• Katie

The Magic of Bandol at Domaine de la Bégude

Why Domaine de la Bégude is the winery to visit in Provence.


We almost didn't make it to Bandol.


After a long, dramatic night of wedding festivities, we woke up exhausted - but excited - to explore wineries around Toulon, our homebase in the south of France. But when we arrived at the rental car kiosk, they informed us - albeit kindly - that we had made the reservation for the wrong day and that there were no more cars available. Desperate and tired, we hurried along to another rental car company to find that there was only one option: an SUV. We said we'd take it, piled in, and hiked up what felt like an endless labyrinth of one-way mountain roads in an enormous French Renault.


Terrifying as it was, our destination was an enchanting, remote winery in a forgotten place on the edge of a cliff: Domaine de la Bégude.



Meaning "the place where strangers are welcomed" in old Provençal, Bégude is a place that lives up to its name. It is an oasis of peace. We felt as though we'd stepped into a place outside of time. At once both ancient (with property origins dating back to the 14th century) and modern (with state-of-the-art winemaking facilities), it's a winery that is sure to stay with you forever.


To begin our visit, Soledad Tari, coproprietor of the estate, gave us a private tour through the cellars, grounds, and winemaking facilities. "We age the wines in a cellar that has been around since the 7th century," she tells us, her hands tracing the ridges on the stone walls. "It used to be a chapel for pilgrims and wanderers as they passed through, but there are wine stains in some places." She laughs. "So we know they've certainly kept wine here for centuries."


Standing in that winding, cold cellar gave me goosebumps. The weight of human history was tangible in the air around us. Had those early travelers also sought calm and refuge after a wild weekend, too? Maybe they'd walked here after searching for rest in the hot sun for hours and hours. Maybe the water at that time wasn't safe to drink and all they'd wanted was a good glass of whatever the Bandol wine region was making at that time. It's the magical places like that cellar that make you think, isn't it?



We continued into the winemaking facilities, which were not only stunning - with vaulted ceilings and cypress beams from the trees on the property - but crafted by Guillaume and Soledad themselves. "We were young then," she laughs, recounting the story to us, "Well, I suppose, a bit like the two of you. We wanted a modern winery from the beginning. One that was ours." All of Bégude's wines are certified organic. Many have zero sulfites added, and all vintages use elements of biodynamics and come from a property that is quite wild and biodiverse. In short, the wines are just as astonishing as the place that creates them.


With the first half of the property tour finished, we moved onto a private tasting with the winemaker, Julian. Carefree and enthusiastic, he walked us through five of the six wines produced by Domaine de la Bégude. Unlike some other estates in the area, which only produce rosé and red wines, Bégude also produces a dazzling white Bandol, which Julian suggested was perfect for a weekday summer dinner amongst friends.


But the stars of the tasting were in fact the Mourvèdre-based rosés and the reds. I'm a picky rosé drinker (to say the least) and recently I've found myself hyper critical of rosés from Provence. With little depth and complexity, so many of Provence's producers have resorted to the rosés that sell on the mass market. I understand why, but I also wish they'd stayed true to themselves.


Bandol, however, is the bad boy appellation of the region. To hell with convention - these rosés have personalities. Even so, the rosés from Domaine de la Bégude are not as rich as one might suspect from the more famous producers in the area. We found them to be the perfect balance between the complexity we crave in rosés and the light, fresh minerality we love about so many French wines. Both L'Irreductible and the Bandol Rosé from Bégude were both delicious and sold stateside. (You should be able to find a shop that carries them on Wine Searcher!)


As we finished our tasting, Soledad wandered back in with a picnic basket full to the brim of all sorts of goodies. I'd thought for sure she'd leave us to our own devices to pick a spot we'd seen already on the property (that garden was certainly calling my name), but instead she led us out to a 70s-era jeep with a glint in her eye. "Well we have to show you the views," she said matter-of-factly, and drove out through the brush.



Surrounded by luscious olive trees and vines, the remoteness and yes - the weight of humanity too - hit us once again. "This trail we are on used to be the main medieval road between Marseille and Toulon. Good for carriages, not so much for cars!" The conversation flowed endlessly between the three of us, part in French, part in English - all an experience we knew we'd never forget. And then, we rounded up to the hill.



If we weren't already in love with Bégude before, it was the lookout spots that stole the show. Soledad was kind enough to show us two of them - both equipped with beautiful stone tables, breezy from the Mistral wind, surrounded by vines, and overlooking the entirety of Bandol and Provence below. We picked a spot in the shade and settled in as she drove back to the winery, and then took a moment to breathe it in. These are the kinds of moments that inspire me to return to French wine country again and again and again.


As wineries around France become more and more commercialized, it's experiences like these that remain the true ambassadors of French wine culture. We visited another, more famous domaine in Bandol that day, but were so put off by the corporate impersonality of the visit that it's hardly worth mentioning - much less purchasing their wines stateside anymore. Domaine de la Bégude's wines may be a bit more difficult to find in the U.S., but when you pick up a bottle you'll know that the team responsible for them are not only kind, hospitable, and fun - they're also carrying on a centuries-old tradition that has welcomed the hungry, the poor, and the restless for generations. And today, they're doing it all with utmost care and respect for the planet, the people, and the cultural tradition it represents.


For me, there's nothing more beautifully French than that.


To arrange a visit at Domaine de la Bégude, send an email over to their staff at: events@domainedelabegude.fr. A full picnic with local meats, cheeses, spreads, plus a bottle of wine is available for 49€ a person (and well worth not only the delicious food but also the view at the top of Bandol). Located just up the hill of Le Castellet, it's about a 25 minute drive from Toulon. Tell Soledad French Wine Tutor sent ya. ;-)


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