château Pradeaux since the middle of the 18th century. The estate is constituted of the remains of an heritage benefited by Jean-Marie Portalis, Minister of Napoleon, coauthor of the Code Civil and negociator of the Concordat.
The property, of about 50 acres, among which 36 of Appellation Bandol (one of the oldest AOC, dating 1941) has always been planted with vines and olive trees, but replantation of the estate (essentially of Mourvèdre during the early 1940’s), bottling and above all the extraordinary reputation of the Domaine is due to Comtesse Arlette Portalis. Her nephew and adopted son, Cyrille, took up the reins of the estate in 1983 and transmitted it to his eldest son Edward in 2010, when the latter obtained his diploma of ‘ingénieur en viticulture-oenologie’.
Bandol owes a great part of its specificity to Mourvèdre, a late and delicate variety of Spanish origin, introduced in France during the 16th century. This cépage is appreciated for its tannic structure, its aromatic richness (pepper, truffle, black fruit) and its ageing potential. The cultural methods used could not be more traditional: neither herbicides nor chemical fertilizers; sulphur and copper only are used against grape diseases, thanks to a permanent light breeze which makes systemic chemical products useless. Manual harvest, soft winemaking process (from non destemmed grapes concerning Château Pradeaux) very long breeding – 3 to 4 years –, for the ‘cuvée maître’ in old oak tuns. Finally, wines are ‘assembled’ and bottled without splicing and filtration.
I have had the pleasure to participate in a vertical testing of Château pradeaux organised by my friend SV. Wines were selected and presented by Cyrill Portalis who had pleased us with millésimes of the 80’s and 90’s from his own winemaking, as well as millésimes of the 60’s and 70’s, heritage of his beloved aunt. Connoisseurs know that the best Bandol show an incredible ageing potential and I keep emotional memories of this testing. In opposition to more ‘modern’ estates of the Appellation, everything is done at Pradeaux to maintain this tradition.
It is sometimes forgotten that wines from this origin used to be sold at prices comparable to those of Bordeaux ‘Grands Crus’ during the 19th century.
Apart from the mythical Château Pradeaux, the Domaine has always produced an excellent rosé, I mean a genuine one. Since a few years now, it also proposes another vintage of red. ‘Le Lys de Château Pradeaux’, of a shorter breeding (2 years though) and partially destemmed grapes is a lovely initiation for the impatients.