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Profile: Domaine de la Perrière (Fixin)

manoir de la perriere
Drive into Fixin, and even before you realise that it’s exactly the address you’re looking for, your eyes are drawn to a large old building at the top of the hill – it seems to keep guard over the whole village, this is the Manoir de la Perrière.

Constructed by the monks of Citeaux on or around 1142 from the stone of the quarry that lies only 100 metres higher up the hill and now forms the boundary of the garden, the Manor enjoys commanding views of the village and valley below. On a clear day Mont Blanc is easily visible 250km away.

The history of the unity of ownership and the exploitation of the Clos de la Perrière is very special, standing comparison even to the vineyard of Romanée-Conti. The monks planted and exploited the grounds of the Manor right up until 1622 when they were burned out of house by the Huguenots – an era marked by both religous and civil warfare – the monks sold-on to a rich Dijionais, Monsieur Boullier. Between 1622 and 1853 the house and vineyards changed hands a number of times until the 1853 purchase by the Joliet family; it is the sixth generation of Joliets that now run the domaine in the face of Bénigne Joliet. It is believed, since the planting of the vines by the monks in the 12th century, that right up to today, the vineyards retain their original boundaries and have never been subdivided.

cellar of the manoir de la perriereThe vaulted cuverie is the original from the 12th century and contains a fantastic original press – of course with some rennovation – which was last used in 1959. It was only the best endowed producers that could afford such a press.
If the boundaries and family ownership have remained essentially constant, the management of both vineyards and vinification is going through a time of significant change. Bénigne Joliet bought out the other family owners in 2004 to take sole responsibility for the domaine – it is all he exploits – he is now extending the cuverie and planning to take Fixin to heights that it’s not seen in living memory.

The vineyard

clos de la perriere vineyard workThe appellation of Clos de la Perrière covers 5 hectares i.e. even the gardens and land that the house stands upon could be premier cru if planted – but Bénigne is happy to leave the garden unplanted and stick to the 4 hectares of vines as exploited for the past several hundred years. Interestingly, part of the vineyard crosses the notional border into the adjoining commune of Brochon.

Apart from a small area of chardonnay – also premier cru and the equivalent of about 2,000 bottles – planted close to the new cuverie, the rest is all pinot noir. Everything is “managed in a very careful way” says Bénigne, “not quite bio, but more than lutte raisoné”. Flowers and grass are allowed to grow between the vines and even the pruned plant material is left on the ground eventually adding to the humus. He uses a tractor with caterpillar tracks to try and reduce compaction of the soil. The vines average forty years old and are replaced at a rate of around 0.2-0.5 hectares every 5 years in order to maintain this average.

In exposure there are slightly different orientations and also variations of soil make-up but Bénigne says that it is always the combination of these elements and parcels that produce the best wine – the blend. The breeze typically comes from the combe and heads down the hill, and so the vines at the top of the vineyard mature a little later than the ones at the bottom – typically 6 days are allowed to harvest everything at a similar maturity.

The new broom

Behind the considerable history and consistency has begun a new revolution – the decision came following the 2004 vintage. Bénigne is convinced that this is a very special place – that it has a kind of magnetism that the Cistercians could somehow feel and prompting them to build and farm this plot. He points to the fact that this land was always considered the best of Fixin and on a par with today’s grand crus – he knows that the wines have not shown this in recent generations but he is now driven to achieve it once more. Whilst Bénigne is proud of the wines he made in 2004, he could see that many of his neighbours had been more successful, he was also fully aware that the wines from the Clos de la Perrière had for generations been regarded amongst the ‘têtes de cuvées’ of all burgundy (Danguey et Aubertin + Lavalle) and the only tête de cuvée in Fixin – just putting that into context, only Chambertin and Clos de Bèze in Gevrey held the same status – the wine also fetched the same price as those two.

Despite 5 years training in Beaune and learning much from his father Bénigne was convinced he needed help to achieve his aim, so for the 2005 vintage Bénigne decided to contract Philippe Charloppin of Gevrey as a consultant for both the vineyard and cuverie work. Bénigne is now a man on a mission to return the Clos de la Perrière to it’s former status i.e. to be both considered and priced at the same level as other grand crus – how’s this for ambition: the 2004 costs 17 Euros, the 2005 will cost 70 Euros! Bénigne laughs a little self conciously when he notes that he hadn’t seen a journalist at the domaine for years, but since he set out on this path the French journalists have never stopped knocking on his door – he even had a visit from French TV – it seems he now has some visibility!

