There is simply no other estate like Château Pradeaux, a pillar of the Rosenthal Wine Merchant portfolio for over 35 years now, and the perennial torchbearer for viscerally traditional Bandol. While growers in this seaside appellation have gradually softened their wines over the years, the Portalis family—now run by ninth-generation Etienne—remains uncompromising in their approach, crafting singular wines that reveal themselves over time and possess the stuffing to outlast most of us reading this offering today.
It was during the second world war that the family’s present-day modus operandi was established. Etienne’s great-grandmother Suzanne and her daughter Arlette retreated to the family property, which had fallen into great disrepair following the ravages of phylloxera, and undertook the formidable task of reviving viticulture there. The vines they planted continue to bear fruit today, and Etienne propagates any new plantings using a massale selection from these hearty old specimens, which still yield beautifully. Suzanne and Arlette didn’t feel like springing for the alluring new labor-saving chemical treatments being hawked at the time, so they worked the land without them, as Etienne still does. (One wonders if the vines owe their lasting vigor at least in large part to such an unbroken organic approach.) Never overly concerned with commerce, they would let their wine linger in cask for up to six years, a regimen which has been shortened over the ensuing generations to a “mere” four—still far beyond the appellation norm.
The Pradeaux cellar itself is a no-nonsense affair—an homage to cinderblock minimalism with all the charm of a military bunker. But for those skeptical of technology’s encroachment into the world of wine, there are few sights more reassuring. One chamber houses several ancient cement fermentation tanks, each roughly the size of a Manhattan studio apartment; this leads to a passage lined with 35-to-55-hectoliter sexagenarian oak foudres, accessed via bowing, rickety planks straddling a drainage trough; alas, this is the “small barrel room,” as the next chamber contains even more gargantuan casks accessible only via ladder. (Acrophobic visitors may wish to hide their eyes as Etienne ascends to their summits to withdraw cask samples, taking his life into his hands each time.) Moving wine around in this cellar is a thankless task—one which Etienne describes as “Tetris”—but he makes it work with aplomb; in here, he has everything he needs and nothing he doesn’t.
The magic of Château Pradeaux lies in its unfettered expression of Mourvèdre, that thick-skinned, late-ripening variety which sings in its full glorious range in Bandol’s Mediterranean-hugging vineyards. Pradeaux’s 18 hectares are the nearest to the sea in the entire appellation, and they tend to harvest a full two weeks later than their neighbors. Appellation law requires at least 50% Mourvèdre in a Bandol, and while many domaines hew closer to the minimum, cushioning their wine with hearty proportions of Grenache and Cinsault, Pradeaux produces a full-strength wine of 95% Mourvèdre.
Gutsy, darkly spicy, and unabashedly gamy, Mourvèdre is inherently untamable. Attempts to polish it end up coming off like Bigfoot in a business suit. Unsoftened by destemming, however, Pradeaux Bandol is free to beat its chest and howl, even as it gains complexity and refinement over its staggering four-year elevage. What ends up getting bottled is a pulsing, living wine, shot through with freshly pulverized spices, always with a deeply savory minerality verging on the saline, and a frankness to its tannins. Much tends to be made of young Pradeaux’s fearsome tannins, but these are honest tannins—tannins derived from healthy grapes and ripe stalks rather than from the vanilla-laced staves of expensive barriques. They’re the rambunctious tannins of wild youth, not the cynical tannins of a wine of striving. And there is always a wealth of glowing, sun-drenched Mediterranean fruit bursting through the dense latticework of structure. We revel in these tannins, knowing they will provide Pradeaux Bandol with decades of life.
In contrast to the three years preceding it, the 2015 vintage yielded a classic and deeply typical version of Pradeaux Bandol: a wine of grainy, spicy fruit, medium in weight but rippling with underlying power, and with an intoxicating aromatic overlay of violets and smoked meats. The 2015 growing season was quite warm, but ample rain staved off hydric stress and steered the wine’s character away from that of an extreme drought vintage, and harvest took place at a normal time, beginning on October 3rd and wrapping up on the 10th. Perhaps no wine in the RWM portfolio embodies our ethos as perfectly as does Château Pradeaux, and we look forward to sharing this monumental 2015 Bandol with you—and to enjoying it for many years to come.