Even in a place as beautiful as Bandol, winemaking is really hard work. Our visit to Castell-Reynoard, a small, family-owned, property, was a great reminder of what a tough job this can be. When we met up with Julien Castell, who has recently started to take up wine-making duties next to his father, Jean-Marie, he was coming off the last day of harvest. Day/night, I should say, as they start at 6 in the morning and go until 10 at night, with a break in the afternoon during the hottest part of the day. And it definitely gets hot — this is one of the warmest and sunniest spots in all of France. Great for you and me when we’re sitting next to a swimming pool, not so great when you’re out there all day picking grapes or supervising a crew of pickers, knowing that your family’s fortunes and reputation depend on getting those grapes out of the hot sun and into the winery as soon as possible so you can start making wine ASAP. (Grapes don’t like to be out in the midday heat anymore than a shrimp salad sandwich or a popsicle does.)
Despite whatever strain Julien might have been feeling, he was incredibly gracious, taking the time to explain how he and his family do what they do, and even introducing us to Cannelle (Cinnamon), the resident dog of the domaine.
He is also incredibly open and ambitious, two characteristics that will no doubt serve him well as he looks to raise the profile of Castell-Reynoard.
A committed Burgundy lover who spent some time in California, Julien is not afraid to experiment and look to other wine regions for inspiration. In fact, we caught him in the middle of checking on his new pet project for the property — a high-end bottling featuring fruit from the best of their plots. Right now, they just make one white, one rosé, and one red. Introducing a more prestigious line featuring the best grapes would be a big step up for Castell-Reynoard. He’s also experimenting with Tronçais oak, used in Burgundy, to see what kind of character it will impart on Bandol wines, which usually don’t have a strong affinity for oak. (More on that in my upcoming post on Château de Pibarnon.)
Julien let us take a peek at the fermenting mass of fruit. When he uncovered the barrel, the heady, tangy, yeasty smell made Paul rear back his head in surprise.
It’ll be a small experiment–around 300 bottles–although we made Julien promise to come to New York and bring us some. Of course, we’ll have to wait a few years. By law, Bandol needs to be aged at least 18 months in oak, and Julien’s cuvée will probably spend even more time in barrel. Winemaking strikes me as the ultimate in “hurry up and wait”: you bust your butt to harvest the grapes at exactly the right moment — ripe but not overripe — and then often have to wait years before you know what you’ve got. Yet another reason why winemaking as a business seems like folly. Of course, winemaking as a way of life, brutal hours under the sun notwithstanding, seems incredibly gratifying–especially when the wine is good. The 2007, the most recent vintage, and liked the blackberry-meets-new-leather-jacket aroma and flavors. This wine isn’t incredibly easy to find (and presumably Julien’s special bottling will be nearly impossible to to get), but you can contact the importer, Savio Soares Selections, for more information.