The Pernot family has been making wine in Puligny-Montrachet since the 1950s – but today Alvina Pernot is striking out to forge a reputation of her own. We talked to her about the decision to break away from the family domaine, and how her wines differ from those of her father
Domaine Paul Pernot is synonymous with the appellation of Puligny-Montrachet. For the last 30 years the estate – alongside Domaine Leflaive and Domaine de Montille (previously Château de Puligny-Montrachet) – has been one of the largest shareholders in the appellation, playing a significant role in maintaining its reputation for complex, expansive, mineral-tinged Chardonnay.
Paul Pernot created his estate in the early 1950s, initially with 11 hectares, although at the time not all of it was planted to vines. It was only in the 1950s, with the invention of modern tractors, that the hard limestone rock could be penetrated for the first time, enabling more of the appellation to be planted with vines and Pernot’s acreage increased. By the early 1990s, the estate had increased its holdings to 20 hectares, including plots in the Grands Crus of Bâtard-Montrachet and Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet.
The village of Puligny-Montrachet
Puligny – with its 230 hectares of vineyards – is considerably smaller than its neighbouring appellations, Meursault and Chassagne-Montrachet, with notably fewer vignerons fortunate to own vines in this prestigious appellation. Domaine Paul Pernot, thanks to its relative size, is therefore in an enviable position, with its production in high demand from the main négociants of Burgundy and beyond. The estate has historically sold significant volumes, most notably to Joseph Drouhin, while keeping the cream of their crop for themselves, typically just 40% of their production. It was this that prompted Alvina Pernot to establish her own label. “My husband Philippe and I have been wanting to make our own wine for several years. As the family estate sells part of the harvest to the negociants, it seemed logical for us to start recovering part of it.”
Alvina Pernot, (granddaughter of Paul Pernot), a young vigneron born and raised in Puligny Montrachet, grew up close to the family estate, as her father and uncle managed the domaine throughout her childhood. Despite branching out on her own, Alvina Pernot still works at the family estate, managing the commercial and administrative part of the business (allocations, customer tastings, logistics, management, etc). Until last year she was also involved in the winemaking, but this year she was not able to be there as much. “Now we have reached a point where my husband and I must be completely focused on our own wines at vinification.” The quick-ripening season of 2019 made that ever clearer, as there was a rush to get the grapes picked to retain the taut traits typical of her wines.
Growing up under the guidance of such a prestigious Puligny estate was no doubt insightful for Alvina. The most important thing she learned from her father and grandfather she explains “is that exemplary work in the vineyard allows for high quality raw material. From then on, we have all the cards in our hands to make the best wine possible.” Despite the similarities in their viticultural practices, there are notable differences in the winery. “When we started, we didn't want to make a copy and paste of the domaine, but rather try to produce a wine in our image: reflecting our own vision of wine. We love the domaine wines and share the same passion of the profession, but we also love the idea of creating something for ourselves and trying new things.”
“With the smaller production levels, an extra attention to detail becomes possible,” says Alvina. She opts to hand harvest in small crates as opposed to the traditional large containers, better protecting the grapes against oxidation. During the all-important pressing stage, Alvina opts for the more traditional vertical press, rather than the more widely used modern horizontal pneumatic presses. According to Alvina, the traditional vertical presses have a distinct qualitative advantage despite losing 15 - 20% more juice than modern presses. “It reduces oxidation, provides a greater purity of juice with naturally higher acidity and therefore freshness.”
The Alvina Pernot wines have longer ageing on the lees too, right up until bottling – 11 months. In the future Alvina hopes to extend her control of élevage further, with a soon-to-be-built new winery in Puligny, allowing her, when necessary, to age the wine on the lees even longer. She and Philippe hope to have the winery up and running by the 2021 harvest.
How each of these bespoke adjustments affect the final result in bottle is an interesting experiment to explore. No doubt the wines from Domaine Paul Pernot and Alvina Pernot are distinctly different. Paul Pernot grapes are typically picked a few days later than Alvina’s on the same site, with a style very much focused on concentration and richness. Alvina’s methodology is more focused on purity and tension. To taste the wines side by side is a fascinating contrast of Puligny’s potential.
The Premier Crus of Puligny-Montrachet
The must-try wines from each Pernot
Domaine Paul Pernot: Puligny-Montrachet, Premier Cru, Les Folatières
The historic sites Domaine Paul Pernot retains for itself is arguably some of the most prized in Puligny. The estate is lucky enough to own vines in both the Grands Crus of Bienvenues-Bâtard Montrachet and Bâtard-Montrachet, yet it is the Premier Cru Les Folatières that Alvina believes shows the Paul Pernot domaine at its best, the most representative rendition of the Folatières terroirs. “We are the largest owner of this appellation (three hectares) and the positioning of our plots (Clos des Folatières, Peux-Bois and Folatières) within the vineyard allows us to have a wine that is a true representation of the cru.”
Alvina Pernot: Meursault, Premier Cru, La Pièce sous le Bois
Alvina Pernot’s wines come from a selection of her favoured sites, belonging to the Paul Pernot estate as well as an additional site in the Puligny-Montrachet lieu-dit of Noyers Bret. Three of the Alvina Pernot Premier Cru cuvées – La Pièce sous le Bois, Les Chalumaux and Champ Gain – are at some of the highest altitudes in the Puligny and Meursault appellations. While Alvina admits it is difficult to generalise, these higher-altitude vineyards produce wines that are less opulent and more tense. There is however a noticeable difference in the Premier Cru La Pièce sous le Bois in Meursault. While the altitude brings distinct freshness, the soil is not the same limestone rock of Puligny. It is a thicker clay more typical of Meursault. Despite the altitude, the wine therefore has weight and power, but with an added freshness unusual for lower sites in Meursault and showcases the brilliant contrast of power and vibrancy Alvina brings to the appellation.
The 2019s from both Domaine Paul Pernot and Alvina Pernot will be available later this month: keep an eye out for our offer and more coverage of the vintage.