UPDATED from June 23rd 2008:
I discussed this with some of the family; there is (was) a complex holding of many, many family members, so a wide spread of shareholders. A large (majority) block chose to sell, and that block was not represented by those that currently actively manage the company…
Fair to say that this was a surprise…
Béjot takes over Thomas-Moillard
Owner of the Jean-Baptiste Béjot trading company in Meursault and of an estate of over 300 hectares (Chablis, Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, and Fabrezan in the Corbières region), Vincent Sauvestre has strengthened his position as a key player in Burgundy by acquiring the prestigious Maison Moillard in Nuits-Saint-Georges. He thus ensures the continuity of this estate, owned by the Thomas-Moillard family since 1850. The two companies should in fact complement each other, both in terms of supplies and sales networks in France and abroad, giving them the opportunity to develop in parallel and allowing the new Béjot-Moillard group to become an important player on the market.
The estate, made up of some thirty hectares in Burgundy and 75 hectares in Languedoc, is part of the deal. However, the 35 hectares in Romania, inaugurated in 1996, remain the property of Denis Thomas, former Chairman of Thomas-Moillard.
Appearing under many labels; Charles Thomas, Thomas-Moillard, Moillard and Moillard-Grivot, Maison Moillard is a major operation in the Côte d’Or and even further afield. To be welcomed, there is also a new emphasis in the vineyards and the cuverie.
Symphorien Moillard married vine owner Margueritte Grivot in 1848. The business, however, only really began to grow after 1850, following a chance meeting in Nuits St.Georges between a travelling Belgian notary and Symphorien Moillard. Together they tasted the Moillard wines, and so impressed was the notary that he persuaded Symphorien to make selections of wines to send to Belgium – this was the start of Moillard’s wine trading (négociant operations) and its first export activity. The ‘Benelux’ region remains the main export market for Moillard.
In 1870, daughter Jeanne inherited the company from here father Symphorien following his death on a tour of duty with the French army in Algeria. Jeanne also inherited another estate and in addition a third came with her marriage to Maurice Thomas – this was the start of Thomas-Moillard. Charles was the son of Jeanne and Maurice and despite some early heart problems which meant he had to stay home more, he worked for the family for 70 years, living until 98 years-old. It was during Charles’ time that the most vineyards were purchased. The son of Charles – Yves Thomas-Moillard – if he is to match his father, still has some years to work, but he is still active in the business in his mid-eighties! Yves took over the domaine during the second world war when one family member was supposed to stay to look after the family business. Today it is Denis Thomas-Moillard (son of Yves) who heads the business, though the next and sixth generation – Jeanne Thomas-Moillard – joined in 2003.
Moillard is certainly very diverse; they own 28 hectares of burgundy vines which are predominantly in the Côte de Nuits, they also own 31 hectares in Dealu Mare, Romania – in the southern foothills of the Carpathian mountains. It is said that Romania has good possibilities for burgundy varietals and the team grow pinot noir (mainly), chardonnay and feteacsa neagra. The first Romanian chardonnay bottling was the 2004, called ‘Vox Populi’. Then there are also close to 80 hectares of vines in the Languedoc, producing Vin de Pays. Of these ‘owned vines’, approximately 40-50% of output is currently from Burgundy and about 70% of that is sold in France. The only vine-owning ‘backward step’ came in 2004 following the death of Yves Thomas-Moillard’s brother; that side of the family wanted cash for inheritance rather than an income-stream, so most of the ‘crown-jewel’ vineyards of the domaine had to be sold. Thirteen hectares that included Chambertin, Clos de Bèze, Romanée Saint-Vivant, Bonnes-Mares, Corton Clos de Roi, Vosne 1er Malconsorts, Nuits 1er Clos de Thorey and some Beaune 1er Grèves were sold to the consortium of Dujac and Etienne de Montille.
Labels is one area that can cause confusion with consumers: Domaine Moillard, Domaine Charles Thomas, Domaine Thomas-Moillard, Maison Moillard, Maison Moillard-Grivot – with a couple of rare exceptions, all the wines are different. Other large ‘houses’ make things a little less complicated by having completely different names for the various legal entities they have bought over many years – for me, these all sound a little too similar!
6 million bottles. Did I say that Moillard was rather large? 6 million bottles lie in their cellars dispersed throughout Nuits St.Georges – and what cellars! It seems various generations of Thomas-Moillards bought property after property in Nuits, annexed the cellars and later sold the above properties – there are acres of underground storage for bottles and barrels – worth a tour without a doubt. A familiar tourist haunt is their Maison de Mosaic at the traffic lights in the centre of Nuits – here you can walk the impressive barrel cellars (only 0.6 million bottles here!) and then taste a selection of wines. Despite both a selection of ‘domaine’ and négoce wines opened and available for tasting, I always found the quality here particularly variable – perhaps some are open too long – but still I almost always found it possible to buy some interesting bottles.
Vines and Winemaking
Thomas-Moillard was the first domaine that opened my eyes to what was possible from burgundy – a bottle of their 1988 Romanée Saint-Vivant drunk around 1996/97 that just enveloped me in its soft arms. Their top wines were typically rather monolithic when young (and sometimes old!), would last forever, but just occasionally would explode on the palate like a firework – just as that RSV did. I’m talking here of the chunky and uncompromising domaine wines of Thomas-Moillard and latterly Domaine Charles Thomas which were rarely elegant, but great in their own style, as for the négoce bottles, I found them variable at best. That was the reds, the whites were a simpler story; almost without exception I didn’t like their heavy, ponderous and always slightly estery presentation. So despite the recent loss of their top vineyards, it seems there was still some opportunity for improvement.
