NEW YORK - Making great wine could all come down to its roots.
"Great wine is not about which oak is used. Great wine is not about what yeast is used. Great wine is about the vineyard and the roots going deep," winemaker Marc Perrin told a New York City Wine & Food Festival seminar earlier this month.
"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 or two children rather than.
"But we like lots of children. 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 vertical tasting of his family's premier wine, Perrin explained his family's winemaking philosophy and the qualities of the vineyards' soil.
While Beaucastel has been making wines on-and-off for about 500 years, the Perrin family has only owned it for the last 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 explained.
The place is the southern Rhone region which 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 Alpine glaciers that have been smoothed by the Rhone River. They retain heat during the day and release it at night helping to hasten the grapes' ripening. They also serve as mulch, helping the soil retain moisture.
"We don't irrigate, so the vine has to go deep and fight for water. We don't fertilize, so the vine must go deep to find nutrients," Perrin said.
Each variety is harvested and converted to wine separately. It is only after fermentation that blending begins. The results are put into large oak barrels to age for about a year before bottling.
Perrin does not like overly oaked wines.
"Oak," he said, "is like makeup. A little makeup is very nice, but too much is never good."