Cristophe Perrot-Minot's fingers and old blue jeans are stained ruby red, but his white T-shirt is surprisingly clean considering that he's leaning over the edge of a cement tank filled with tiny Pinot Noir grapes.
They come from Domaine Henri Perrot-Minot's vineyards, which average an impressive 65 years of age across 36 acres in 19 appellations. In 2002, these old vines produced grapes with sweet, ripe, concentrated flavors.
"There is nothing for me to do to improve on the wines, and that is a sign of a great vintage," he says. Perrot-Minot neither acidified (adding tartaric acid) nor chaptalized (boosting the alcohol level by adding sugar during fermentation) the vintage. "In 2002, all is positive. It was a very healthy harvest and the grapes were ripe. For me, it is the best vintage I've made. After 10 years of reflections and conclusions, the puzzle came together in my head."
Since 1993, when he took over from his father, Henri, Christophe, now 37, has enlarged the domaine and made many improvements. In 2000, the former broker, or courtier, bought 10 acres of top-notch vineyards in Côte de Nuits for $1.4 million. Now, he makes 19 wines from the 36 acres, 60 percent of which are grands or premiers crus. He averages 6,250 cases a year, including a novelty wine, Nuits-St.-Georges La Richemonne Ultra, a cuvée made from 75-year-old vines.
In 2002, it was key to cool the crop, at least when grapes picked under the afternoon sun arrived at the winery too hot, says the winemaker. Fortunately, he is equipped with air-conditioning in his two winery rooms and temperature-controlled fermentation tanks.
In other steps to improve quality, Perrot-Minot trims the leaves in the vines to maximize the grapes' exposure to the sun; thins the crop to improve flavors and decrease yields; plows the soil and sticks to natural fertilizer.
Since 2000, he has used a conveyor belt that brings up the grapes and drops them softly into the fermentation vats, a technique that has vastly improved the quality of his wines, he says.
He wants his wines to taste as natural as possible, so he doesn't filter or fine before bottling, a risky move given that Perrot-Minot doesn't rack his wines in the cellar for 14 or more months after the malolactic, or secondary, fermentation.
To replace traditional filtering, he has developed a "filter-by-gravity" system that works like this: The wines are pumped into a specially built bottling room equipped with 12 stainless steel tanks; the wine settles in the tanks, and after the sediment falls to the bottom by gravity, the winemaker uses a gentle vacuum system to draw the wine out of the tanks and into the bottles.
In 2002, all these measures allowed him to take full advantage of the year's ripe and clean fruit. "The fermentation went smoothly and slowly, which allowed us to extract the complexity of the grapes. The tannins are ripe, round and fat, and good acidity gives the wines balance. That's why 2002 is a great vintage," concludes the winemaker.
This winter, I returned to his winery to check on the evolution of the wines. His Pinots were dark, silky and thick. The Chambolle-Musigny Vieilles Vignes, a village wine made from 100-year-old vines, was rich and ripe, with cassis and raspberries. The Nuits-St.-Georges La Richemonne Ultra was even better, with mineral and black fruit character. The grand cru Chambertin flirts with perfection. Perrot-Minot's confidence is justified; he has produced great quality in 2002.