Now Reading
L’Irreductible: Guillaume Tari of Domaine de la Bégude

L’Irreductible: Guillaume Tari of Domaine de la Bégude

Guillaume Tari | Photo credit: Gilbert Bages

“What a sad era when it is easier to smash an atom than a prejudice.”

Guillaume Tari mentioned a version of this Einstein quote as we settled in to chat about his estate and winemaking philosophies. In particular, we were speaking on his production of rosé—his 2020 vintage sitting in front of me the color of deep congo pink and atypical of the sea of light, lacy, pale pink rosés from the Provence region. Technically, Tari makes his rosé along with his reds and whites in Provence, but they defy expectations, and after getting to know him, you’d expect nothing less.

Located in the tiny appellation of Bandol is Tari’s estate, Domaine de la Bégude. The city of Bandol is a short distance east of Marseille and west of Toulon, all located near or on the Mediterranean Sea. It gives its name to the appellation, small compared to the surrounding swaths of Côtes de Provence, with about 3,950 acres of vineyard land. Though it may be easy to think of this region as a burgeoning resort town, the Bandol appellation sits near mountainous land that’s home to its south-facing vineyards, climbing to an altitude of 1,300 feet. It’s home to the Mourvèdre grape, where its vines are situated amongst patches of trees and undergrowth. Right at the top of one of these peaks in front of the grand Sainte-Baume mountain sits Domaine de la Bégude. The estate has a view of Bandol out to the Mediterranean Sea. Tari explains, “The Mediterranean is a specific place with a specific way of living, but in the appellation Bandol, we have the spirit of people from the mountains. It’s a place of resistance.” He goes on to talk about Sainte-Baume as a pilgrimage site—it’s where Mary Magdalene came to retire for prayer and meditation. Many Christians make the pilgrimage, and not even the French Revolution could stop them from coming. Tari himself is a man of contemplation and resistance—and his history and style are evidence of that. Even though he has served as President of the Bandol appellation, and is devoted to it, it doesn’t always mean he adheres to the region’s mainstream.

Tari is a seventh-generation winemaker. His family has been making wine around the Mediterranean sea and Bordeaux for centuries. He was raised at Château Giscours, a Margaux Third Growth in Bordeaux and learned from his father at an early age. In 1996, Guillaume and his brother, Louis, seeking a home for their vision of terroir-driven and ageable reds and rosés, discovered Domaine de la Bégude. His grandfather had bought 18.5 acres of vines in Château Giscours back in 1952. With their arrival at Bégude, the brothers found that same superficy of vines with the rest of the area almost abandoned. It was seemingly a sign of destiny. It was then that they established their current estate. Tari now owns the property with his wife, Soledad, and they’ve expanded their vineyard holdings to 76 acres in 80 different spots—interspersed with olive trees and forest greenery.

Vineyards at Domaine de la Bégude | Photo credit: José Nicolas

“If you compare our vines to others around the world, where all the vines are the same, we say they are looking like a regular army. You can’t tell the difference from one vine to the other, well-curved, perfect. But here we are the resistance army—we have rebellious, undisciplined vines,” explains Tari. Every vine looks different at Bégude and buds differently depending on the vintage. The estate’s approach is to make sure that no human intervenes with that. As soon as 1996, all pesticides, weedkillers, and chemical fertilizers were completely banished. The winery was certified organic in 2003. When Tari took over in the 90s, he felt as if he had to reverse the damage done in the past three decades—and he doesn’t call his new regimen organic, per se. “They have new words for all of this, but it’s harmony. There’s a human ability to overtake nature, and the opposite is terroir—to be in harmony with nature.” Bandol AOP requires vines to be hand-harvested and additional sugar and irrigation is prohibited.

But additionally with Bégude, the vines aren’t irrigated, they are all separately cut and treated, and in the winery, they only use natives yeasts, and there is no fining, filtering, or addition of sulfites. These types of treatments take time and patience and produce lower yields—and there’s some suffering for it. But Tari doesn’t mind. “Because of the suffering, the vines will give you something unusual, which we call vintage.” When he plants a vine, he will not see a bottle of white or rosé for at least five years, and for reds, ten. Not a lot of it either. And for him, that’s perfectly okay—terroir is long-term.

