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stirring the lees with james molesworth

A Bright Future for Jolie-Pitt & Perrin

Marc Perrin shows off Château Miraval and its myriad terroirs
Photo by: James Molesworth
Rolle, Grenache and Cinsault vines line the valley floor at the sprawling Château Miraval estate.

Posted: Jul 16, 2014 12:20pm ET

The Jolie-Pitt & Perrin joint venture has gotten a fair amount of publicity, thanks to its Hollywood A-list owners Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. They hooked up with the Perrin family of the Rhône Valley's Château de Beaucastel to help make their rosé and white wine from the Château Miraval estate. For the full story on this property and the joint venture, reference my colleague Robert Camuto's cover story in our June 30, 2014, issue.

The resources of Pitt and Jolie and the viticulture and winemaking expertise of the Perrin family count for a lot. But ultimately the terroir will have its say, and with that in mind, Marc Perrin was eager to show me the dirt and roots behind the project.

Château Miraval is an enormous property, covering nearly 1,500 acres—it's basically an entire valley. The property straddles the Côtes de Provence and Coteaux Varois appellations, with the rosé coming from the former, the white from the latter (all current releases have already been formally reviewed, so there was nothing new to taste on this day).

There are 148 acres of vines planted primarily to Rolle along with Grenache and Cinsault. Some Cabernet Sauvignon vines that were underperforming were ripped out. The vines, which average around 30 years old (the oldest approaching 50) grow in a limestone/clay/marl mix which features a striking dark rust color littered with fist-sized jagged chunks of rock. Soil expert Claude Bourgignon was brought in to consult, and he liked what he saw.

"It's called Keuper marl," said Marc Perrin. "It's common in Alsace, but very rare in Provence. So that was interesting to see."

But while the soil offered tantalizing potential, Perrin and Bourgignon also noted drainage issues that needed to be dealt with.

"Because we're in a valley, water isn't a problem," explained Perrin. "There's plenty of run-off coming from both sides down to the valley floor. But what we found was the water wasn't draining well. It would sit on the surface and the vines would produce an abundance of shallow roots. Then, later in the growing season, when that surface water dried out, the vines had no root structures to dig deep for water reserves. So in essence, the vines were being drowned early and then drought later and some of the vines were dying."

Production stands at about 25,000 cases annually, with the white entirely from the estate and the rosé including some fruit sourced from neighboring vineyards the Perrins work with.

"Terroir is important for white, so the white will always be estate only," said Perrin. "But to be honest, it's less important for rosé, and blending fruit from the vineyard next door for the rosé production is not an issue for us."

With terraces of olive trees and sprawling lavender and rosemary fields, the property is an agricultural paradise that has always been farmed organically—another aspect that drew the Perrins' interest, as they only work organically. Marc drove us up the rugged hillside to the top of the eastern side of the valley, where a few soil pits have been dug as he looks for other spots that might produce interesting red wine. One pit yawns with fine orange clay and bright white limestone chunks.

"Here, I think we might have a spot for Pinot Noir," said Perrin. I raised an eyebrow in slight doubt. "We'll see," he said with a smile.

The Jolie-Pitt & Perrin project isn't just a glossy joint venture in name only. There's a history of winemaking on the property that the new owners want to respect and continue, and they've connected with the ideal partner in the Perrins, who are drawn by the potential of the site.

"It's like when we started at Tablas Creek," said Perrin, referencing the family's long-standing venture in Paso Robles, Calif. "It's a new frontier, but it's also right next door at the same time. It's an amazing feeling."

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