We’ve been following Alvina Pernot – granddaughter of Paul Pernot – since she first struck out on her own. On the eve of the release of the fifth vintage, Sophie Thorpe sat down with Alvina and her husband Philippe Abadie to talk about the wines, their philosophy and the future
I vividly remember the first time I tasted the Alvina Pernot wines. Burgundy was bitingly cold, and we ducked beneath Alvina Pernot and her husband Philippe Abadie’s home into their make-shift cellar, then delightfully cozy (at the time warmed just enough to encourage malolactic fermentation), and a welcome retreat from the Côte d’Or’s bracing winter weather. We squeezed into the tiny cellar, edging between the barrels crammed into the space. The wines were thrilling. Taut and pure styles of modern, pinpoint, mineral Chardonnay that were – and are – hard to resist. We were tasting the 2019s, just the second vintage from the modest operation; but they’ve rapidly established themselves as one of the Côte de Beaune’s most exciting new names.
Alvina – always chic, dressed immaculately, with her gleaming green eyes and delicate features – doesn’t look like the stereotypical Burgundian vigneron. You’re unlikely to spy dirt under her fingernails, and I struggle to imagine her sporting a pair of overalls. But wine is in her blood. The Pernot name is one that will be familiar to Burgundy-lovers – the family is one of the largest vineyard owners in Puligny-Montrachet (just after Leflaive), and makes some of the village’s best wines. Indeed, Alvina worked for the family estate Domaine Paul Pernot for years, but the urge to break out on her own grew over time. The Paul Pernot wines are the epitome of traditional white Burgundy, round, rich and sometimes sumptuous – and Alvina and Philippe wanted to make something of their own, a leaner style that suited their palates better.
In 2017, a vineyard came up for sale – and it seemed like a sign. The plot, La Rue aux Vaches, is classified as village Puligny-Montrachet, but sits just below Premier Cru Clos des Meix and Les Pucelles. The family domaine had been farming and making wine from the site for years, and the couple knew how good the fruit was. They leapt at the chance to buy it, and the Alvina Pernot project was born. They were able to buy additional fruit from Alvina’s family, and started working on sourcing grapes from other Crus. Their first release, from the 2018 vintage, totaled 8,000 bottles.
It’s easy to see how challenging it might have been – going from working for the family business to setting up a separate project, and bearing the weight of their legacy. Alvina and her father have very different approaches in both the vineyard and winery, which certainly comes with its challenges, as they find the fine line between family and business, negotiating a new aspect to their relationship.
“I think Alvina’s father was proud that she was starting something of her own,” Philippe says, looking affectionately at his wife. Indeed, it’s taken time for Alvina to fully step away from the family business, only officially resigning in March of this year to focus on their own label. Juggling the two estates (not to mention their son Pâris, who was born at the start of 2022) hasn’t been easy, and Philippe has – until now – had to do much of the work in the winery. Yet it’s also their family ties that have given them access to such incredible vineyards – appellations that are almost impossible to secure for most newcomers.
Five vintages in, it’s amazing to see how the project has evolved. They now produce 35,000 bottles, with the range having grown from seven to 24 cuvées. The duo are so embedded in the region and well-connected that they are able to source from some of the region’s best names, securing top sites that would be the envy of most estates. In addition to La Rue aux Vaches, they now own two further plots (both of which previously belonged to Alvina’s family): Les Noyers Brets (which is next to the couple’s home, added from 2020) and La Rue de Bois (the latter the vines that surround their winery, added in 2021). The focus is increasingly on specific sites within Puligny-Montrachet, with an ever-increasing number of Premiers and Grands Crus. In 2022, for example, they bottled three different wines from Folatières – Ez Folatières, Peux Bois and Clos des Folatières; and their Bourgogne Blanc has been divided into two different bottlings from different sites.
Until 2021 the wines were made at Domaine Paul Pernot (and aged under Alvina and Philippe’s house) but the couple have now finished their own winery – giving them greater capacity, but also even greater control over the wines they’re making. From better temperature control and a broader range of maturation vessels (including both glass and amphorae, alongside oak) to reducing sulfur levels and more control over bottling, it’s allowed for even more precision. Each year, they tell me, they are pushing and doing “des petits tests”, looking to tweak and see how they can improve.
Alvina and Philippe firmly believe that almost all the work has to be done in the vineyard, with farming the three plots they own a huge part of what they do. Philippe has been doing it almost entirely himself – and is relieved that they’ve just been able to hire someone to help them. But the significance of the vineyards work is also why it is so important for them to source fruit carefully from growers with similar standards, and whom they trust.
As with any small producer, the challenge when it comes to farming is not just quality, but quantity. Alvina and Philippe do almost everything by hand (indeed, they don’t even own a tractor yet – and still borrow Alvina’s father’s one when they can), and sustainability is a key focus. After pruning, it’s common in Burgundy to see the horizon dotted with smoking fires, as the cuttings are burnt; Philippe and Alvina avoid this and the resulting pollution, instead using the cuttings for a mulch to further increase the organic matter in their soils. They aren’t looking to be certified organic, but avoid chemical sprays wherever possible and are doing trials with biodynamics; the risks, and costs, are the threat, however. They can’t afford to lose an entire crop, as would have happened in a vintage like 2021, should they have refused to use anything but copper and sulfur; nor do they want to have to sell their wine for five times as much as they currently do, to allow such a philosophy. Ideals can only take you so far.
While 75% of the job might be done by the time the fruit is harvested, it’s all too easy – even with the very best fruit – to ruin it all in the winery. “There’s nothing minor during vinification – everything matters,” Alvina explains. “Each tiny detail makes the difference between an average wine, a good wine and an excellent one.” Although between them the duo had plenty of experience, nothing is set in stone, and each year they feel they are learning more – as they continue to question what they do and why. “It’s also important not to be too wrapped up in our little cocoon, just the two of us, but to talk honestly each year with our expert oenologist [Pierre Fonteneau] about the wines,” Philippe explains, when it comes to the winemaking. “There are three voices in the business – Alvina, me and the oenologist – and not one counts less than the others.”
It’s easy to imagine that any Burgundy producer’s goal is to be a domaine – to own a prime selection of the region’s most prized sites; but for this young couple, that’s not really the aim. Alvina is set to inherit some enviable plots, but they can’t imagine giving up the opportunity to continue working with many different parcels. “The diversity of terroirs is absolutely the most interesting part for us,” they say. It’s likely their range will continue to shift – as they get access to new, exciting parcels and discover those they really love. Ultimately, however, Alvina explains, “The aim is to make wines we love, the wines we want to drink. When people are happy to be there, to share the wines with us, and to find them, we’ve done what we set out to do.”
Keep an eye out for more on Burgundy 2022 soon, as well as the wines from Alvina Pernot – which will be released shortly