The wines

The main emphasis is now on grape selection and just about everything they do is more labour intensive. That selection process has resulted in a drop in production from 23,000 bottles of 2004 to more like 15,000 for the 2005 – note that 2005 was generally a more productive vintage! So yields for the 2005 were below 30 hl/ha and the wine is raised in a higher percentage of new oak – around 70%.

Clearly – as we shall see – we have to completely divorce the wine of 2005 from what went before; they were okay, indeed not too bad but certainly not wines to search for. The small amount of white that is produced from the Clos has a loyal following so is largely pre-sold in every vintage.

2001 Domaine de la Perrière, Fixin 1er Clos de la Perrièretry to find this wine...
A deep, soft and sweet nose with just a hint of spice. The palate is a little linear, quite narrow with slightly tart acidity and benign tannin. There is reasonable length here, overall this is an interesting if rather slight wine.
2003 Domaine de la Perrière, Fixin 1er Clos de la Perrièretry to find this wine...
Much darker colour. The nose is wide with a more herbal aspect. More concentrated with quite some tannin, but it’s quite round. Good length though there’s a faint edge of bitterness. This is not bad for the vintage.
2004 Domaine de la Perrière, Fixin 1er Clos de la Perrièretry to find this wine...
Good deep colour for a 2004. An interesting and concentrated nose; floral, earthy and herbal – some cedar on the nose which comes through on the palate too. This is nicely concentrated with very good acidity. The overall effect is a little tart but long-lasting in the finish

So here came the change; savage selection, complete destemming, one month of cuvaison before racking into (70% new) barrels for 12-18 months, to be followed by a few months in tank before bottling – or at least that was the plan! The wine was racked again in November 2006, but by February 2007 there had still been no malolactic fermentation! Bénigne points to his very cold cellar being the reason, so is doing some small experimentation with his 2005 blanc – which is also still pre malo – warming the barrels to induce the fermentation. Bénigne expects that it will most likely be September before he has chance to bottle.

2005 Domaine de la Perrière, Fixin 1er Clos de la Perrière (pre malo)
Deep colour. The nose is also rather deep, showing plenty of interesting dark fruit notes – this is actually quite super. Although the malo should further round this out, this is altogether superior to the preceding wines, It is ripe, complex, elegantly concentrated, though with some faint oak texture on the long finish. It is rather well balanced and very mineral, of course the malo will take away some of the acidity – hopefully not to the detriment of the balance. Of much more concern (to me) would be the extra time in barrel – hopefully there will not be too much more oak influence taken up or drying-out of the wine. The style currently showcases the wine rather than the wood – no toasty or vanilla barrel artifacts and, yes, you know this wine – certainly in the benevolent 2005 vintage – stands worthy comparison to many with grand cru labels.

I hope it comes out of the malo without problem because it will stand testament to Bénigne Joliet’s dream and his self-effacing realisation that he needed help to achieve it.

UPDATE: End-November 2007

It was nice to catch up with Bénigne Joliet in order to at least close the chapter on the first vintage of his new ‘regime’. You will remember that the 2005 Clos des Perrières had still not even begun its malolactic fermentation when we met earlier this year. Well, the blanc finished in time to be bottled in August, just before the harvest, and the red finished in October following a full 25 months of elevage! Bénigne said that customers had starting calling him in June complaining that they had seen no bottles – so he suggested to them that he could bottle straight away and give them exploding bottles or maybe sterilise the wine first and provide half the potential quality – alternatively they could wait for the quality they were paying for – they chose to wait! The wait was over in November and the wine was bottled – first deliveries were taking this week. Apart from 2,000 bottles (from 15,000) which will be a reserve of the domaine and available for visitors to purchase, everything is sold.

The 2006 cuvée has been a little more fleet of foot, and might even be bottled by April next year! As to the 2007; Bénigne was one of the very last pickers, choosing to do everything between the 15th and 20th September; Bénigne says “I’m very happy with the cleanliness of the fruit – I actually discarded less than in either 2006 or 2005, still the yield was about 15% down, coming in at 25-30 hl/ha. If I keep improving the viticulture I think I can retain the same quality even at 35 hl/ha”. The elevage for these wines was done in his recently completed cuverie.

2005 Clos des Perrières Blanc try to find this wine...
A deep nose with a little sweet but subtle vanilla oak, a savoury undertone too. The palate is rich with plenty of fat and a waxy texture. The acidity is understated but despite being buried under the fruit, there seems enough. A good medium length finish. I prefer my wines a little ‘racier’ but this shows good quality.

