For five generations, with a sixth up and coming, Famille Perrin have made wine in France’s Southern Rhône Valley. Fans know the names of their estates by heart: Château de Beaucastel, Miraval, Domaine du Clos des Tourelles, La Vieille Ferme and the labels under the family name.
Fifth generation family member Marc Perrin is the chief executive officer of Famille Perrin, also recently named as the president of Premium Familiae Vini, a group of 12 family-run wineries from around the world, which includes Famille Perrin. Perrin recently shared his thoughts with me about new technology and sustainability in old world winemaking.
Decisions for Future Generations
He’s spent his lifetime growing and making wine and has a robust perspective that turns the clock back over a century, to when his ancestors started farming the vineyards he tends today.
This, says Perrin, is the key to longevity: the next generation. That he’s a branch of a long-lasting tree isn’t lost on him, and he thanks those that farmed before him for the property at his hands now. These are some of France’s treasured vineyards in places that wine nuts hunt with vigor: Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rasteau, Gigondas, Vacqueyras and other Cru sites of prestige.
Beaucastel is the flagship estate (or domaine, as they say in southern France) a place that has been “organic forever” according to Perrin. Biodynamics are also a long-time element of the Perrin ethos. It’s kind of like that old song, country when country wasn’t cool—they were sustainable before it was a thing.
“My grandfather Jacques didn’t want to use chemicals after World War II, though they were seen as progress, progressive evolution,” says Perrin, recalling newfangled inputs that entered the agriculture market at the time. “Many of his colleagues thought it was crazy, like today not using a cell phone, but you don’t know the consequences.”
With consequences in mind, Perrin sees organic and biodynamic practices as the barrier to entry in a modern world where sustainability and regenerative practices are essential. “Pesticides and herbicides are the past, definitely,” says Perrin.
They day we spoke, in September 2019, the world was in the midst of climate strikes—by the end of the week, 7.6 million people had participated in their hometowns in places like New York, Berlin, Québec and Asunción. Perrin makes a bold statement, based on the assumption that an Earth-prioritized lifestyle is spreading: “Vineyards that aren’t organic in ten years won’t exist anymore. There’s now a need to go farther.”
Going father, at Famille Perrin, means that multi-million dollar infrastructure changes are at hand. “There’s a big renovation at Beaucastel,” says Perrin. A contest was held to find the right architectural team to create a plan with a “key factor of ecology and sustainability.” Indian firm Studio Mumbai earned the project from a pool of hundreds of candidates.
The new property will be built with earthen material harvested onsite, and will harness “wind, sun and rain to be self-sufficient,” says Perrin. A 30-foot deep underground pool will capture and store rainwater deposited by specially designed rooftop catchments. This will serve two purposes: water preservation and climatization. The latter achieved by funneling the strong and frequent Mistral winds over the surface of the cool water. This chilled air will then be directed to the cellars to cool the space naturally.
Another advancement is the capture of carbon dioxide. La Vieille Ferme, a Perrin label made in Provence, is known for quality and value. The domaine has released a sparkling wine that’s crafted in a fully unique way: Méthode Contemporaine. “The bubbles are made from carbon dioxide produced through fermentation,” explains Perrin. “We clean, compress and store this and reintroduce it to the still wine at bottling.”
“Technology and Tradition”
The Perrin mentality is a balance of “technology and tradition,” says Perrin. For example, Domaine du Clos des Tourelles in Gigondas is farmed by horse rather than machine. And while others around the world are turning to hybrid grapes with the potential to thrive in a changing climate, Perrin says he’s “completely against that.” Instead he says that by maintaining the vineyard, or seeking cooler vineyard sites, the vigneron can “balance the changes in climate.”
The Perrin vineyards date back to 1909 and when new vines are planted they are from their own clones. There are some real gems in the Perrin universe, including pre-phylloxera Grenache in Gigondas with no rootstock. (This, according to Perrin produces “amazing grapes and balanced wine.”)
There’s also old vine Roussanne from 1909 and some Mourvèdre from the same year, which his grandfather kept when others were focused elsewhere because “he knew the blend makes the DNA, the history and maintenance of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.” This variety, he says, is now “perfectly in it’s spot in Châteauneuf-du-Pape.” Originally best-suited in Bandol, 100 miles to the south, on a coastal stretch that’s hottest part of the region, Mourvèdre on the Perrin property displays the foresight of earlier generations.
There’s also some prized white varieties including Clairette, Bourboulenc, and more. “We love them all, instruments in an orchestra,” says Perrin, who shares that 8-9% of white varieties are planted with the reds as field blends, “to balance natural alcohol and acidity” which is an achievement aimed for in the vineyard, rather than in the winery. “I believe that, for now at least, viticulture works to balance everything.”
Perrin acknowledges that with his family’s long term success comes stability, and that the ability to think long-term, rather than vintage to vintage, is an advantage. “It’s nature, it’s agriculture,” says Perrin. “You know that in a certain year you can lose everything. It can happen. It’s a work of passion.”