Marc Perrin: Roussanne Fanatic

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Marc Perrin visited two wineries when he briefly came through California last week. On Saturday he met with Rajat Parr to walk the rows of our sister winery Domaine de la Cote. Sunday, Marc met us on the vineyard to learn more about our Roussanne techniques.

Stolpman Roussanne
Many winemakers laugh at us because of our obsession with Roussanne. Most admittedly obsessive, La Cuadrilla hand rotates every cluster of Roussanne to achieve an even “Rousse” or golden sun tan.

And we have 16,000 Roussanne vines!

We call the process “Riddling on the Vine” – as soon as the sun-exposed side of the cluster turns gold, we twist it 180 degrees to give sunshine to the shaded, green side. We allow the rotated Roussanne grapes another two weeks to tan prior to harvesting. Like a sunbather who spends an hour lying on the back and then flips for an hour on the stomach, an even tan is achieved.
Roussanne is named after the color of rust, and the French long ago figured out that if the vine is given a lengthy enough growing season, once the grapes turn rust color, a noble wine can be produced. The wine from the golden grapes exudes honeysuckle, poached pear, and golden pineapple while the mouthfeel is rich and coating. If only golden grapes are harvested, winemakers wouldn’t dream of adulterating the pure Roussanne profile – perhaps the most hedonistic white wine in the world.
If winter encroaches and vintners must early-harvest grapes still green in color, the Roussanne doesn’t possess much flavor. Because of the varietal’s low yield, green grapes still produce wines with thick, oily mouthfeel – ideal for blending with lighter, aromatic grapes for a more significant white blend.

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Marc Perrin Arrives
When we explained our labor intensive cluster-rotating regimen to Marc Perrin, winemaker of the world’s benchmark 100% Roussanne – Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf-Du-Pape “Vieilles Vignes Blanc – Marc merely nodded his understanding. In the past, other winemakers’ reactions have varied from skeptical raised eyebrows to knee-slapping chuckles.

Chateau Neuf Du Pape
Only 90-105 year old Roussanne vines are able to ripen to a golden hue at Marc Perrin’s vineyard. The old, tired vines concentrate all of their remaining energy into perfecting just a few grapes to golden perfection. Only these grapes potentially make the cut for the 100% Roussanne Chateau Neuf du Pape Vieilles Vignes Blanc. Younger Roussanne is blended with other grapes.
The old vines grow from gnarled head pruned stumps. In their old age, the canes grow fewer and smaller leaves, allowing ample sun penetration for tanning. Marc understands the importance of the “Rouss” color.

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Revelation
Mr. Perrin opened our eyes to yet another, even more fanatical tool to craft the perfect Roussanne. Marc explains that once the Perrins pick the old vine Roussanne, the grapes are de-stemmed. The winery crew then uses a sorting table to declassify any green grapes. Those grapes that grew near the interior of the cluster and were shaded by neighboring grapes – are hand plucked off of the table.
We use this sorting technique on all of our red wines, but up through the 2013 vintage, we pressed our Roussanne whole bunch. In 2014, aiming to achieve more fruit purity, we began de-stemming the Roussanne prior to pressing. Because of this additional step, we now have the opportunity to follow Marc Perrin’s lead and hand sort the Roussanne to insure only golden grapes are included.
We excitedly await harvest of 2016 when we can implement grape sorting to craft the most perfect L’Avion yet!