Occupying a 130ha expanse in the region of southern Rhône in the southeast of France is Château de Beaucastel, a name that bears a rich history traceable to the 16th century. While Beaucastel only started life as a wine estate almost four centuries later, it has advanced to gain a repute as one of the most esteemed of the region.
Behind the lauded Beaucastel wines is the Perrin family—now on to its fourth generation of leaders—with Pierre Perrin, a scientist who embarked on winemaking in 1909, setting the foundation and principles of the family business upheld till today. At its core, Beaucastel is a brand that places tradition first—traditions that are distinct, relevant and highly regarded by many who appreciate its vintages.
As with most vineyards of mid- to late-19th century Europe, the Beaucastel wine estate was not spared from the devastating infestation of phylloxera, a microscopic root insect native to the US that attacks the roots of grape vines and eventually impairs it from absorbing water and nutrients. Later, research found that the disease could be kept at bay by grafting European vines onto phylloxera-resistant American rootstocks.
For Beaucastel, Pierre made the decision to graft all 13 original grape varietals—today 17 have been officially recognised—permitted within the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation to demonstrate his business’ dedication to preserving the essence and traditions of the land, as well as the complexity of the region’s original blends. Although an unusual move at the time, with most other vineyards preferring the Grenache grape thanks to its prolific nature, it was a feature that elevated Beaucastel wines to be one of the most sought-after in the Châteauneuf-du-Pape region.
True to its commitment to tradition, Beaucastel cites its respect of terroir, the environmental conditions including climate and soil characteristics that have direct impact on the quality of a harvest and the eventual wine, its aroma and flavour. Its importance to forming the signature character of Beaucastel wines has encouraged the Perrin family to invest in techniques—groundbreaking at the time when they were implemented—to conserve its natural qualities.
In 1950, the business led by Pierre’s son Jacques began cultivating its grapes organically, then an uncommon practice in viticulture. As early as 1974, Jacques also began experimenting with a biodynamic approach to grape growing, using a farming technique that aims to sustain the land’s innate traits by ensuring the farming works in perfect harmony with the unique diversity of the natural ecosystem.
These were considered “avant-garde” methods of farming then, but were seen by Jacques as “the right way to make wine”, says Beaucastel’s technical director Pierre Perrin, who is the grandson of Jacques.
“This devotion to preserve the land and let its natural traits shine in the wines it produces has since become one with the philosophy of Beaucastel, and is perceived as a warranty for our customers to enjoy the purity and integrity of a non-treated vineyard,” says Pierre, who has been helping out at his family business since 1989. In 2000, the Beaucastel vineyard became officially certified as organic.
The Art of Viticulture
Of the 130ha of land Beaucastel owns, 100ha is planted with vines. In the 1970s, in spite of the family’s protests, a highway connecting the French cities of Lyon and Marseille was built right through a section of the Beaucastel vineyards. The road became the official appellation boundary. The larger plot, about three-quarters of the vineyard, resides within the Châteauneuf-du-Pape appellation and continues to cultivate all 13 varietals to produce the majority of the more expensive Château de Beaucastel wines for the estate.
The smaller 30ha portion sits within the Côtes du Rhône appellation and plants just four of the major varietals: Grenache, Mourvèdre, Syrah and Cinsault. Wines from here are labelled Coudoulet de Beaucastel, and have an excellent track record despite their less prestigious appellation.
Forming the backbone of Beaucastel wines are Grenache and Mourvèdre, two very different grape varietals that thrive in this Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate. “We believe great wines are made in their northern limit and for us, we are at the northern limit of the maturity of Mourvèdre,” says Pierre, as is with Grenache. By “northern limit”, he is highlighting the geographic latitude where climatic conditions just barely allow a grape varietal’s ripening. In Beaucastel’s context, this produces a desirable velvety texture of tannin resulting from the cooler temperature and lower amount of sunlight.
Grape varietals are plucked, macerated and fermented separately, with red wine grapes often destemmed and white wine grapes pressed in its entirety. Depending on the varietal of the grape and how much oxygen it need, it is placed in cement, stainless steel or wood tanks, with those requiring a longer time to oxygenate placed in the last of the three options that introduces a micro-amount of air to ensure the right balance is achieved. Following fermentation and blending, the wines are aged in large oak vats for about a year in a large cellar built by Pierre’s father Jean-Pierre and uncle François, in 1980.
While tradition remains king at Château de Beaucastel, modern techniques have managed to gain traction with the brand. “Every day, we’re working to modernise while keeping our tradition intact, and it isn’t an easy process,” says Pierre. One aspect that wasn’t flagged by the family was replacing manual sorting with an integrated automatic sorting appliance to separate berries of different varietals, as well as speed up and sharpen the selection process of favourable and not so favourable grapes.
“Modernisation is also sometimes about taking from the past,” says Pierre. Beaucastel has also been testing out blends using non-destemmed grapes, which lost its appeal with most wine producers at the turn of the millennium. With the stems of grapes infused into the blend, Beaucastel, who isn’t focused on ensuring its wines soak up wood tannins from the oak barrels they age in, benefits in attaining tannins from the method.
In addition to the top-ranging Beaucastel wines, the Perrin family also produces “pret-a-porter” wines with its vineyards La Vieille Ferme in southern Rhône, Tablas Creek Vineyard in the Paso Robles region of California and Château Miraval, a vineyard they manage for Hollywood celebrities, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, where wines produced are stamped with a joint name of Jolie-Pitt & Perrin. Pierre Perrin is also the technical director of Taste of Tradition, which has been the exclusive distributor of Beaucastel’s red and white wines in Singapore since 2000.
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