Domaine Milan is run by a family of rebels with a cause. The domaine was created in 1956 by Robert Milan, Henri's father. The domaine is located in the heart of Alpilles, in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, which is famous for one former frequent visitor: Vincent Van Gogh.
When Henri first took over the estate in 1986, the land had been spoiled by conventional farming methods that used excessive synthetic chemical treatments during the 1970s and early 1980s. As such, Henri decided to move towards organic production.
In 1996, Henri began to collaborate with renowned soil expert Claude Bourguignon and Claude Courtois, of Les Cailloux Du Paradis, who advised Milan on the process of natural winemaking. Against all odds, Henri was determined to work with nature and nurture the land organically.
Henri planted white grape varietals because his wife Véronique didn’t like red wine much. This move marked the beginning of the end of Henri’s relationship with the Appellation – Baux de Provence. Despite Henri finally being granted the right to make white wine in 2012, there were still limitations imposed on which varietals could be grown, and this didn’t include Chardonnay – Véronique’s favourite. These restrictions were very unwelcome, so rebellious Henri decided to free himself from them.
Henri's son (Théo) and daughter-in-law (Nathalie) joined the estate in 2014. Théo and Nathalie's involvement on the estate has brought a new lease of life as they strive to craft elegant wines without chemicals, additives, commercial yeasts and (in some cases) additional sulphur.
Théo and Nathalie are free to work out of the shackles of AOC rules – to experiment, test, adapt, and continue to hone their craft as artisan vignerons but with a wealth of experience, heritage, and arguably the healthiest soil in the region.
Today Théo makes rosé using carbonic maceration and whole bunch fermentation, as they do in Beaujolais, to create an energetic glou-glou style of rosé. Henri too has grafted Pinot Noir from his friend Emmanuel Giboulot in Burgundy onto Syrah rootstock. It's said that not one of the most famous winemakers in the region is part of the AOC, and this feeling is spreading across the whole of France.
Even when it comes to bottling, the Milans don’t follow convention. Sometimes they bottle vintages ignoring correspondence: for example, 2016 could be ready for bottling before 2015.
Vineyard practices, vinification, and terroir
Today the farm is managed using both biodynamic practices and permaculture. Cover cropping is particularly beneficial in helping to retain water and maintain optimum soil health.
The soils are a mixture of blue marl, limestone, clay and yellow sandstone. The only chemical treatment used during the entire process of growth and vinification is a small amount of sulphur dioxide, which is added during bottling on rare occasions. Fermentation begins through the use of indigenous yeasts found naturally on the skins of the grapes, which are harvested manually.
Domain Milan is situated on the north side of the Alpilles, surrounded by the garrigue, a low scrubland that forms the Mediterranean woodlands. Mistral from the Rhône creates a cooling influence, offering freshness and acidity in the glass!
The blue clay soil, which can also be found in Jura, Burgundy, Alsace and Tuscany, is excellent for holding water and ideal in areas where rainfall is low, and drought is common.