The forgotten history of Moulin-à-Vent

The 1855 classification shaped the structure and reputation of Bordeaux. Less well known are similar classifications which took place in Beaujolais and Burgundy a few years later. Édouard Parinet, owner of Château du Moulin-à-Vent, has unearthed old labels and texts from the Domaine which tell the fascinating and forgotten history of this Beaujolais Cru.

Beaujolais underwent its own classification in 1869 and this is still referred to today to assess the soils and vineyards of the region. Monsieur Budker, who was responsible for the classification, granted Moulin-à-Vent seven ‘première classe’ (first class) lieu-dits, more than any other Cru in Beaujolais. The list includes well-known lieu-dits such as La Rochelle, Rochegrès and Les Thorins. This last lieu-dit is especially important in showing the prominence of Moulin-à-Vent. A handful of villages across Burgundy’s Côte d’Or and Beaujolais were recognised in the late 19th century for the quality of their wines. This recognition allowed them to add the name of their best Grand Cru to their main village name. In 1872, the village of Romanèche in Moulin-à-Vent became Romanèche-Thorins, just as Gevrey took the name of Chambertin, Chambolle became double-barrelled with Musigny and Puligny added Montrachet to its name.

Thanks to its rising reputation after the First World War, fraud became widespread, so Moulin-à-Vent became one of the first ‘Appellations d'Origine’ in 1924. This considerably predates the official ‘Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée’ system, which was established in 1935 and came into effect in 1936.

Édouard found that up until the 1970s all the labels of Château du Moulin-à-Vent stated ‘Grand Cru’. He also uncovered an extract from a fine wine list dating back to 1927 which underlines how highly Moulin-à-Vent was regarded: a bottle of both Château du Moulin-à-Vent 1924 and Meursault Charmes 1924 are listed for 15 francs, Gevrey-Chambertin 1923 at 16 francs and a bottle of Hermitage 1923 for 12 francs.

A story from 1932, brought to light by Le Figaro in 2018, reveals how different things were in Beaujolais back then. Henri Mommessin, the head of the biggest Beaujolais négociant, attended a vineyard auction in Beaune with the sole purpose of purchasing a particular vineyard in Moulin-à-Vent. Unfortunately, the price was too high, so he looked at what he could afford and instead bought Clos de Tart. Eighty-eight years later, one hectare of Moulin-à-Vent is worth around €100,000. The 7.53 hectare monopole Clos de Tart was reportedly sold in 2017 for €280 million - that is around €37 million per hectare!

Although both the land and bottle values have changed dramatically over time, the reasons for Moulin-à-Vent’s early rise to fame endure. This is what interested the Parinet family when they bought Château du Moulin-à-Vent in 2009. Although new to the world of wine, Jean-Jacques Parinet had childhood memories of Moulin-à-Vent occupying pride of place at his family table in the 1960s. He and his son Édouard recognised the great potential in the estate and set about making a number of radical changes both in the vineyards and the winery.

After purchasing the Château, the family replanted around 70,000 vines and moved to sustainable viticulture. They now have a total of 37 hectares (over 120 different plots) which they manage organically. The Parinet family’s ambition has always been to produce wines with an ability to age and express the natural diversity of Moulin-à-Vent’s granitic soils. Every change in the vineyard is made with this goal in mind. The vines are densely planted at 9,000 vines per hectare and yields are low, between 20-35 hectolitres per hectare, versus the official minimum requirements of 6,000 vines per hectare and yields of 56 hectolitres per hectare for wines of the Moulin-à-Vent appellation.

Jean-Jacques and Édouard also invested in the winery by updating machinery and purchasing new French oak barrels. The grapes are harvested by hand and then fermented in stainless steel for around 20 days to gently extract tannins and colour. Over the years, the Château has gradually reduced the use of new oak to showcase the purity of fruit. The resulting wines of Château du Moulin-à-Vent remain deserving of acclaim, boast an extraordinary history and represent outstanding value for money.