This 19-hectare family domain is practically paddling in the Mediterranean and has been proudly flying the Bandol flag for nine generations. We had the chance to chat to Etienne Portalis, the youngest in the family line and son of Cyril Portalis, Pradeaux’s current owner.
The Portalis family, running the show in Bandol since the 18th century
Which came first, the Portalis clan or Bandol wines? The answer to this might not be totally clear, but one thing is certain: they are now inescapably associated. One of the most notable figures in the history of this Provençal domain was Jean-Etienne-Marie Portalis, minister to Napoleon, co-writer of the Civil Code and a big fan of wine! Whilst he spent most of his time in Paris, he never missed out on the chance to return to his cherished vines. Following generations made fleeting visits to the estate, but it wasn’t until 1939 when, fleeing the Nazi occupation, the Portalis family decided to make Château Pradeaux their primary residence. Just three years later, Arlette Portalis wished to invest further in the property, so she collaborated with Pierre Le Roy de Boismarié to create the famous Bandol appellation. The care afforded to the vineyards has always been a central aspect of their work, and now they are in the process of converting to organics.
Mourvèdre and Bandol, a classic love story
When you hear about the Côtes de Provence region, your mind probably takes you first and foremost to the clear and fruity rosés we all like to enjoy with friends in the summer. Whilst these wines have propelled the region to great renown, they are truly only the tip of the iceberg. Certain appellations like Bandol produce fine, cellaring reds fit to be compared to Bordeaux’s grands crus despite differences in climate and terroir. One thing united this appellation’s reds and rosés: the grape variety. This is the Mourvèdre grape, a variety that crossed the Pyrenees a long time ago and has retained its character, flourishing best with its feet in the water and its head in the sunshine. Unsurprising, then, that it’s right at home in Bandol. At Château Pradeaux, no less than 95% of the vines are planted with Mourvèdre. This is particularly good for the rosés since it brings a lovely colour and characteristic vinosity. This grape is also good for producing reds with rich tannins and apicy notes.
Long maturation for incredible aging potential
Wines with immense aging potential, Bandol reds are for seasoned enthusiasts according to Etienne Portalis. He likes for his wines to stand out as “niche cuvées” to be put aside for special occasions. Usually he carries out the harvest relatively late in order for the grapes to be as full of sun as possible. Then the vinifications are often completed in whole harvests depending on the particularities of the vintage. The juice is fermented in concrete vats with indigenous yeasts, a process that can last up to two years.
Something that truly stands out here is that maturation takes an average of four years, the necessary time for the Mourvèdre to develop and to prepare the wine for the extensive cellaring that will follow. Etienne uses large barrels so as not to mark the wine too heavily and he stirs the wine much less often now. This results in less material extraction and suppler wines. In 2010, the domain crafted two wines, a red and a rosé. Today, their range is a collection of seven cuvées, three reds and four rosés.
What do the guides say?
La revue du vin de France
‘Pradeaux has retained its reputation: a classic red that flourishes gradually over time, gaining in strength and uniqueness thanks to a vinification of whole grape bunches (most rare in Bandol) and long maturations in 40 to 80-year-old barrels. This also explains their distinguished profile. Keep them in the cellar for ten years or more, and you’re bound to be pleasantly surprised.’
‘This domain, a landmark figure of the Bandol appellation, has belonged to the Portalis family since 1752 […] Several of their more mature vintages take on the surprising allure of the finest Bordeaux cuvées, even with little in common in the way of grape varieties, climate or terroir. These wines count among the finest Bandol classics.’