At Château Sainte-Anne in Bandol, we met the fifth-generation owner Jean-Baptiste Dutheil in the shade of centuries-old cedars adjacent to the vineyard. Bottles were lined up on an ancient stone dug up directly from the property, and each glass received a generous pour of vintage after vintage, accompanied by stories of family births and deaths. We walked right into the fields of garrigue, which include wild fennel and thyme, and picked up handfuls of soil and smelled it and filtered the limestone through our fingers. We soaked up the same sun glaring off the green leaves of the vines and could almost taste the salt in the breeze from the sea.
This connection to terroir, and even the vintner, makes tasting and drinking wine a more personal and rewarding experience. Terroir is the unique quality of the vines’ environment, including light, soil nutrients, temperatures, and moisture. The vintner can explain why different percentages of various varietals are used from year to year for a specific wine; conditions change, and a skilled winemaker can adapt and adjust as needed. You can walk into a tasting room and swirl and smell, but until you engage with the means of production you are missing something. After all, despite how we elevate wine to a lofty level in society, it is still just juice from grapes cultivated with much labor; a vineyard is a farm.
When you do travel to a winery, take the time to go on a tour. See the tanks and barrels behind the scenes, the tractors and trucks on the dirt roads, and maybe even a worker with grape-stained hands. Ask questions and, more important, listen intently. The Bandol reds (primarily Mourvèdre) are more memorable to us than many other bottles, because the sappy, herbal minerality of every sip takes us back to Provence. We feel the warm welcome of Jean-Baptiste, and the pride of his heritage. Here's to raising your glass and getting down to earth!