I first heard of Domaine Tempier while reading Kermit Lynch’s Adventures on the Wine Route. The book had me out searching for not only Domaine Tempier, but every other wine that was mentioned in the book.
I love wine and I love to read, so I’m willing to admit that my love of Kermit Lynch wines might be seriously skewed by my love of his way with words. Embodying a philosophy about life and wine that is bound together in a beautiful tapestry. His words ring so true to me that it feels as though he is a wise old friend who’s beliefs, insights, and wines could solve all of the world’s problems in short order.
The wine that has eluded me the most is Domaine Tempier. Every time I’ve walked into a wine shop looking forward it, the sales person inevitably begins waxing poetic about it. It disappears and soon as it arrives it seems, and allocations are highly prized. I’m not kidding when I tell you I’ve been told it would change my life. If you ever want to make fast friends with your local shop, ask if they have Domaine Tempier, you are sure to start some great dialogue.
Adventures on Our Own Personal Wine Route
My husband and I recently visited the south of France, renting a car in Marseille with our sights set on Cassis. We knew we would have some time to kill before checking into our AirBnB, and that Domaine Tempier was only about 45 minutes away. I reached out to the winery via email to see if it would be possible to visit and perhaps have a tour. The tour was not possible, but they invited us to to stop by during open hours for a tasting.
This was our first time renting a car in a foreign country and we thought that we would drive along the coast from Marseille to Bandol and then head inland to the winery. Shortly after pulling out of the rental car facility we realized that the route we had planned required tolls and we weren’t sure if the rental car had a sensor allowing us to drive through tolls or if we should stop and pay. We decided to take the highway – the polar opposite of leisurely and scenic – with the thought that we would figure this out on the way back and drive to our rental in Cassis along the scenic route.
Thankfully, about halfway to the winery, we exited the highway for beautiful mountain scenery. We realized we were ravenous and pulled off the road into a little village, as can only happen in France. What happened from here was so scary and stressful that I failed to take any pictures, nor did I have the wherewithal to even register the name of the village or where exactly we were! Actually, I did snap this pic of beautiful vineyards right when we pulled off the road. In retracing our route on a map, I think it might have been La Cadiere d’Azure.
What could possibly be so stressful and scary in such beautiful surroundings you ask? Well. I believe that my navigation app must have been giving us walking directions, which would have been great, but we were still in the rental car. We ended up driving down passages that even by European standards were so very narrow that I thought we might scrape the car at several points. We had to take a left turn at one point and I’m not exaggerating when I say I think it was a 16 point turn!
Many prayers were said before we eventually arrived at what appeared to be an exit. There was a family arriving home and parking their car outside of where we were and walking to their house, on pathway we were on so I am fairly certain we shouldn’t have been driving where we were. There was also a work truck parked at the end of the pathway and we barely squeezed in between that and the car that had just parked. I might add that the French family parking their car gave us a look that could only be interpretated as “what f&cking a$$holes” but we were so glad to have found an exit we didn’t care and could only agree with them!
We make our way back on to an actual road and find a stand alone restaurant not far from where we were but definitely not in a little village. I wish I could tell you the name of this restaurant, but it escapes me. I can tell you this though, I actually took my French language book with me because I knew we were not in a touristy area.
My instincts were correct and no one spoke English, but as is usually the case, speaking with our hands was much faster than pulling out our little book. We ended up with a 3 course lunch of a tabbouleh salad, duck, and apple tart. It was a lovely little recovery spot from our stressful mishap.
Whew! What a morning! We were only about 10 minutes from Domaine Tempier and we arrived without further incident.
Upon arrival I was struck by the simplicity of this little winery and its grounds. There was someone painting shutters, a swing set, a patio. Perfect in its apparent simplicity. I don’t know if the family still lives on site here and it felt intrusive to ask such questions, so I didn’t.
