Château de Beaucastel Organic Rhône Valley Wines
Château de Beaucastel, Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines from the Perrin family estate were generously offered to French Heritage Society for its recent 30th Anniversary Gala Dinner at the Château de Fontainebleau. They were served with three-star chef Eric Frechon's main course, canard challandais (duck). Karen Archer and Sarah de Lencquesaing spoke with Marc Perrin prior to the Gala at the Cercle de l'Union Interalliée in Paris. On this sunny September afternoon, he is eager to talk about the wines his family produces. In flawless English and with obvious enthusiasm, a captivating orator, Marc Perrin offers a fascinating history of the wine-making process of this family-owned estate in the Rhône Valley.
"Our family produces wine in the whole Rhône valley, so basically from Lyon to Avignon. The wine estate of which we are the most proud is of course Château de Beaucastel which is an historic estate and which has a few very interesting specificities. It is an estate which was really a pioneer in organic viticulture. My grandfather, Jacques Perrin, turned the estate organic in 1950 so since then no chemical pesticides or herbicides have been used in the vineyards. Of course, this is very good because it's good not to spray chemicals on anything you grow. Also, it is really important for the quality of the wine because when you have a soil which is plowed instead of being sprayed, you have a soil which is aerated, which is porous, which is pollinated with bees, with warmth and life. And in this kind of soil the roots can go deep down more easily."
"When you have a great "terroir" as we are lucky to have with a unique geological history, you want to make sure that the roots of the vines interact with all the complexity of the soil. Millions of micro-chemical interactions between the roots and the soil give the grapes, and then the wine, its complexity and its capacity to age. And that is a characteristic of great wine. Being organic allows the roots to go deeper more easily. The other thing that is very specific about this part of the world in terms of the wines is the fact that we actually use 13 different grape varieties. As you certainly know, in Bordeaux there are few, and in Burgundy there is only one grape variety, which is pinot noir."
"In Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which was one of the very first appellation d'origine contrôlée in France, we have been using different grapes forever. With so many different grapes the harvest is a very long process, from early September to the end of October. We harvest each grape variety separately when it is perfectly ripe. And so we make 13 different wines. Then, we do the assemblage, the blending, which is a unique process, some grapes only account for one or two percent in the final blend, but to our taste, if we do not use them, something is missing. So, it really gives a special harmony. All this combined gives a wine that has an incredible capacity to age – great wines age. That may be a definition of great wines. The wine being served at the Gala Dinner at the Château de Fontainebleau is still young. But these wines have a capacity to age, which is not endless, but for 40, 50, even 60 years – like all wines made from great "terroir", as we say in French".
"Our wines are of course linked to the Kings of France and to the Popes, because in the 14th century the Popes were in Avignon for one hundred years. At the time the Popes gave the Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines a boost to their reputation because those were the wines they were producing, drinking and selling. Following that, these wines were at the tables of Kings, including Fontainebleau."
"You know, wine is about heritage. Wine is about long term, it is about families. We do not really own an estate. We basically run it during a period for the next generation and we receive it from the previous generation. That is why I think family wineries are the best because when you make wine you cannot think short term, you need to think long term."
"Today, if I plant a vineyard, I am 42 years old, so before this vineyard produces grapes of the quality that we are looking for it will be 30 years. The decisions I make today are going to have an impact not on me but for the next generation. This kind of long term heritage is really intrinsic to wine and to what we do. That is one of the reasons we are extremely happy to support French Heritage Society's Gala."
"The wine that we will be serving at the Gala is a Château de Beaucastel. It was a blend of 13 grapes and was a very good vintage. Here we really start now to get into what we call the secondary phase of the wine. In the beginning the wine is in the primary phase, it has a lot of red fruits, a lot of spice. Basically it is dominated by the fruit and after about ten years we start to see all the secondary flavors so we go slightly from the fruits to the woods to the forest, we start to see this kind of black truffles, mushrooms, the tannins are starting to become a bit soft. So it must be a great match with canard (duck) that is being served."
"Our wines are available in the US, which has historically been one of our main markets. We decided in 1989 to build a vineyard in California. So we are actually the only Rhône Valley producer with a vineyard in California with vines from the Rhône Valley. We bought land in the Paso Robles area, close to San Luis Obispo, which is the most similar in terms of climate and soil to the Rhône Valley."
"Most French wines have a lot of limestone in the subsoil and there is not much limestone in California, but there is some in the Paso Robles area. So we made a vineyard there, we brought vines from France that remained in quarantine for three years at the US Department of Agriculture. We built a nursery, we propagated these vines and we have built an estate there from scratch. People in the US really like the wines from Châteauneuf-du-Pape and from Château de Beaucastel, and we are very happy about that!"