Begude estate | Photo credit: @Drone-Pictures

An Unlikely Mistress

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for something on the side. Tari tells me, “I asked an old guy from the country to come and tell me if I bought a good property with quality vines. One part of it seems to be dead; the other has grapes. My wife is next to me, and he looks at me, he looks at her, and he said to my wife, I think your husband has discovered his new mistress. She was astonished, we were just married for a month, and he says, no, he discovered Mourvèdre. Since then, it’s been like this.” But, even his new mistress has been relatively long-term for him, and a simple fling doesn’t give his relationship with this variety much justice. Mourvèdre is the quintessential grape of Bandol. The notoriously tricky grape thrives here in the warm, Mediterranean climate. And with Bandol’s higher altitudes and diurnal shifts, the grape’s rugged structure tightens up and provides its wines with texture and freshness. The famed Mistral wind that runs through the region undoubtedly helps in promoting vine stress and deep roots, therefore solidifying the wines’ complexity and foundation. Red wines here must have 50 to 95 percent Mourvèdre and rosés with 20 to 95 percent with permitted additional varieties of Grenache and Cinsault.

Domaine de la Bégude also hosts the Conservatory of Mourvèdre—the largest genetic reservoir for the grape in the world, bringing together more than 116 varieties, found both in France and abroad. A group of agricultural engineers from the Chamber of Agriculture of the Var in collaboration with the Bandol appellation instituted the Conservatory in response to growers who were solely focused on one clone of the grape—for higher yield, higher alcohol, and mass production. Other clones started to disappear, eventually leaving only one type of vine. How would vintners here wake up in ten years? They wanted diversity—an essential tenet to the longevity of the region. Guillaume Tari has helped reinvigorate the Conservatory by replanting over 17 different types of Mourvèdre—black, white, and grey varieties—in virgin land at Bégude. He has overseen and conducted growing experiments, sourced from throughout the EU, and has enriched the program a little bit each year. It is now home to almost 116 different types of the variety. This long-term planning and openness to adaptability have allowed Bandol and Bégude to consistently and over time be a place that tames the “bad boy” Mourvèdre and helps it adapt to a warming climate.

Guillaume Tari at harvest | Photo credit: José Nicolas

Tari makes three reds from the grape. His flagship red is mostly Mourvèdre and sees the Bandol minimum requirement of 18 months in oak. Brulade is sourced from grapes at the domaine’s highest-altitude plantings, and their Cadet de la Bégude is a younger IGP Méditerranée and equal parts Mourvèdre, Grenache, and Cinsault. Tari produces these elegant yet structured reds as a committed conduit to the land. And they’re products of a lifelong love affair—both deeply rooted and rebellious, not only in Bandol but also in the Provençal land of fresh-off-the-press rosés.

Rosé with Soul

Rosé production wasn’t entirely off the table at Bégude. It was inescapable. After three years of failed attempts, he finally caught on to something. “In 1999, I harvested my oldest Mourvèdre for rosé production. It was the last chance. There was a wine that was very expressive even in fermentation, which was surprising because red at that stage is young, not even a baby. But with this wine, there was a lot of emotion, and it took me. I drank it, and it was pure Mourvèdre up until the end. He travels easily; when he’s aging, he’s getting roundness, gaining secondary aromas. It had soul, but everyone wants the pleasure now, not tomorrow.”

But in speaking with Tari about his rosés, we’re missing out by indulging our need for instant gratification. Speaking with him at all sounds like the long game might just lead to longevity, health, contemplation, and proper dégustation and pleasure. He explains, “We’ve been educated in a lot of orthodoxy about wine service. You serve the white at this temperature with the first course, the red at this one with this, but with our rose, you can serve it at three different temperatures. It can be cool and fresh as a great white from Burgundy or at cellar temperatures like a red with an array of foods. As it warms up through the meal, you have one bottle but a different wine. We even served the 1999 rosé for dessert.”

Photo credit: Gilbert Bages

Tari now makes a rosé regularly, and he lovingly put the time into it so we wouldn’t have to. He even makes a second rosé, dark in color, and more red berry and spice in flavor than its Provençal counterparts. It’s 90 percent Mourvèdre and aptly named “L’Irreductible.” Translated to English, irreducible is “impossible to restore to a desired or simpler condition.” I’d certainly rather drink a rosé with soul than try to smash an atom.