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February 13, 2023

Château du Moulin-à-Vent 1976–2019: Winds of change

By Sarah Marsh MW

Château du Moulin-à-Vent, the estate at the heart of the eponymous Beaujolais cru, has come a very long way in the decade since it was acquired by the Parinet family, says Sarah Marsh MW.

I don’t want to make fine wine,” says Edouard Parinet. “Our chance in Moulin-à-Vent is to make wine that is good at all times.” Of course, fine wine can be accessible in youth, but we know what he means. Château du Moulin-à-Vent produces the eponymous Beaujolais cru, and as such, Edouard Parinet confronts preconceptions of wine that can be austere in youth, with a tannic structure that may take some years to mellow. 

Nevertheless, this was the profile of wine that had attracted Jean-Jacques Parinet to buy the château in the late noughties after making his fortune in software. Edouard explained that his father, who was a child of the ’50s, considered Moulin-à-Vent a “serious, classy wine” that he would often serve at Sunday lunch. It was Jean-Jacques Parinet’s love of gastronomy, together with his son’s interest in wine, that led to the vinous investment. Without the latter, Jean-Jacques may have invested in another branch of gastronomy, and the rest would not be history. 

Their first vintage was 2009, and since then father and son have made considerable changes at the estate. With the release of the 2019 vintage, they decided to mark the occasion with a ten-year vertical of the flagship blend at Cabotte in London to illustrate how the estate has evolved over the past decade.

A plum position 

Previously known as Château de Thorins, the estate produced grapes from 1739 and began domaine bottling by 1921. It changed names a few years before the AO classification of Moulin-à-Vent in 1921. The English writer Cyrus Redding was the first to refer to the wines here as Moulin-à-Vent in the 19th century. When the family bought Château du Moulin-à-Vent they acquired a slice of history—as well as an ancient cellar with some interesting old bottles. We tasted a couple of mature vintages, 1996 and 1979, which illustrate the capacity of some vintages to age beautifully.

When the Parinets made their foray into winemaking, the recent history of Beaujolais had been turbulent. The fortunes of the appellation, sucked into a vortex of low prices, lack of investment, poor quality, and carbonic maceration, are well documented. The château had suffered. A commitment to quality production, however, offered a lifeline to those fortunate to have, or have acquired, vines in any of the ten Beaujolais crus. Here was the opportunity for a fresh start making terroir-driven wines. 

“2009 was a shocking vintage,” says Edouard Parinet, “where vintners were happier with production and wanted to bottle their own wine. This was the turning point. The decade since is a new story for Beaujolais, during which we have made a good progression. We are very proud to be in Beaujolais, to have Gamay and granite, but we identify with the cru. We need to build the region with the specificity of Moulin-à-Vent and the other crus. Before 1970, Moulin-à-Vent had the reputation of a grand cru and bottles were labeled ‘Premier Cru Classé.’ The sunny and dense vintages had great ageability.”

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The high levels of manganese account for the firm, structural character of Moulin-à-Vent, and Château du Moulin-à-Vent stands in plum position, with 30ha (75 acres) of vineyard concentrated around the windmill. “Four factors are significant,” comments Edouard Parinet: “Silica, iron oxide, manganese and exposure to winds.”

Château du Moulin-à-Vent Moulin-à-Vent is a blend made from four lieux-dits, with each wine made separately. The climats have different aspects, elevations, and soil profiles. Le Moulin-à-Vent is close to the windmill. It’s a cool terroir north-northeast-facing, where the soil is thin and near the rock. Aux Caves is steep and faces southeast. The soil has a high proportion of silica and is also thin, with the rock close beneath the surface.  Technical director Brice Laffond observes that the old vines in the thin soils never suffer. “Where the water is held at depth, the old vines access these reserves. The grapes always have good balance, with fresh acidity.”

Les Thorins is south-facing, lower on the slope, where there is more clay. “The wines can be more rustic in youth but are always fresh,” says Laffond. Finally, east-facing La Roche is also lower on the slope with more clay and, unsurprisingly, produces wines that are richer, rounder, and creamier. These vineyards were historically categorized as premier classé. Laffond considers them to have less personality than the single vineyards, which the estate bottles separately, but blended together they produce a satisfying representative of the appellation. 

