…You don’t take nothing but your so-oul!” John Lennon, The Ballad of John and Yoko
And it many ways that is the ultimate synthesis of my tasting this morning at J. F. Mugnier in Chambolle Musigny. Mr Mugnier afforded me a generous hour and three quarters, mostly spent discussing the abusive secondary market trade of fine Burgundies and unremitting speculation. Tasting the wines took about twenty minutes.
I had met him before, when I worked for Fine & Rare in London; and he had done due diligence, checking this website, so was already aware, before I confessed to a more mortal sin, that I had worked at Caveau de la Tour; perhaps the most flagrant parallel marketeers in France.
I chose to point out before descending to the cellar that I was not hoping for a professional allocation, that my interest was purely personal.
And so we discussed the difficulties of fighting the absurd speculation of which his wines and others are victim. I have written previously of abusive speculation…a quick look on Wine Searcher offers Amoureuses 2013 at 950 euros, Musigny at 1250. 600% profit. It is an abuse of the end client, it is an abuse of the domaine. It is frankly taking the piss, or foutage de gueule as they say here.
But thus has it always been. Wine is an industry allowing quick and big profits to the sharp, or as the French say, malin.
I suggested selling the wines closer to their “market value”, to cut out the excessive profit. He ponders the possibility of just one generic label – no Bonnes Mares, no Musigny, just Domaine J. F. Mugnier. Not bad, and not least because as he points out is costs no more to produce a bottle of Musigny than a bottle of Chambolle Villages.
It’s good because the quality of wines speak for themselves, and the label drinker and show off would have nothing to show. Complicated in reality.
He also suggested just giving away the Musigny for free, stamped and labelled as “gratuit” – a kind of corporate branding that might induce some moral self-reckoning. I said, knowing the parallelistes, such moral rectitude was doubtful.
The problem can be reduced to the fact that many wines have merely becomeo luxury products – available and attractive to the rich only, and even only the super rich in some cases. Bernard Arnault and François Pinault have certainly understood this (each taking Yquem, Cheval Blanc and Latour out of the market – although ironically in more or less deliberate ways. LVMH’s wines are too dear, Pinault’s Latour just not for sale.)
As it happens, he may be doing a Latour himself; actively keeping all the Musigny back, so better to control its distribution at a later date. That seems fair too, it would certainly take away some of the easy money.
Despite our gassing, we did get to taste the wines: from barrel the more generous 2014 vintage, starting with the Chambolle Villages, then 1er Cru Les Fuées, Bonnes Mares, 1er Cru Les Amoureuses, Musigny, the Nuits St Georges 1er Cru Clos du Maréchal, and then in bottle, a 2013 Clos du Maréchal and finally a 2008 Bonnes Mares.
A peculiar order you might think, but Mr Mugnier likes to taste the wines from North to South, although it’s not a fixed rule. And the wines? All delicious, the Chambolles typically elegant and séducteurs, the Nuits Saint Georges more spicy and structured.
Naturally, as it happens, the wines expressed their written hierarchy in the glass. The Bonnes Mares had more weight than the Fuées, which showed less colour, and the Amoureuses real lightness, elegance and charm. The Musigny more mass and weight again.
Just like the first growths in Bordeaux, Burgundy’s grand crus and best premier crus weigh heavier in the glass. They express more gravitas, a firmer body, but in Chambolle without a growl.
Mr Mugnier expressed his belief in these differences, and accepts them as a mystery. Just like the equal production cost of his wines, every vine in each vineyard, from taille to vendange, from vinification to enbouteillage, is treated exactly the same. There is no explanation; nature gives…long may it persist.
Incidentally though Domaine Mugnier uses no pesticides, herbicides or chemical treatments per se, and this for twenty years, he is not and exponent of bio-dynamie. His one concession is copper and sulphur to fight the temperate vineyard’s major threats, oidium and mildew…both are long used and natural-ish fungicides.
When I noted I found it no coincidence that bio-dynamic greats such as DRC, Beaucastel and Leflaive, also benefited from having the greatest sites, he also pointed out that before their lutte-verte, they were already making great, legendary wines. I had the ever so slight impression he feels it is window-dressing, even if he solidly believes in keeping everything as clean and natural as possible. It is all about balance, moderation in all things.
Monsieur Mugnier struck me as calm and poised. Ever so slightly ground down by the merciless and cynical mercantilism of the wine market and imagining ways to bring things to a simpler level. To him, he explained, a bottle of wine is nothing, its only reality its consumption, itself an ephemeral pleasure to be shared, essentially with like minded companions.
It was an impressive tasting with a man evidently satisfied with his lot; as he said, when you go you ain’t taking nothing with you. If he gives me a mixed six pack, he will rise even higher in my esteem.