It has been dubbed the crown jewel of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, a winery that stands neck to neck with the elite producers of the world, and in the wine business, it is one that needs no introduction: Château Beaucastel.
Château Beaucastel was started in 1549 by a French Noble, Pierre of Beaucastel when he purchased the plot of land to build his estate and plant grape vines. Centuries later Pierre Tramier purchased the winery in 1909, and with his son-in-law Pierre Perrin, worked to grow the wine business of Château Beaucastel. Further expansion and development of the vineyard was advanced by Jacques Perrin, and in 1978, the reigns were passed down to his two sons Jean Pierre and Francois. Today, four grandsons of Jacques Perrin are priming to step into the role of the fifth generation to manage Château Beaucastel. On the day we visted the estate, our group had the tremendous privilege of being guided around the winery by a member of the Perrin family, Thomas, who is pictured on the left side of the photo.
Our first stop was in the vineyard. Prominent on the grounds are the round stones or galets sitting atop the soil. These galets have an interesting history tied to the last Ice Age, when melting glaciers from the north cut deeply into the French Alps, shearing rock, and forming a massive river that flushed through large regions of the country. Although the riverbed has receded into the Rhone, the jagged rocks that were sheared, and moved over the centuries by the river have been deposited along its course, and today these galets remain an important gift and legacy to the vineyard. It's significance stems from the stones' efficient ability to absorb and retain the sun's heat over the course of the day, and then distribute the warmth to the vines at night, which encourages strong growth of both roots and vines.
Also, significant is a strong wind that rushes through the region called Le Mistral, taking with it excess moisture from the vineyard. The dry environment encourages the vines to struggle, which yields smaller clusters of grapes and more concentrated berries, which are responsible for creating beautiful, opulent and expressive wines that are the signature of this region.
Once harvested the grapes undergo a vinification process that is intriguing and somewhat controversial. The grapes are sorted, flash heated to roughly 176 F before being chilled back down to 60 F, and then dropped into tiled cement vats (pictured above) and left to macerate for twelve days.
Each grape variety is vinified and aged seperately. Once fermented each grape varietal is carefully tasted and then blended. The Perrins call the process of blending 'painstaking,' each year mixing different portions of grape varieties in efforts to achieve high quality and consistent wines year in and year out.
In Chateau Beaucastel's wine cave, there are wines spanning back to 1909, the year when the winery was taken over by the Perrin family. The collection of dusty bottles is breathtaking and makes me wish I was part of the family.
We were generously given the opportunity to try four vintages: 2008, 2002, 1998 and 1988. Each vintage was excellent, sharing a similiar foundation of fruit, earthiness and power, but displaying unique characteristics that reflect its age and the growing conditions of the year it was made. Of all the vintages we tasted, I enjoyed the 1998 the most for its complex flavors of blackberries, kirsch, hint of licorice and earthy truffles, and for its full-bodied richness. I should of brought back a bottle, but I was short-sighted, and at the time there was only one vintage I was interested in: 2007. Robert Parker, the world's renown wine critic, calls 2007 a classic vintage for Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
As it turns out, Chateau Beaucastel's supply of 2007 had been completely sold out. Ironically, if I wanted a 2007 Chateau Beaucastel, or a 2007 vintage from any other Châteauneuf winery for that matter, I would need to purchase it in America. And the price differential can egregious. To be fair, in most cases the difference between the price of a bottle bought at the estate and that same bottle sold on the America is negligible. But one example Clos de Papes, had my eye brows raising. Each of their 2007 was purchased at the winery for less than $40, only to be turned around and sold in America for $190! A price is almost five folds over the original. I think I'll stick to Château Beaucastel.
Thanks to Thomas Perrin for an amazing experience at Château Beaucastel and to Sherry Page for facilitating this visit!
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