The Mugniers originally hailed from Dijon.
A successful 1800’s ‘liquor’ business was their platform to purchase in 1863 the Château de Chambolle-Musigny; an impressive bourgeois residence in the village of Chambolle – the house also happened to come with a modest 4 hectares of vineyards – modest in size though not in reputation. For some reason the family waited almost 40 years before they made what remains the single augmentation to their vineyard holdings; in 1902 a large ‘clos’ in Nuits St.Georges was purchased, the Clos de la Marechale.
The current Mugnier to care for the house and domaine is the softly spoken Frédéric Mugnier. Frédéric, a 50-ish, ex ‘offshore engineer’ and latterly commercial pilot who both studied and was raised in Paris – he is the fifth generation to head the family domaine. Frédéric’s first vintage was 1985, and he helpfully explains the history of bottles from here before that date:
- The family vines were leased to Faiveley in 1950, prior to that (and starting in 1878) the family bottled some of the production for their family cellar. Sometimes wine was also sold, in which case it wore the label Château de Chambolle-Musigny
- From 1978 until 1984, the vines were returned to the family from their long lease to Faiveley (the Nuits Clos de la Marechale stayed longer with Faiveley, returning 01-Nov-2003). Winemaking was done in Chambolle by a ‘regisseur’ who just happened to be Bruno Clair. Withe the exception of the 1984s, all of the wine produced by Clair was sold in bulk to the négoce – the 1984s were still to be bottled when Frederic returned to the Château, and were the first to wear the Mugnier label. 1985 was the first vintage actually made by Mugnier.
Four hectares in Chambolle and another 10 in Nuits – Frédéric only half-jokes that he should now be considered as a producer of Nuits, not Chambolle. Of course in recent memory it is only since the 2004 vintage that the domaine has the Nuits to work with; in 1950 all the domaine’s vineyards were leased ‘en fermage’ to Maison Faiveley as there was no wine-maker in the family to manage them, most would stay under Faiveley control for close to 30 years. The disadvantage for the Mugnier family was that this arrangement was only for cash, not wine – so there is no library of wines from those ‘missing years’ until the Chambolle vineyards returned to Mugnier management in 1977 – the Nuits vineyards were to remain with Faiveley under an extended contract for another 25 years or so – the last Faiveley vintage being 2003.
The domaine’s Chambolle wines are well-known:
- The villages Chambolle-Musigny is invariably worth buying, an assembly of two parcels – 0.56 hectares of vines from the 1er cru of Les Plantes, who’s vines were planted in 1968-69, and 0.77 hectares from the village part of La Combe d’Orveau who’s vines were planted in tranches between 1952 and 1998. There is also a small plot of young vines (1997) Musigny that currently goes into this wine.
- The domaine’s Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Fuées is often a personal favourite for it’s depth yet transparency, but perhaps that’s only because I’ve rarely drunk their 1er Cru Amoureuses! The domaine farms 0.71 hectares that border on Bonnes-Mares from which the 45 year-old vines produce an average 200-250 cases.
- 0.53 hectares of roughly 50 year-old vines produce close to 200 cases of the domaine’s Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Amoureuses – a wine that burghound is apt to describe as ‘sex in a glass’. Many commentators place Les Amoureuses at the quality level of a grand cru, and here is a domaine that often serves theirs after their Bonnes-Mares.
- I’ve never really bought much Bonnes-Mares – Mugnier’s being no exception – interestingly Frédéric mentions that he was never completely satisfied with his Bonnes-Mares, assuming it might be something due to the particular mix of clones. To tackle this, in 1988 half of their 0.36 hectares of vines were replanted and only now as they reach maturity is the wine quality reaching his expectations, approximately 100 cases per year are produced. A mix of terres blanche and terres rouge, Frédéric thinks of the wine character being like a more powerful Fuées – its neighbour.
- The domaine’s last, and justly most famous wine from Chambolle, is their Musigny Grand Cru. Since 1998, this has become one of the reference points for the appellation – and is very difficult to come by for that – but credit to the domaine, pricing has so-far avoided the ‘aspirational’. The domaine’s wine beautifully showcases the special charms of the vineyard – Frédéric is fortunate to hold a massive (relative to all except de Vogüé) 1.14 hectares of mature (1947-1962) vines that can yield 400 cases in a bountiful year.
