An Insider’s View: Neal Rosenthal on Château Pradeaux

Etienne Portalis, the current “maître-vigneron” (and the 3rd generation with which RWM has worked) relies almost exclusively on Mourvèdre. He uses the entire grape throughout the long vinification process, following the directives and playbook handed down by his great-aunt many years earlier.

Forty-five years into the development of our portfolio of wines, I step back from time-to-time to reflect on the selection process that has taken us to the new plateau of representing 150 or so family-run wine estates located in Western Europe. Of course, we are excited by the newest additions to our team of growers but we remain most proud of our very long-term relationships that extend in many instances to working with third and fourth generations of the same family. Familiarity harbors the danger of taking success for granted, an insidious misstep against which we must always be on guard. To counter that tendency to focus on the newest and brightest stars in the constellation, I constructed years ago an imagined pantheon in which live those growers who have proven their mettle over an extended period of time and whose wines remain so good and true to type as to place their work “hors catégorie”.

Amongst those heroes is the Portalis family, stewards of Chateau Pradeaux since before the French Revolution (1752) in the appellation of Bandol with vineyards sited within the sunny village of St. Cyr-sur-Mer, hard on the lapping waters of the Mediterranean. I first visited Pradeaux in 1983. Forty years on I consider it my stunning good fortune, and yours as well, to have developed a relationship with this unique and occasionally peculiar family whose rigorous obedience to the grandest traditions of Bandol result in the single most compelling expression of this noble terroir.

At Pradeaux no shortcuts are taken, no compromises made. Mourvèdre, this ornery, late-maturing grape with nearly black skin rife with ferocious tannins, is the king of the Pradeaux domain. Etienne Portalis, the current “maître-vigneron” (and the 3rd  generation with which I have worked) relies almost exclusively on Mourvèdre and uses the entire grape … skins, pits, stems … throughout the long vinification process, following the directives and playbook handed down by his great-aunt many years earlier.

The classic Pradeaux Rouge is aged for four-to-five years in large foudres and massive wooden ovals before being bottled without filtration. We present to you today in mid-2023 the current release: the 2017 vintage. How rare is it in this era of instant gratification and rapid conversion of product into cash to enjoy a wine tended to by a family so patient and respectful of the traditions that produce this most pure expression of the terroir of an appellation that as recently as the late 19th century was valued in the marketplace as the equal of the greatest classified growths of Bordeaux.

I have in my personal cellar examples of Pradeaux dating to the early 1980s which today, 35-40 years on, retain the power, structure, complexity that is their birthright. A perfume redolent of garrigue, tannins reluctantly and exquisitely relinquishing their grip to provide textural bliss, eager still to tell the story of this noble appellation. Enter the world of Bandol at its most pure, a royal wine for sure.


More on Château Pradeaux here.