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October 21, 2009

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Vigneron provides deep insight into great wine

MAKING great wine could all come down to its roots.

"Great wine is not about which oak is used," winemaker Marc Perrin told a New York City Wine & Food Festival seminar this month. "Great wine is not about what yeast is used. Great wine is about the vineyard and the roots going deep."

"What makes wine great is the interaction of the roots and the soil.

"The complexity, the character, the suppleness of the wine is reflected in that complex relationship," said the eldest of three brothers who are the fifth generation of winemakers at Perrin & Fils.

They own Chateau de Beaucastel, one of the top-ranked estates for Chateauneuf du Pape in the Southern Rhone, and one of the few that harvests all 13 grape varieties permitted under French law.

"Grapes are like kids," Perrin said, adding it is easier to raise one rather than two or more children.

"But we like lots of children," he said. "There are some winemakers that use only one or two grapes to make their wine. But we use all 13 - not all in the same wine, but we do like to blend."

Before leading the seminar through a tasting of his family's premier wine, Perrin explained his family's winemaking philosophy.

While Beaucastel has been making wines on and off for about 500 years, the Perrin family has only owned it for the past 100 years. When Perrin's grandfather decided to use organic methods in the 1950s, long before the term came into vogue, Perrin said people thought he was crazy.

"But we think it is absolutely the only way to make wines that express a sense of place," he said.

The Southern Rhone is blessed with a layer of ancient limestone, covered with a mixture of clay and sand then topped with galets, or pudding stones.

The stones are remnants of glaciers that have been smoothed by the Rhone River. They retain heat during the day and release it at night helping to hasten grapes' ripening. They also serve as mulch, retaining moisture in the soil.


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