I poked my head in the door and said bonjour and asked if we would be able to have a tasting? There was a French couple who had just began tasting when we arrived and our hostess asked if they minded if we joined in and they were gracious enough to agree. Our hostess was wonderful at conducting this tasting in two languages simultaneously.
The tasting room was cozy, with the only seating being a bench right near the door. We tasted 3 wines, the white, rose, and the flagship classic cuvee red. The pours were very “tasting” sized, perhaps 1 ounce each.
How to put into words. Perfectly pleasant, but perhaps restrained?
I’m going to let you in on what I think is a little secret because I also visited another winery in Cassis that is imported to the U.S. by Kermit Lynch, and that is that these wineries seem to have the same policy towards visiting Americans, which is that you should buy the wine in the U.S. from Kermit Lynch. I have affectionately dubbed this being “Kermit Lynch blocked!”
At both wineries we visited, they would not ship to the U.S.. and Domaine Tempier limited our purchases to 2 bottles person. Ugh! I was literally crushed. I had visions of shipping home at least a case of wine, but it was not possible. I tried to not actually cry. These are not questions I thought to ask prior to visiting.
Our hostess very kindly explained the different vineyards and showed us a picture hanging in the winery of Richard Olney and Alice Waters, a fun American connection to two people important to Domaine Tempier’s story. I told her that the wine eludes me in the U.S., I’ve only ever had the rose, because it is so sought after and she seemed very aware that this is the case. I asked her if it was the case in France as well and she indicated it was, mentioned allocations, very interesting.
The proprietress of Domain Tempier was Lulu Peyraud who passed away in 2020 at the age of 103! The Domaine had been her father’s and was given to her and her husband Lucien Payraud as a wedding gift. The history is not only fascinating, but incredibly important to the Bandol region. I will delve deeper into it in a future post when I actually open one of my coveted bottles.
The hostess spoke about the amazing life and legacy of Lulu and I really regret not asking if she was perhaps a granddaughter, or related in some other way to the family. I don’t mean to ignore Lucien Peyraud by any means, it was he who became passionately obsessed with producing wines from Domaine Tempier. Lulu apparently took being the proprietress to new levels with her gregarious personality, and lavish entertaining. I want to share a passage from the Adventures on the Wine Route book that I think will give you an inkling of why I am so enamored with Kermit Lynch and with Domaine Tempier:
It is a favorite saying in France that a wine reflects the character of the man who made it. But is not an equally persuasive argument that in the wine you see the character of the winemaker’s loved one? After all, like an artist (one would hope) a winemaker attempts to create a wine that satisfies his ideal of what is good or beautiful. And, one would hope (presume?), he has chosen a wife or lover because she personifies his ideal of beauty, beauty not merely in terms of appearance but in terms of personality and character, the whole person.
Is is going too far to see a parallel between the women and the wines? Certainly, the wine of Domaine Tempier would not be the same were it not for Lulu, who’s personality is similar to that of the Domaine’s wine, with her qualities of vigor, earthiness, and finesse.Kermit Lynch, Adventures on the Wine Route
I mean seriously. It is this kind of thinking and observations that are completely missing from the world today.
I am so glad that I was able to visit this special place, even if it didn’t result in a shipment of wine for me. Standing in the tasting room, seeing the Domaine, soaking up that energy where so many great people have stood, and amazing things have happened, felt surreal.
Currently in the U.S. it is the 2019 vintage of Domaine Tempier is sold out everywhere, and at least in the Atlanta area, the 2020 has not landed, so I was tickled pink to purchase the 2017 vintage of the red at the winery. The 2017 is in honor of Lulu Peyraud’s 100th birthday. These bottles feel like a treasure. I love that there is a swing embossed on the label. I am on the waitlist at my local wine shops for the 2020 vintage which I think I am more likely to open than these prized bottles that I brought home from France with me.
Stayed tuned for Part 2 of John and Cathie’s personal adventures on the wine route. If you are a Kermit Lynch fan, you probably can guess where we visited based on our location in Cassis. Thankfully no driving was needed!