Five Generations at Domaine Roger Perrin
“I really like what I do. I really like working with two generations of my family,” said Xavier Perrin, the 5th generation vintner at Roger Perrin. “I work with my mother and grandmother. She still helps. Each time she comes to the winery she asks what I’m doing. She tastes a little bit. My grandmother has something like 60 or 70 years of experience. She’s seen many different vintages. It’s very interesting for me with my limited experience.”
After completing his oenological studies, and working in Beaujolais and Saint-Émilion, Xavier joined his family’s estate. Originally established in 1969 by his grandfather Roger Perrin and his wife Evette, the estate was farmed before then by Evette’s father. With such a long family history in Rhône, Xavier even has cousins who own three other separate estates in the area.
When Roger Perrin passed away in 1986, Xavier’s uncle Luc took over. “He developed the estate. A new winery was built in 2000,” said Xavier. “We bought some new plots.” Luc even added a number of new cuvées to the estate, bringing the number up to ten. “Unfortunately, Luc died in 2010,” he continued. “After that, in 2010, I had just started my studies at the university. It was my mother Veronique who took over after Luc. She had founded [in 1989] and managed an oenologist laboratory in Tain l’Hermitage. She managed 70 different winemakers, so she gained a lot of experience.” Between 2010 and 2013, Veronique worked at the estate in Orange and at the laboratory, until she sold it to a partner in 2013, and now she consults with Xavier.
With 70 different plots, eight different soils and 40.5ha, vineyard management can be a challenge. Due to the different soil types and drainage capacities, some plots can be worked with a tractor just one day after the rain, while other plots need four to five days.
And because each plot can be planted to a number of different varieties, like the one hectare plot that’s contains five different white varietals, each plot can require multiple tries. And for the single varietals that exist within multiple plots, Xavier said, “There are differences between the maturity levels in these many plots, firstly because they aren’t the same soils, and secondly because we don’t expect the same level of maturity, depending on the quality of the wines we want to make. We have plots in Vin de Pays, Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf du Pape, so it’s not the same level of maturity when we make the harvest. This year, the first plot of Grenache was harvested in early September and the last day of harvest was September 29/30, so between the two plots of Grenache, there was a three week difference in harvest.”
In the cellar, Perrin ferments a number of varietals separately, while opting to co-ferment others. “The main characteristic of the Grenache is that you have a lot of tannin. It’s very expressive but when too young, it’s too hard. In the mouth it’s too hard, too dry, and the color level isn’t very high. If you co-ferment with Syrah,” he continued, “it’s very fine. By co-fermenting you take all the positive things of each grape variety in the vat.
“For the Châteauneuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes cuvée, we make a selection from two different plots. After that, everything goes into 40 barrels. We don’t make all of these barrels for the reserve,” said Xavier. “We taste the different barrels and select 10 or 12. The rest goes into the classic cuvée. There are some differences, but we’re not looking to make big differences because after that, the customers might be a little lost. We respect the main characteristic of each cuvée and work with the different vintages.
And while climate change lends the estate a change in harvest dates, with the 2000-2015 harvests taking place on average 15 days earlier than harvests in the 1980’s and 90’s, little else has changed through the generations at Roger Perrin.
“I don’t imagine big changes,” said Xaiver, “because for me, we’d kill the philosophy of the estate. I think the philosophy of the estate is established, so we have to follow it. Of course there will be some small changes, but it’s not my objective to change anything. For me, the estate as it is respects the choices of my great grandfather, my grandfather, my uncle and my grandmother. And it’s done really well like this. I really like how it is, so no, I won’t change much.”