Le Muse Blue: Henri Milan: naturally better wine in Provence
Curious Provence: Orange Wine by Domaine Henri Milan in St Remy
From the moment Henri Milan planted his first vine at just 8 years old, he knew viticulture would be his life’s passion. Today, with the help of his son Théophile and daughter Emmanuelle, Domaine Henri Milan is now considered one of the finest producers in Provence. The wines are full of energy and flavor with complexity that rivals producers all across France.
Domaine Milan is located in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence near the northern foothills of the Alpilles Mountains. 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.
Henri’s father Robert Milan bought the property in 1956. He planted grapes in 1958 and primarily sold the fruit to local co-ops. Henri’s story starts in 1986 when he took over the property with the grand intention and ambition of growing the best, most characterful fruit and bottling as a true domaine.
The first thing Milan changed was the farming; he began working organically as early as 1988. Tragically, many of the vines weren’t hardy enough to survive the conversion from conventional farming. Searching for help, Henri hired the famous microbiologist Claude Bourgignon to map his soil, which would then serve as a guide for how to replant. The duo identified zones of blue marl laced with limestone (same as some Chablis grand crus) and other zones characterized by Quaternary-based gravel and yellow sandstone (not dissimilar from that found at Château Rayas in Châteauneuf-du-Pape). Focusing on grape varieties best adapted to the individual soil types and producing site-specific wines, they felt, was the way forward. However, the best suited varieties were not necessarily those prescribed by the Baux de Provence AOP. Milan withdrew from the appellation system in 2007, declassifying his wines to Vin de France and cementing his reputation as the region’s rebel.
Today, the domaine has 20 hectares of vines, all certified organic since 2002. In addition to organics, Milan is also committed to biodynamics and uses the lunar calendar to guide their farming. A horse named Mistral is used to work the land. Milan and his children subscribe to the natural wine camp and work minimally in the cellar. Only native yeast fermentations take place. Bottling occurs with low additions of sulfites and some cuvées are completely SO2 free (1st bottling in 2000 well before it was fashionable). The wines are not fined or filtered.