Versus many larger ‘domaines’, Thomas-Moillard have come just a little later to the conclusion that quality benchmarks have risen, and that this will be what sells in the future – that, or they were simply unaware of the quality gap that was opening. Since the retirement of Gérard Sauvaget in 2005, Isabelle Lenet was confirmed in charge of the winemaking, but supporting her position are two new hires; first Bernard Zito who used to work with Pascal Marchand at Domaine de la Vougeraie was hired, and now looks after the lunar-organic vineyards (more later!) and also is working with growers to improve the quality of the purchased grapes, and then, surprise, surprise, Pascal Marchand himself was hired in mid 2007 as a consultant to provide additional ideas in the winemaking. 2007 is the first year where they had this full team’s input.
In terms of viticulture, Moillard started to convert its estate to organic management already in 1999, then a few years later, Denis Thomas-Moillard, became increasingly interested in lunar-organic viticulture and now takes into account the phases of the moon when making certain operations: Jeanette comments “the problem of biodynamic is that you have to make certain treatments on certain days – not so practicable over 30 hectares – but achievable by the phase of the moon”. There is even a web-site dedicated to this here.
In the cuverie there is approximately 60-80% destemming – but based on grape quality it could be higher or lower. Once in tank, things are a little different; the stainless-steel tanks are in the ‘recumbent’ position, and have a circular ‘paddle’ that makes an automatic ‘pigeage’ starting at typically 4 times per day – less if the maturity is lower – and is slowly tapered to 2 or even just remontage (pumping over) before racking by gravity into barrels. The oak regime is flexible e.g. The Pommard Rugiens took 80% new oak in 2006, but 40% in 2007 – typical elevage is 18-20 months. The whites go into a mix of barrels and foudres and have some battonage.
Denis Thomas-Moillard considers the premature oxidation problem to be mainly ‘closure’ related, so now only specifies corks that are not treated with peroxide. They don’t look quite so clean on removal, having some green colouration but there seem to be less issues.
Where possible tasting first, I have often bought examples of the Thomas-Moillard domaine reds, less-so the whites or négoce bottles. The style was always robust and built to age – rarely graceful. The whites never fit my style preferences. With incremental improvements from 2005, it seems that with this new team the 2007’s should herald the real potential of the domaine. There is a mix of red and whites tasted below and the average quality exceeded my expectations. 2005 reds should of-course be very good and whilst none of these were exceptional in the context of the vintage, they are still good 2005’s – retaining to some extent the less than svelte tannins that has been the hallmark style here – perhaps it is those special pigeage tanks(?) – but many domaines that take the organic/bio route report slow improvements in tannin fineness. The whites surprised on the upside so I look forward to keeping a closer eye on developments. Look out for the Savigny Blanc and the Pommard Epenots!
2006 Thomas-Moillard, Hautes Côtes de Nuits Chardonnay
From vines planted just above Nuits. A fresh and nicely vibrant nose with a faint edge of pineapple. Just slightly diffuse in the mouth but shows a nice intensity on the mid-palate. Not so long, but clean and fresh. This is actually quite almost good.
2006 Thomas-Moillard, Savigny-lès-Beaune Blanc
Quite a concentrated nose with a subtle undertone of vanilla. There is nice texture and some depth. There is also a nicely creamy base to this wine – long too. I’m very surprised by the quality of this wine, it’s very , very good.
2005 Thomas-Moillard, Meursault
High-toned, slightly diffuse nose, some suggestion of background sulfur. Fresher but less dense palate when compared to the Savigny. It’s more mineral in presentation, but doesn’t impress as much as the last wine.
2005 Thomas-Moillard, Chorey-lès-Beaune
Medium, medium-plus colour. The nose is rather mineral and high-toned coupled to faint cherry skins. There’s quite some structure here; furry tannin and plenty of acidity – but the balance is okay. Almost good.
2005 Thomas-Moillard, Côte de Nuits
A hint of reduction on the nose which eventually leaves to give emphasis on fine cherry/berry notes. The acidity and tannin are to the fore, but not overwhelmingly so.
2005 Thomas-Moillard, Beaune 1er Grèves
Following the vineyards sale, there is just over one hectare remaining. Soft and sweetish red and black notes on the nose. The palate is fresh and lithe with understated complexity – not the über concentration of many from this vintage, but it’s very tasty and I expect it will be a good value bottle.
2005 Thomas-Moillard, Volnay 1er Clos des Chênes
This is from relatively young vines. A very pleasant and softly perfumed nose with faint caramel. In the mouth this shows plenty of structure and good acidity – there is quite some furry tannin too. This is subtly long despite the structure slightly dominating right now.
2005 Thomas-Moillard, Pommard 1er Epenots
This comes from 2 parcels of vines. There’s a creamy depth to this super nose. Concentrated with a nice volume in the mouth – again it’s very structured but there is balance and an engaging length. Quite an impressive bottle.
2003 Thomas-Moillard, Nuits St.Georges Richemones
Roast, stewing fruit on the nose – perhaps rhubarb too – just a little better than it sounds. In the mouth this is altogether more interesting; soft, sweet and concentrated – quite friendly and warming. Not my style, but a ‘comfortable’ wine.
2005 Thomas-Moillard, Clos de Vougeot
From a parcel of quite well-placed vines, planted just above the Château de la Tour. A tight but faintly sweet nose. Clearly there is lots and lots of structure here, but equally clearly this is the longest finishing wine of the series. Classic, austere, young Clos de Vougeot and probably almost good value.
1993 Thomas-Moillard, Corton Clos du Roi
Unfortunately the first bottle smelled and tasted of feet – the second was altogether more interesting: A lovely core of red fruit surrounded by slightly more diffuse high tones. The structure is now starting to fade in favour of nicely defined and ripe red fruit. The finish is a good one too. Quite a pretty wine.
2 rue Francois Mignotte
21700 Nuits-Saint-Georges, France