The Clos de la Perrière, a vineyard whose wines once fetched the same prices as Le Chambertin, has been a monopole since the 12th century. Located on the summit above the village of Fixin, the Clos de la Perrière is nobly situated. The walled plot peers over vines that stretch into the flatlands and the city of Dijon is visible in the distance. In the cooler months, bitter air gusts through the Clos. Jules Lavalle, the 19th century authority on Burgundy wines, listed the Clos de la Perrière as a ‘têtes de cuvées’ on the same level as La Tâche and La Romanée Conti. However, lack of attention and ambition by several proprietors resulted in poor wines and the vineyard drifted into obscurity during the 20 century. Until the 2005 vintage, the wine sold for the price of a standard Fixin premier cru. Well below the fare charged for the best cru of Burgundy. With that vintage a new owner launched an ambitious goal of returning this site to grand cru status.
Originally planted by Cistercians, the vineyard has seen only four owners since its creation. In 1853 the estate bearing its name was purchased by Joliet family and since 2004 Bénigne Joliet has been the sole owner. Clos de la Perrière is five hectares in size and the domaine’s manor house lies at the north edge of the vineyard. At the base of the house is a medieval cellar, in which rests a gigantic wood press dating from 12th century. The vaulted stone ceiling is a reminder of the monks who first recognized the special qualities of the vineyard. Stone for the cellar was quarried from the area above the house that is now wooded. The majority of the vines sit south of the manor house and stretch up the hill to the edge of the tree line. A small patch of vines are north of the house.
Pinot Noir dominates the vineyard, but half hectare is dedicated to Chardonnay that was planted in 1990. Roughly 2,000 bottles are produced of the Clos de la Perrière blanc, a concentrated, mineral white that sees 20% new oak. Although impressive, the blanc takes a back seat to the two rouge cuvees. The Fixin 1er cru, made from young vines (15 years), is open and accessible from the time it is bottled. In excellent vintages, this cuvee is one of the better wines made in the village. The flagship wine is made from vines that range from 35-85 years of age and is simply labeled Clos de la Perrière. The 2005 release was a big jump forward in quality over previous vintages, but the wine is strongly marked by the 100% new oak that it received. Each vintage since has been treated with less new oak and the current releases now get between 20-25%. A quarter of the whole clusters are retained. The more restrained use of new oak has resulted in wines that allow the terroir to shine and the 2012 could mark a return to glory for the Clos de la Perrière. Intensely aromatic and layered with sappy red fruits, the wine was stunning from barrel.
Burgundy is a region that cherishes its soil above all else and vineyards are held in esteem regardless of the quality of the wines being made at the moment. Centuries of excellence build a reputation that is firmly entrenched. The Clos de la Perrière is the exception to this and the vineyard virtually disappeared off the map of Burgundy lovers for more than a century. If more than one grower had been making wine from its fruit, perhaps the reputation of the Clos would have been maintained. Isolated in Fixin from the other great vineyards of the Cote d’Or, the Clos suffered from indifferent ownership and poor wines. Thanks to Bénigne Joliet the Clos de la Perrière has been resurrected. Burgundy lovers should be thankful.