A Glass With: Edouard Parinet

Ellen Doggett

2024 is a milestone year for Moulin-à-Vent, marking both the 100-year anniversary of this top Beaujolais Cru and the proposal submission for 14 of its finest lieux-dits to be classified as 1er Cru.

Before the AOC system was created in 1936, French wines were classified by the AO system, with Moulin-à-Vent being one of the first AOs in 1924. This protected these sought-after Beaujolais Cru wines, which commanded prices higher than the Côte d’Or’s Grand Crus at the time, from fraudsters peddling counterfeits. In the 19th Century, a barrel of Moulin-à-Vent sold for more than a barrel of Chambertin, while in 1932, it was more affordable to purchase vines in ‘Clos de Tart’ than Moulin-à-Vent’s ‘Les Thorins’!

Beaujolais has experienced a turbulent history since then, yet thanks to a quality revolution in the 21st Century, the appellation is once again thriving today. As such, Andy Howard MW (Decanter) rightfully muses on its potential to ‘be considered alongside the finest Pinot Noir wines from a little further to the North’.

The future for this famed Cru remains exceedingly bright, and for us, none epitomises this more than Château du Moulin-à-Vent. We sat down with owner Edouard Parinet during his recent trip to the UK, to discuss the past, present and future of his beloved Moulin-à-Vent.

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What have been the key changes you've made since taking on Château du Moulin-à-Vent in 2009?

By far, the main change we’ve made has been in the vineyard, by transitioning the Château from a conventional style of farming to organic. Having good viticulture is the most important thing for producing good wine, because you need to work with the best fruit. We are also really paying attention to the future. We believe that an organic approach is best, not just for the health of the vines and soil but also to mitigate against climate change. As we experience increasingly extreme conditions, we have seen that organic viticulture has helped with consistent ripening.

Despite climate change, believe that Gamay still has a very bright future in Beaujolais, and we are working hard to keep the original DNA of Gamay from Moulin-à-Vent. We have had our own massal selection since 2015, meaning we’re now able to replant whole vineyards with our own cuttings. I believe this is also a key change that’s helping preserve the future of our vineyards.

A smaller evolution we’ve introduced is using better ageing tools, such as stainless steel and barrels, more efficiently. We are using older barrels, which I think have a better balance than those used when we first took over the Château. But by far, our approach to viticulture has been the number one change.

How have these changes translated into the glass?

In the glass, I would say that the wines of Château du Moulin-à-Vent have gotten purer and purer. They’re a little lighter in colour and have more energy while still having, of course, the fingerprint of Moulin-à-Vent. This fingerprint is both fruit and acidity but also structure and texture, and I think our wines are now more transparent – they are even more expressive of their site. The aromatics and style of our wine can vary according to vintage, but they are always representative of Moulin-à-Vent, which I think reflects the work we’ve done in the vineyard and winery.

What do you think differentiates this ‘fingerprint’ of Moulin-à-Vent from the other Beaujolais Crus?

For me, there are two things that make Moulin-à-Vent different from other Beaujolais Crus. The first is the history and reputation of Moulin-à-Vent. Apart from a few decades between the 1980s and early 2000s, it’s always had a reputation for producing wines that can age very well: the ‘Grand Cru’ of the region.

This is very particular to Moulin-à-Vent because none of the other Crus have had such a longstanding reputation over the last 100 years. Moulin-à-Vent was the first AO [the classification system that directly preceded AOC] to be created in Beaujolais. This meant that right from the beginning, this place had a very particular typicity that producers, locals and consumers understood and wanted to protect.

Outside of this history, the typicity, of course, comes from nature. The granite soils are particularly sandy. They are the result of 220 million years of erosion, so you can just imagine how decomposed and fine this granite now is. It’s also very rich in silica, which are these very white, shiny crystals which you can find in high concentrations around the windmill and the château. Then there’s iron oxide, which is widespread and explains the magnesium mines once in Romanèche-Thorins. Magnese is always combined with iron oxide, which also indicates why there is so much iron oxide in the Moulin-à-Vent soils.

These soils are very diverse in their makeup. Out of 620 hectares planted, there are 69 distinct lieux-dits (some of which were already listed and identified 150 years ago) and 14 of these are likely to achieve 1er Cru status in the near future. This diversity isn’t necessarily as broad in the other Crus. Then, there is also the environment. We have a lot of wind! The windmill isn’t just here by chance, after all.

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You just touched on the 14 new proposed 1er Crus in Moulin-à-Vent. Could you explain a bit more about this? How did this come about, and what is the expected outcome?

Before the Beaujolais Nouveau [which negatively impacted consumer perception of the region], Moulin-à-Vent wines were often labelled with something to the effect of ‘Grand Cru Classé’. Producers have always understood the quality of these wines, so these new proposed 1er Crus are a return to this tradition.

The process started in 2009 with hundreds and hundreds of core drillings being made to take soil samples from around the Cru. This was done by an external company to create a geological map that all the producers in Moulin-à-Vent have been using since 2014. For the last three or four years, on a monthly basis, the producers have gathered to taste and talk about the different identified lieux-dits. After all these tasting sessions and much debate, this year, we settled on 14 lieux-dits to propose to the French administration – the INAO - to be reviewed for 1er Cru status.