2005 Clos des Perrières try to find this wine...
Medium-plus cherry-red colour. The nose starts with a deep coulis of red and black fruit, hints of spice, caramel – wide, complex and changing all the while in the glass – excellent. In the mouth it’s harmonious, lively acidity is well-pitted against plenty of well grained tannin. The fruit is taking a bit of a backseat but shows both depth and dimension and a late burst of interest in the mid-palate. A slowly lingering, oak inflected finish. No-one would pick this blind as Fixin – perhaps a Mazis though! Super aromatics and bags of complexity that are completely alluring right now – but I think that the structure demands at least 10 years of cellaring.

2006 Clos des Perrières try to find this wine...
Pepper and spice on the fairly tight nose – in contrast to the 2005 all the action is on the palate; different dimensions of forward fruit, tannin that’s a little more buried and very good acidity. This is showing fine and complex today.

13 responses to “Profile: Domaine de la Perrière (Fixin)”

  1. Phil

    I met Benigne in 2003 and whilst nothing was mentioned it seemed clear that this man was going somewhere beyond pere.

    I do hope it works here in Fixin I admit to buying lots of the stuff and for the price of any of these 1er wines you get quite a bit for the money however 70 euro might be a bit steep ! but then again a 70 euro Gevrey is not always
    good value either.

  2. Dan Perrelli

    I love Fixin at 15 or 20 years of age and in an above average vintage; there are village 88s that have just plateaued. While Lavalle does name Clos de la Perriere “tete de cuvee”, here is roughly what he has to say about Clos du Chapitre in 1855; “LE CHAPITRE, consisting of 4 hect. 77 ares 10 cent., and belonging to Mr Lamblin, produces a wine much like that of la Perrière, from which only a wall separates it and below which it stands; it must be said of this wine that it is equally solid, alcoholic, colored and keeps well; produced by pinot noir mixed with a fortieth of pinot blanc, it has an annual average yield of 15 hectoliters per hectare, 71 altogether.” Clive Coates notes; “Only in the Clos du Chapitre itself is the brown-colored limestone of Bathonian origin, and here the soil is most stony of all.” It is somewhat sad to see a Gerard Depardieu or California pricing model at work and I’m not sure I will be clamoring after $100 Fixin when I can still find 2001, 2004 nad 2005 Clos des Lambrays for $100 or less (pre-arrivals still hover around $80 for this admirable and time-tested grand cru). Need to be convinced by several vintages of different character — 2005 is a measure of nothing.

  3. W T CALTON

    Where might I find Clos de la Perrier ( Fixin ) in the US ??? Has 2006 been shipped yet??
    Thank you
    W T CALTON

  4. jean pierre eydems

    Dear wine-lovers, I visted more than 25 years Burgundy, I never met such a tremendouse change of possitive qualtity improvement then the 2005 Clos des Perrieres. This is grand cru top level. Let me tell you all a secret: the 2006 will even better because the winemaker do work even harder for this succes.
    The smart guy’s buy now because after 3 years we will not can affort this one and please don’t tell any winewriter about it.

  5. jean pierre eydems

    Dear bill,

    You are right, I am enthusiastic but, I can guarantee you I’m not their distributor I only want to share my trophies with other wine lovers/ amateurs.

    Jean Pierre.

  6. Fred

    I landed by chance in the Domaine de la Perrière last year (summer 2009). I met Bénigne and his wife that were charming. Being no real connoisseur I was sold a 1er Cru 2005 for 80 Euros and and a Fixin Village for 30 Euros… Reading the prices here its a little frustrating.

    Anyway I decided I wanted to try what I had purchased. 1er Cru 2005 was definitely not near ready. Still very acid, fruit doesn’t really express itself, doesn’t tingle my tongue, so I guess I’ll have to wait another 5 years. On the other hand the Fixin Village 2006 is fantastic. It has great balance, a nice oak and red fruit finish (fraises des bois) with a nice length. I would definitely recommend it. As you can see from my comments I am no connoisseur but for 65 Euros I don’t see the point of the 1er Cru when the Fixin Village is ready to drink and a guaranteed succes.

    My 2 cents.

  7. WENGER

    Quel est votre prix pour Clos de la Perrière rouge 1984 et 1986

  8. Gary

    I have just purchased some 1995 at auction. Has anyone tried these vintages lately?

Agree? Disagree? Anything you'd like to add?

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