A "Wine Hero" Story

Apr 15th 2020

A "Wine Hero" Story

When times get tough--like, now!--it can be reassuring to reflect on examples throughout history, when courageous men and women faced huge odds and won.

This is one of my favorite "wine hero" stories—it's a great drama about the triumph of winemakers over thousands of years. Sit back, relax and let me tell you the story of Bandol andits new champion, Guilhem Tournier.

Our story takes place in Bandol, Southern France's tiny seaside appellation. First planted by the Phoenecians in 600 BC, Bandol wine became a popular export under the Roman Empire (as evidenced by countless amphorae relics in ancient shipwrecks), and a "premium brand” in the Middle Ages (when it was shipped in containers marked with a “B” so connoisseurs such as Louis XV could identify them).

The time is now 1939 and WW II is in full swing. Bandol vineyards are nearly destitute—Phylloxera had wiped out the prized Mourvèdre vines (the backbone of Bandol's premium image) in the late 1800s, and, with WW I and II so quickly behind, farmers had little chance to invest the time and care to replant the finicky and slow-growing variety.

Instead, they pump out high yielding, low quality wines just to get by. But they suffer—the identity crisis is real for a region with such a long history of being associated with great wine.

Just then, our heroes emerge. Galvanized by memories of Bandol's former glory, a few indomitable farmers including Louis Tournier (Guilhem Tournier's grandfather) and Lucien Peyraud (Tempier) stage a comeback. They source premium Mourvèdre mother-vines from Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape and Chateau Simone in Provence for their estates. By 1941—just two years later, they lay down foundations to ensure Bandol's quality is top notch, codifying rules for the Bandol AOC that are so strict, they remain one of France's most rigorous appellations even today.

Fast-forward to 2004. Louis Tournier bequeaths his grandson Guilhem a prime vineyard parcel next to the sea, some Mourvèdre selections massale (originally from Beaucastel and Simone), and his uncompromising standards.

Guilhem—who reminds me of Mel Gibson in Braveheart—knows that he has huge shoes to fill and gives it all he's got. He becomes a champion of terroir, going beyond even standard-bearer Tempier to showcase Mourvèdre in his wine; he uses 90%+ Mourvèdre in his red, and 70% in his rosé (triple the amount required by the appellation). He makes the wine as pure as he can, farming biodynamically, vinifying with native yeasts, fining and filtering with plant-based material. The in-crowd takes note and his wine become a staple in the hip Paris bistros and beyond.

If this story sounds good, it tastes even better. Let us know if you'd like to share it with your guests.