Adding to their growing portfolio of small, quality wine estates in France's Southern Rhône Valley, the Perrin family of Château Beaucastel has acquired the historic but commercially underdeveloped Domaine des Tourelles in the tiny village of Gigondas.
The sale, finalized Aug. 27 for an undisclosed sum, includes about 22 acres of vineyards, planted mostly to Grenache, and a 17th century turreted monastery just below the center of the village that gives its name to the Gigondas wine appellation.
The purchase by the Perrins was widely praised as a move that would raise the exposure of Gigondas.
"We wanted to get bigger in Gigondas because we love this appellation," said Marc Perrin, Perrin & Fils' 38-year-old general manager, adding that his family has been negotiating the purchase of Tourelles for the past two years. "This is the property we really wanted to buy. We think it is outstanding terroir for Grenache-based wines."
Perrin & Fils, the company run by the fourth and fifth generations of the Perrin winemaking family, has for nearly a decade focused on buying select vineyards in Southern Rhône village appellations and applying the same standards and philosophy, from organic agriculture to low yields and meticulous winemaking, found at their flagship winery, Beaucastel, in Chateauneuf-du-Pape.
The Perrins already owned about 5 acres in Gigondas, located less than 15 miles northeast of Châteauneuf-du-Pape at the foot of the dramatically jagged Dentelles de Montmirail mountain chain. The Perrins have also bought the harvest from an additional 25 acres in Gigondas for their main Gigondas bottling, known as La Gille. They also make a small quantity of old-vine Gigondas from a pre-phylloxera vineyard parcel.
Perrin said the family was drawn to Tourelles because they believe the high sand content in the calcareous clay soils will add aromatic complexity and finesse to their Gigondas reds. He doesn't see any big immediate changes at Tourelles. This fall's harvest will be vinified on site and most of the more than 1,800 cases worth of wine from Tourelles will be blended into the Perrin's La Gille. But, he added, the family also eventually hopes to make a top-end Gigondas called Close des Tourelle from a 7-acre enclosed plot on their new acquisition.
Despite Domaine des Tourelles' evocative site and history, it is little known outside the region. The estate produced one Gigondas red each year, sold at the winery at a modest direct retail price of 11 euros.
"In France you have a lot of terroirs that are not exploited to their ultimate potential because people don't have the time or the money," Perrin said, adding that previous owner Roger Cuillerat "did no marketing, and he put all his work in the vines."
Motivating Cuillerat, 54, to sell was a mix of factors including financial constraints, overwork and lack of a plan of succession. Cuillerat's family had worked for generations as farmers on the estate before he bought it in 1984 and began estate bottling. Cuillerat ran the estate as a one-man-show, helped only by one part time worker and a staff of seasonal helpers. Financially constrained, Cuillerat said running the estate had become too much for him. He remarked that his son is only eight years old, and that he didn't have enough time to wait to determine if his son wanted to take over the business.
Contributing to his decision to sell was his frustration with administration and processing the paperwork imposed on growers and producers by the European Union and the French government. "Winemaking is a beautiful trade," said Cuillerat, who under terms of the sale will remain working at Tourelles for three years. "But now the winemaker has to spend half his time filling out papers for the bureaucracy—papers that mean nothing. I'm fed up with the papers and the bureaucracy."
Franck Alexandre, president of the Gigondas Appellation, which represents local winemakers and négociants, hailed the deal as "win-win," not only for the buyer and seller but for the relatively small (less than 3,000-acres) Gigondas appellation, which would benefit from the Perrins' increased stake.
"What Gigondas needs is a family like the Perrins to come in and be a bit of a locomotive for the exports of Gigondas in the world," he said.
Other winegrowing neighbors agreed. Eric Saurel of Montirius in Sarrians, an estate that produces acclaimed Gigondas from its 40 acres of vineyards near the village, praised the Perrins as a "family that's a motor for the Southern Rhône."
Saurel said that while the vineyards of central Gigondas were geologically the same as Châteauneuf-du-Pape's, "we have much, much work to do in communication before we are recognized at the same level as Châteauneuf-du-Pape."
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