From the moment Henri Milan planted his first vine at just 8 years old, he knew viticulture would be his life’s passion. In 1986, he took over the family property in the foothills of Provence’s Alpilles mountain range with the grand intention of growing the best, most characterful fruit the diverse soils there could yield and bottling as a domaine instead of selling to the local co-op as his parents had done. Milan began working organically as early as 1988, but many of the vines weren’t hardy enough to survive the conversion from conventional farming. With the help of famous microbiologist Claude Bourgignon, he created a soil map to serve as a guide for how to replant. The duo identified zones of blue marl laced with limestone and other zones characterized by Quaternary-based gravel and yellow sandstone not dissimilar from that found at Château Rayas. Focusing on grape varieties best adapted to the individual soil types and producing site-specific wines, they felt, was the way forward. The best suited varieties, however, were not necessarily those prescribed by the Baux de Provence AOP, so Milan withdrew from the appellation system in 2007, declassifying his wines to Vin de France and cementing his reputation as the region’s rebel.
Like much of Provence, Domaine Milan’s terroir is marked by the push-and-pull forces of its warm Mediterranean climate and the influence of the powerful local wind known as “Le Mistral,” which serves as a natural air conditioner and protects vines from insects, mildew and other possible afflictions. The vineyard’s geographical situation near the Alpilles shelters it further from the elements and contributes to its unique soil makeup. The Milans are committed to biodynamic practices, work the vineyard by horse and use only native yeasts for fermentation. They bottled their first no-sulfur cuvée in 2000, years before it was fashionable, and never submit their wines to filtration or harsh pumping.
Le Grand Blanc
varieties: grenache blanc, rolle, roussanne, chardonnay & muscat à petits grains
soil type: blue clay avg vine age: 25 years
Le Grand Blanc comes off of two parcels—the Chardonnay and Muscat in one; the Rolle, Roussanne and Grenache Blanc in the other. Grapes are harvested within the same week, with the Grenache Blanc the last to ripen, and everything is direct pressed and co-fermented in a large concrete tank. The wine ages in neutral foudres and barrels for one year before bottling.
variety: grenache, syrah & nielluccio soil type: clay & limestone avg vine age: 15 years
Domaine Milan has been making this snappy, no-sulfur red since 2007. The grapes undergo a one-week maceration (the various varieties together) and are then pressed when fermentation is halfway complete. After pressing, the juice is racked into a large concrete tank, where fermentation finishes (about two days later) and the wine rests for 6 months before bottling.
variety: grenache, syrah & mourvèdre soil type: clay & limestone avg vine age: 25 years
Le Vallon is a rare feat of freshness, given the area’s warm, dry climate and the varieties in the blend. The Milans attribute this to the veins of limestone throughout their soils and to their practice of “rouleau faca” (flattening the cover crop into a blanket between vine rows, retaining moisture). All the grapes are hand harvested and co-fermented, and the resulting wine ages in concrete tank for 4 years prior to bottling.
Le Clos Milan
variety: grenache, mourvèdre & syrah soil type: sandy gravel & limestone avg vine age: 50 years
The cypress and pine tree-encircled ‘Clos’ vineyard is the crown jewel of Domaine Milan. It is the highest in elevation of the property and the most influenced by Les Alpilles, laden with mineral-rich limestone. The varieties are harvested within a few days of each other and are co-fermented before being pressed and barreled for extended aging. The 2007 vintage matured in barrel for 10 years before bottling. 2009 marked the last vintage of Clos Milan before the vineyard was replanted.