Cru Beaujolais: Focus on Moulin-a-Vent
As promised in my introduction to the 10 Crus of Beaujolais, here is the first Cru-specific chapter, devoted to Moulin-a-Vent. Moulin-a-Vent is plum in the middle of the northern half of the 10 crus, sandwiched between Fleurie and Julienas. Moulin-a-Vent is a hill. The name means windmill, and the cru is named after a 15th-century windmill that sits at its top, at 258 meters.
Most Beaujolais drinkers will say that Moulin-a-Vent is the greatest of the 10 crus. The argument is simple: the wine has a concentration and tannic structure exceeding anything else that you’ll find in the region. Accordingly, the wines can age, and most people report that after about 10 years the wine starts to resemble a wonderfully mature Burgundy or Rhone. Folks who report on delicious 50+-year-old bottles of Beaujolais are usually talking about a Moulin-a-Vent.
Moulin-a-Vent is built on a granitic base, but this is true of most of the other Crus as well. What really distinguishes its soils is the presence of manganese. Manganese is a hard grey metal that, in high concentration, can intoxicate and kill the vine. In Moulin-a-Vent there isn’t enough manganese to kill the plant, but just enough to reduce the vines’ grape yield. This results in fewer but more concentrated berries, giving you a bigger wine.
Note that it’s unlikely that any manganese actually gets into your bottle of Moulin-a-Vent. But if it were to, this would be a good thing, as it is known to have a number of healthful properties and is often added to diet supplements! Manganese is not the whole story. There is also a high iron content in the soils, which is generally associated with more tannic, longer-lived wines. And of course there are the slopes of the hill – often facing east – helping sunshine get to the vine to make sure the grapes fully ripen. All these facts and circumstances do, indeed, ensure that Moulin-a-Vent makes the biggest wines in Beaujolais. It is not just their power that impresses me, but also their breadth and majesty. Unlike, say, a Brouilly, which you will gulp down happily, you will find yourself taking your time with a bottle of Moulin-a-Vent, as with each sip different flavors seem to unfold – there is a seriousness here that just demands the drinker to explore further. It is great wine.
And there are some great producers. Today I’ll mention two of my favorite. Domaine Diochon is located just across from the famous windmill in the heart of the Cru. It is a small estate, with only about 5 hectares, producing just one wine every vintage. The vines are 50-85 years old (while vine age is always important, I find that it is absolutely critical to giving Gamay the complexity that can make Cru Beaujolais special). This domaine has been producing since 1935, and the wine is made the same now as it was then: in the traditional, semi-carbonic fashion.
Note that Bernard Diochon retired without an heir in 2007, and I felt that there was a hiccup in quality that lasted a couple of years. The 2010 and 2011, however, were excellent wines that lived up to the domaine’s historic very high quality. You should definitely try to put a few bottles away for another decade.
Pierre Chermette and his Domaine de Vissoux for years made wine only in the lowly Beaujolais AC appellation. Since the 1990s, though, he has been accumulating land in the Crus to the north, and he is now making some of the very best wines of the region. One of my favorites is his Moulin-a-Vent, called Les Trois Roches. The three “Roches” are three different parcels that contribute grapes to this wine: Rochegres ("contributing finesse," according to Chermette), La Rochelle ("for structure"), and Roche Noire ("for vivacity"). Chermette takes these grapes and make the wine very naturally: he rarely chaptalizes, he employs old-fashioned Burgundian techniques, he adds no sulphur.