Awaiting the Third Generation at Domaine Roger Perrin
Veronique Perrin is a life force that projects the energy of more lives than one. Carrying forth the Perrin legacy and name, in 2010 Veronique abandoned the world as she knew it to devote herself wholly to Domaine Roger Perrin when her brother Luc passed away. As one star paves a path for another in the sky, it was Luc who rose quickly to fame in Chateauneuf du Pape when he left his apprenticeship at Beaucastel to take his father’s place who then, in 1986, had suddenly passed away. With the same strength and concentration as the Grenache vines that were planted outside the winery by Roger’s stepfather in 1903, Veronique manages the estate, while her son Xavier prepares to take over as the 3rd generation to make wine at Roger Perrin.
As the first Chateauneuf du Pape producer to join our book nearly 20 years ago, the Domaine was created by Roger Perrin in the late 1960’s with the vineyards that he acquired from his stepfather. “Roger was a great farmer and knew perfectly well how to get the best from his vineyards,” said Patrick Burke our French Portfolio Director. “Tragically though, he died in a tractor accident in 1986. His son Luc, who had been in the vineyards with his dad all his life, was thrust into the role of winemaker/owner. He had barely finished oenology school at the time and was in the middle of an apprenticeship at Beaucastel. In a very short period, Luc began demonstrating, very quietly, to everyone in the region that he had a great talent as a winemaker and by the mid 90’s, Luc was a rising star in the appellation. His success came, in large part, from his talent in blending, using 60 different parcels of vineyard spread over the entire northern sector of CdP to make his wines. At the time of Luc’s passing in 2010, Domaine Roger Perrin was a top tier Chateauneuf producer.
“Had it not been for the dedication of his older sister Veronique, I am sure that everything would have fallen apart,” continued Patrick. “She uprooted her life, took leave of her job, commuting daily from two hours away to ensure the future of the Domaine. Her son Xavier has just finished oenology school and is now ready to do what his uncle did almost 30 years ago, take over a family Domaine so that he could continue to improve it. Up until now, the wines have continued to rise to the quality level that Luc had been able to achieve. I am relieved by this am confident that Xavier will make Luc proud.”
With a total of 43ha, 17ha of which are biologically farmed in Chateauneuf du Pape, 19.25ha in Cotes du Rhone and 6.38 as Vins du Pays, the Domaine now consists of 75 different parcels of vines. For the most part, “Luc had stopped using chemicals in the vineyard,” said Veronique. And though organic treatments are employed, the family is not seeking organic certification.
Cooling the fruit to 13-14 degrees celsius before fermentation “to avoid the jammy flavors of a warmer fermentation,” the Perrins also added thermo-regulation to each of the tanks in 2011, because, as Veronique said, “Luc used to do it by hand, tank by tank [when] stainless steel [tanks] were the only ones that had thermo regulators.” And while their cooling of the fruit system is now ten-years-old, Luc also added two hydraulic paddles for piage, said Veronique, adding, “Luc was ahead of his time.” Also since 2011, the Domaine employs a devise that helps prevent oxidation while pumping. The nitrogen binds with oxygen, she explained, to prevent it from passing, which means that they don’t have to use a lot of sulfur.
“When pumping wine,” she said, “we use carbon dioxide. The CO2 protects the wine when racking it out of tanks. And when pumping over after malolactic we still use the tool to help prevent oxidation.”
After walking through the cellar, we retired to a side room to taste through their current offerings. A blend of 50% Grenache Blanc, 20% Roussanne, with the remaining Clairette, Bourboulenc and Picardin, the Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc 2011 is clean and fresh with floral aromas, core fruit, minerality and citrus mid-palate. “The Bourboulenc and Picardin are very interesting,” said Veronique. “They bring fresh, floral notes, with minerality and acidity.”
The Cotes du Rhone “Cuvee Vieilles Vignes” 2011 had just been bottled then, a few months before our arrival. From a plot that sits just outside the CdP appellation, this is a blend of 75% Grenache (60+ year old vines) and 25% Syrah. Co-fermented with indigenous yeast and aged for six months in cement tanks, the CdR showed fresh fruit, purple flowers, balancing acidity and integrated tannins.
Also just then bottled a few months before we’d arrived, the Chateauneuf du Pape 2011 is a 30% de-stemmed, co-fermentation of 65% Grenache and 25% Syrah, with the remaining 10% a blend of Bourboulenc, Counoise, Vaccarese and Picardin. “The ’11 is a lot of fruit,” said Veronique. And indeed, the aromas were quite fruity with a touch of spice, while the tannins were silky, and the wine still needed a little time to settle down and open. The Chateauneuf du Pape 2010 was “just becoming a little more open,” said Veronique. “At the beginning it was very closed. I think for the ’11 it’ll be the same.” Showing dark fruits on the nose with a touch of licorice, the tannins were also silky but with a little more grip.
Produced in only the best vintages, the CdP Reserve Vieilles Vignes is made from three main parcels with the oldest vines that yield the best fruit of the estate. And while we currently have in stock the 2007 — which received 93 points from the Wine Advocate as one of Luc’s last vintages (his final vintage was 2009) — at the Domaine we tasted the 2010 and the 2011. A blend of 75% Grenache, 17% Syrah and 8% Mourvedre, the CdP Reserve 2011 (90 points, Wine Advocate) had just recently been bottled and though the wood needed time to integrate, the plum fruit and purple flowers were lovely, and the grippy tannins were lightly spiced. Much spicier on the nose, the CdP Reserve 2010 (90 points, Wine Advocate) showed tight tannins and black pepper spice. “In 2010 we missed 38% of the grapes,” said Veronique. “It was windy in May and the temperatures fell to 5 degrees [celsius], so the flowers didn’t make fruit. When you taste the 2010, you can see that. At the beginning, the 2010 was very austere and closed. The 2011 was a normal harvest and very fruity. There are some tannins, but not a lot. It’s very nice and smooth.” “The ’11 will definitely be ready before the ’10,” added Patrick. But we’ve got nothing but time on our hands to await the wine while anticipating the arrival of Xavier in the cellar.