It is not always, in the world of wine, that one finds oneself in the company of a truly inspirational lady wine producer.
The very capable and gentle Véronique Perrin-Rolin, ably supported by her talented yet deferential son Xavier Rolin, achieves great success in sculpting precise and delicate wines. This in a Region best known for big, ripe, powerful wines, not least during the awful heyday of Robert Parker’s influence here; Châteauneuf du Pape is the most famous of Southern French Appellations and its climate naturally lends itself to making robust, hearty wines - not unlike parts of the Swartland in fact. It is no mean feat to produce wines of relative elegance and balance here -though working with up to fifteen different grape varieties does provide options. Domaine Roger Perrin produces wines from forty hectares of vines, spread over the four Appellations of Châteauneuf du Pape, Cȏtes du Rhȏne Villages, Cȏtes du Rhȏne and Vin de Pays. That’s a sizeable Domaine by any comparison in this Region. The varieties grown by Domaine Roger Perrin include Grenache Noir, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Vaccarèse, Counoise, Grenache Blanc, Rousanne, Clairette, Bourboulenc, Viognier, Marsanne, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and L’Egiodola (certain of which are not permitted in the Châteauneuf Appellation but are allowed in Vin de Pays). The family Domaine started making its own wines during Véronique’s father’s era but their oldest living vines were planted by the family in 1901 and 1902. Those vines are “centenaires” today and still going strong -albeit with very low, concentrated yields.
The famous Gallet stones of Châteauneuf, carpet much of the vineyard and are a famously distinctive feature of this Appellation. They provide amazing drainage, directing rainfall towards the root system of the vines, in a Region where irrigation is not allowed, and they reflect sunlight onto the vines, augmenting photosynthesis in the process while retaining heat well into the evenings. Walking through the vineyards, crunching stones beneath your boot, you can only marvel at this natural phenomenon which gives an extra edge to this picture-perfect site, for making, in particular, some of the greatest Grenache-based wines on planet earth.
Historically, the first written evidence recording the existence of Châteauneuf du Pape as a wine-growing region dates back to 1157, although vines were grown in the region before this date in Gallo-Roman times. The area derived its name from the village being the summer residence of the Papacy. The Châteauneuf du Pape Appellation permits its wines to be made from a selection of thirteen red & white grape varieties, namely Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cinsault, Clairette, Vaccarèse, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Counoise, Muscardin, Picpoul, Picardan and Terret Noir. The familiar and recognisable La Mitrale (the ceremonial headdress of the Pope, consisting of a tall white peaked Mitre) is depicted on each of Domaine Roger Perrin’s Châteauneuf du Pape bottles as a guarantee of the wine's origin.
Enjoying a tasting of the wines from Domaine Roger Perrin being conducted in the working cellar, it is with great satisfaction that we pause every so often to allow for the moving of a pipe from one concrete tank to another, or some other production task that requires Véronique’s assistance. It reflects the humble and down-to-earth care with which each of her wines is attended to from vine to bottle. Véronique’s knack of blending with such grace she attributes to her father’s teachings -but I can’t help but wonder how much her own very precise and analytical mind also contributes, with her background of owning and running her wine laboratory for over a decade, before returning full-time to the Domaine at her father’s passing, and which was used by so many of the top winemakers in the Region. The combination of tradition, respect, natural flair and academic ability assemble in the hands of this amazingly discrete lady, who has always chosen to shun the limelight, staying clear of the Parkerisation of her wines of the soil, and producing for many years some of the finest and yet unsung splendours of the Region. Her maternal style and her delicate touch are respected by Xavier, who has begun the generational transition and has the distinct advantage of receiving the baton from such a great lady of the Rhône. Ahead of her time, making finesse in an era where power meant points, Véronqiue has discretely forged her way and now prepares to melt into the background as her job is nearly done. The wines of the Domaine have grown an incredibly loyal following during Véronique’s time at the helm and even in the decade during which I have been visiting the Domaine I have witnessed it, silently taking off. And now I watch it fly.