Domaine Les Bastides, Côteaux-d’Aix-en-Provence

Domaine Les Bastides label

Country & RegionFrance, Provence
Appellation(s)Côteaux d'Aix-en-Provence
ProducerCarole Salen
FoundedJean Salen purchased the property in 1967. Carole joined her father in 1987.

In the terroir of Puy-Sainte-Réparade the 26 hectares of vines, cultivated organically for more than forty years, produce wines of a rare classicism. Today, with Carole Salen, the style of the wines remains the purest tradition of the domain.
   -La Revue du Vin de France: Les Meilleurs Vins de France 2019

In 1967 Jean Salen bought Domaine Les Bastides and fell in love with planting vineyard parcels and cultivating grapes. In the process, he became a skilled viticulturist. Making wine and managing a cellar was never his strong suit (that became his daughter’s forte when she came of age, and she helped him immensely there), but even so by 1976 he felt confident enough to take the momentous step of withdrawing from the local co-op to produce and bottle his own wine.

The first wine he made was vin cuit, the famous cooked wine of Aix—a wine steeped in tradition but in Jean’s time all but forgotten. This may not have been the most commercial product with which to launch a marque, but Jean was committed to Provence’s traditions and to natural wine (long before it became cool), and he had always been a man to follow the commands of the heart. So he made a few cauldrons of vin cuit.

Jean and Carole Salen of Domaine les Bastides

Thereafter he began to make red wine and a rosé de saignée, which was the style of rosé that made Provence famous but which these days is rapidly going the way of vin cuit in favor of modern, pale direct-press rosés which are typically fined with a petroleum by-product known as PVPP. Fortunately, Carole, his daughter, now in charge of the domain, continues her father’s practice of making rare and rarified wines.

Jean passed away in 2015, but his passion is evident in Carole, a woman with a wonderfully warm heart and an impressively adroit hand. After earning degrees in viticulture and enology from universities in Bordeaux and Beaune, she returned to the domain in 1987 to work side by side with her father. Since then she has re-planted and expanded several vineyards, invested in equipment, and purchased new foudres for ageing her wine. In the process, she also raised a family.

Carole Salen of Domaine les Bastides

Les Bastides is located due north of Aix in the hills descending to the Durance River, which marks the border between the Bouches-du-Rhône and Vaucluse départements. The domain has 62 acres in vines divided into 17 parcels. Two full-time employees aid Carole, and during the growing season she hires one or two part-timers. She finds organic farming to be second nature, and she extends its logic to the cellar, where her ferments are spontaneous, sulfur additions are kept to a minimum, acid additions do not exist, fining rarely happens, and filtrations are kept to a minimum. This is, in every sense, a cutting edge artisanal domain.

Domaine les Bastides countryside

Final photo courtesy of Jeff Bramwell (it’s of Carole’s Cabernet parcels in winter, stepping down the hillside in terraces, with Cézanne’s beloved Mont Sainte-Victoire in the background).

The Wines

Côteaux d'Aix Blanc
Based on Vermentino and Sauvignon Blanc with some ClairetteCarole is a big fan of this wine. It comes from vines growing on her north-facing slopes, and she gets a lot of texture and flavor from these grapes. Normally, full malolactic takes place spontaneously and there is no need of acid “adjustments.” One tank, or 250 cases are produced annually.
Côteaux d'Aix Rosé de SaignéeBased on Grenache and then Cinsault with sometimes a dollop of MourvèdreThis is a full-bodied, textured wine with structure that makes it superb at the table. It's made only in good years and production averages 800 cases maximum.
Côteaux d'Aix Rosé de Carole
Based on Cabernet Sauvignon with Grenache and a little MourvèdreThis is the rosé made via direct press, in which the grapes are directly and lightly pressed to make this wine. It is a much clearer wine than the rosé de saignée, readily understood and easily appreciated. Production averages 1,500 cases.
Côteaux d'Aix Rouge
70% Grenache, 30% Cabernet SauvignonFrom vines averaging 30 years old (oldest parcel dates from 1964) growing on slopes between 720 and 985 feet above sea level. Grapes are de-stemmed, fermented separately, and aged over the first winter in tanks where clarification and malolactic fermentation happen naturally. Then the wine is blended and put into foudre for roughly 12 months. 830 cases annually.
Côteaux d'Aix Rouge Valéria

A blend of Cabernet Sauvignon with some 40% GrenacheFrom the same parcels as the rouge traditional above, and the wine is treated the same except the time in foudre for the best lots of the year is roughly doubled. Valéria was an important Roman in the region during the days of the Roman occupation. Production averages 1,100 cases.
Vin Cuit
GrenacheThe wine that Jean Salen single-handsurrected from old recipes he dug up when he launched his own production (today there are stiedly rell only a handful of producers). It is a traditional wine from the region of Aix-en-Provence, and Thomas Jefferson noted 17 bottles of vins cuits de Provence in one of his inventories at Montpellier. The wine can be made of any number of varieties, but in the case of Domaine Les Bastides it is the juice of Grenache and only Grenache that simmers in a cauldron over a wood fire for hours on end, constantly stirred, never boiled, until it's reduced by 25-30%, whereupon it's chilled down and put into tank to ferment very slowly, then filtered and bottled before Christmas without any added sugar or spirits. Traditionally, this was served during Christmas holidays with 13 desserts symbolizing Christ and his apostles.

Les Bastides does not make this wine every year because it requires a concentrated vintage (and it does come from a single vintage even though it's labeled without a year because the production is too small to order an expensive run of labels specifying the vintage; Carole orders a large run to be used for multiple vintages).

This Vin Cuit is a rich and surprisingly elegant wine, redolent of apricots and quince, and it is shockingly delicious. Production averages 150 cases and is made without sulfites because the level of sugar and acidity protects the wine and holds it steady.