Less well-known are the domaine’s Nuits St.Georges vines:
- Originally purchased at auction in 1902, the Clos de la Marechale is a large Clos just out of the village of Premeaux. The Marechale vineyard itself is a large 10 hectare enclosure – walled to all sides. Some disrepair to the walls can be seen – this will be a long-term project for Frédéric, including repair to the central temple-like central building that could some-day become guest accommodation. Hardly picturesque with the great spoil tips from the stone-works behind, these tips are relatively recent – mainly a product of the 1980’s – still there is a 15 year project proposed to use this spoil for civil construction. This might make the surroundings prettier, but there’s some concern amongst the growers about the dust that will be generated – perhaps for four weeks before the harvest there should be no trucks(?) The plot is split into 8 areas, the oldest vines were planted pre-world war 2, but in the main seven of the eight plots were replanted by Faiveley between 1950 and 1970. The 8th is a replanting of around 400 square metres of chardonnay along the northern edge of the vineyard – worth 5 barrels in 2005. Following the end of the lease to Faiveley, 2004 is the first modern vintage of the Clos de la Marechale.
Frédéric has ploughed his own path when it comes to vineyard management; never one to follow fashion, whether it be organic, biodynamic or even lutte raisonée. Fertiliser was last used in 1986, herbicides in 1990 and insecticides in 1995 – in each case there were plenty that doubted his ways and even laughed behind his back as his yields would tumble – yet in each case, within 2-3 years the yields would return to normal, or even increase. In particular Frédéric points to the ever escalating insecticide ‘war’ against the red spiders in the vineyards, infestations only stopped once they gave up the use of insecticide – basically the predators were also devastated so there was no chance of balance.
Within the vines a single cane Guyot training is used, but Frédéric prefers a longer cane and to balance removes the second bud. This longer cane provides what he calls a better ‘solar panel’ though it does require more management to keep tidy. Although this will provide more than 5 buds, the eventual aim is for five clusters of fruit per vine. In contrast, in the Clos de la Marechale, Faiveley’s preference was for a much shorter pruning, but with 2 canes.
Triage is done at the vine rather than in the cuverie; commenting on the 2004’s Frédéric tells that in Chambolle they were fortunate to have no rot, only some dried berries to sort that had been struck by hail, whereas in Nuits 75% of the Marechale was perfectly healthy and needed no triage, the other 25% which did need triage because of rot was restricted to the higher yielding plots of the younger vines.
Moving to the cuverie in Chambolle; the main part was most-likely an addition to accommodate the fruit of the newly purchased Clos de la Marechale – so is around 100 years old. Even the open-top wooden vats are original – though on or two staves have been replaced in the last 100 years, plus an internal sanding about 2 years ago. These vats were completely unused between 1950 an 1977. On the top-level of the cuverie are a row of gleaming stainless-steel tanks – Frédéric is not convinced that steel or wood makes too much difference, as both his are temperature controlled. Pigeage is preferred to pumping-over here.
I had the chance to look at the recently bottled Nuits, before a tour of the 2005’s in barrel. Regarding the 2005’s, the same story as other domains – no consistency in malos; at the end of May, some were finished, some were almost finished, and some had hardly started. Also like other domaines, when you move from 2004 to 2005 the first impression is that you lose a little freshness, but there is more depth and concentration. Tannins are very well textured, though in this aspect, no-better than the best 2004’s.
Ten different cuvées was the starting point from the Clos de la Marechale, the younger vines and those areas that had higher yields form much of the basis for a wine that is declassified to ‘villages’ level. Following the original name of the Clos de la Marechale, this cuvée is called the Clos de la Fourche.
Bottled only 10 days earlier. The nose is wide and sweet, with violets and red fruits, time in the glass only adds to the penetrating weight of the aromatics – really lovely. The palate shows sweetness and freshness – super acidity – nicely intense in the mid-palate. It’s long with just a hint of bitterness at the end. This bitterness and a slightly up-and-down presentation is most likely from the recent bottling. I’ll keep an eye-out for this.
This has seen only one week in bottle. The nose starts wider but less intense than the ‘Fourche’, time in the glass once more sees a real tightening, the aromatics becoming more interesting by the minute. The palate seems much more affected by the bottling, it is adolescent and out of sorts though certainly more chewy and concentrated than its brother. One to return to.
Domaine Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier
Château de Chambolle-Musigny
Tel : (33) 380 62 85 39
Fax : (33) 380 62 87 36