In addition, we have also proposed that no chemicals will be used when farming these 1er Crus, that the maximum yield be lowered from 56 hectolitres per hectare to 50, and that these wines be bottled and released later to the market. For us at Château du Moulin-à-Vent, this won’t change anything. We are already organic, our maximum yields are 27 hectolitres per hectare, and we always incorporate later bottling, but for the Cru as a whole, these are important steps.

Changes like that help improve Beaujolais's overall quality perceptions. Have you found that consumer perceptions have changed in recent years?

You know, when it comes to general perceptions in the market, I don’t think that things have changed much. Rather than consumer perceptions changing, I think it’s drinking trends that have changed instead.

I think now, there is a trend towards drinking wines that are made more responsibly. People want to drink authentic wines, which has helped Cru Beaujolais gain popularity. Plus, at the same time, consumers are also drinking less barrel-aged reds. People prefer lighter reds, with more acid and more fruit, and that’s what Beaujolais is all about. This is why Beaujolais, in general, is growing in popularity and gaining more attention – the market is asking for it.

Something else I think plays a big role, even if just subconsciously, is the image of Beaujolais as a region and its people. It has always been known for its conviviality, for its joyfulness and for this way of life that is so unique. In comparison to, for example, Burgundy or Bordeaux, which can be a little bit more formal, Beaujolais has a relaxed attitude. I think consumers like that.

Outside of general consumers, how have you seen perceptions change in the trade? For example, with sommeliers and the independent off-trade?

You know, I think the challenge with Beaujolais is still to convert more consumers because I think wine professionals are actually pretty converted most of the time! Wine professionals are a small part of the market. There is a much bigger volume of consumers we need to win over. Ultimately, it is just a matter of time. It was only in the last 20 years that things began to change, and consumers were slowly willing to buy quality Beaujolais again. ChMaV4.png

It's interesting to hear that. In the UK, a large percentage of wines bought and drunk by consumers are bought in supermarkets. As a result, it’s often the négociant label Beaujolais that’s most widely available to buy. Do you think this is helpful for the overall image of Beaujolais?

Yes, absolutely. I think that négociants should play a big role for any wine region, not just Beaujolais, and we must continue having a strong, quality-driven négociant side. As a wine region, I truly believe that it’s a matter of balance.

You need to have entry-level wines that are well-made at the right price; you need to have finer wines that have more site-specificity and command a higher price point. You need to have a little bit of everything.

I definitely think we need to have the big guys, those big domaines or négociants, working together with the small producers to achieve a shared goal of promoting Beaujolais to everyone. Of course, they aren’t the same kinds of wines with the same positioning, but everyone is in the same boat. It’s really teamwork. The future is bright for Beaujolais if all of us are moving in the same direction.

Coming back to Moulin-à-Vent. This year, the appellation celebrates its centennial. What does 100 years of Moulin-à-Vent mean to you?

With the Centennial, we are looking back on our history but also at where we are today and where we might be in another 100 years.

This is an occasion to talk about the specificity of Moulin-à-Vent and why it was created all those years ago. After all, as we touched on before, it was one of the first declared appellations in France. It was only Mercurey and Châteauneuf-du-Pape that were created before it [in 1923]. It is nice for us, the producers of Moulin-à-Vent, to remember how long the appellation's reputation has endured. It gives us more energy and motivation.

Then today, this latest 1er Cru Classification project is exciting because it gives us even more direction into the coming decades. I think in the future, the chance we have to continue the appellation's reputation is with Gamay and its extraordinary adaptability to climate change.

We have to remember that 20-30 years ago, you had to chapitalise almost every vintage to achieve a final wine of 12% or 12.5% alcohol. Now, we don’t have this problem. Every vintage, we can consistently harvest between 12.5% and 13.8%, which is what we ideally dream of.

Of course, there are challenges, with needing to harvest earlier and getting bigger teams to harvest, as all our vineyards are harvested by hand. The optimal maturity period for our grapes lasts for just five to seven days, so we have to be quick and need a lot of people. But Gamay IS Beaujolais, and Beaujolais IS Gamay, and in the coming decades, I don’t see this changing. I am very happy about that because the two are so intimately linked.

Edouard and Brice copy.jpg Edouard and the Château's Technical Director, Brice Laffond

That’s a bit of a relief to hear, as climate change is certainly making other regions in France have to rethink the future of certain grape varieties. What is it about Gamay in Beaujolais that makes it so resilient to climate change?

It’s really in the DNA of the Gamay here. In Moulin-à-Vent, it’s planted on mostly granitic soils rather than clay, and they’ve been grown in these kinds of soils for generations. Granite has very poor water retention, so these vines have adapted to survive with very little water. Even when it rains, the soils are so porous that the water just flows right down through to the bedrock and away. Even in the hottest vintages, these vines are fine because they’re so used to having very little water. They’re used to the struggle, and I think that will help us as our climate continues to change.

For more information about purchasing the wines of Château du Moulin-à-Vent, please contact your Account Manager. Not yet a customer? Contact Us to discuss opening an account.