In the beginning, the Parinet family made a few mistakes. They were in a hurry to convert to organic practices, and Edouard Parinet admits they plowed the vineyards too enthusiastically, when the vines needed more time to adjust. They immediately stopped all use of chemicals, and poor-quality clones planted in the ’80s were replaced with a massal selection from their own vineyards. 

They inherited plenty of old vines, some planted 80 years ago. The vines are close-planted (1m x 1.8m [3.3ft x 5.9ft]) on traditional gobelet training with three spurs. Guyot is forbidden here. A combination of the old vines, high density, and stress from well-drained soil and the wind result in low yields. In a good year they will harvest an average of 30hl/ha, though recent vintages have yielded just 24–26hl/ha. 

These low yields result in nicely concentrated fruit, and the wind helps retain freshness and low pH. In the warm 2018 vintage, the pH did not exceed 3.6 after malolactic. “In the solar vintages, the wind accelerates the maturity toward harvest. But even if the vintage is warm, we keep the acidity because of the wind, and this also keeps the alcohol levels the same,” says Edouard.

While changes were afoot in the vineyard, the approach in the winery was also evolving. To begin with, all the grapes were destemmed and were fermented and aged in a combination of stainless steel and larger-format oak barrels. All the oak was renewed in 2009. Maybe this is why 2009 wasn’t shown in the vertical. In 2013, Brice Laffond joined the team as technical director, having previously worked for Faiveley, Mouton Rothschild, and Geisen in New Zealand.

In 2014, Laffond began carefully experimenting with a little whole-bunch fermentation. In the beginning (the 2010, 2011, and 2012 vintages), all the fruit was destemmed. “This was a mistake,” he says. “The vines never stress, so the stems always ripen. The wine was more austere before.” Whole-bunch is not used systematically but is dependent on the quality of the stems. “We have 120 different plots and the quality of the stems is very varied. Rootstock also has an effect on stem ripeness.” On average, each wine has about 50 percent whole-bunch, but in 2018 and 2019 it was 60 percent, while in 2017 there was hail damage and everything was destemmed. 

Laffond doesn’t like to cold-soak the whole bunches—“It cuts the terroir,” he says—and he stopped the practice after 2014. This has shortened the total vatting period, but there is a longer and softer extraction period of between 13 and 15 days. “We are trying to make our wine in a fine and elegant style,” says Edouard Parinet. 

The oak regimen has changed, too. In the early vintages, the wine was matured in 350-liter barrels, while Burgundy barriques (228 liters) are now in favor. “It’s more important to have a fine grain of oak than to try to soften the impression of oak by using a large barrel,” Laffond argues. A proportion of the wine was matured in stainless steel, and after ten months the barrique-aged and steel-aged wines were blended and returned to stainless steel for a second winter. After this natural settling, they are able to bypass filtration.

Their approach subsequently evolved, and by 2019 only one third of the cuvée was aged in barrel, with a year in bottle before release. “We wanted to make the wines more accessible. The wine is rounder, and there is more integration of the tannins,” said Laffond.

So, it seems that there was a significant shift in the winemaking around the middle of the decade. Maybe the crackle of tannin in the 2014 is the whole-bunch, although with just 10 percent, it’s debatable. Tasting the vertical from 2010 onward, the steer toward more refinement is not clearly identifiable in the youthful fruity opulence of the 2015 vintage, but the tannins are notably super-svelte. It is clearer in the cooler 2016 vintage, which is the most elegant of the flight, showing remarkable finesse. From 2015 onward, the vintages do have a certain polish. For sure, the 2018 is still quite muscular, but it is plush. If you compare the concentrated 2018 and the lighter 2019 with the firmly structured 2010, the evolution to a more svelte texture and supple structure is evident. 

To return to Edouard Parinet’s earlier remark, “We do not want to produce fine wine. Our chance is to make a wine that is good at all times, though some vintages are bit austere and some too wet to last. It is our luck that we have one grape, Gamay. With Gamay, we have wine with fruit freshness and drinkability, but with our old vines of Gamay we have wines that can age.”

The 2019 is very approachable. This is partly attributable to the lighter vintage, but the rich and dense 2018 is also accessible. While the 2010 tannins are still firm despite bottle age, it was a cooler vintage. One can surmise there was lower phenolic ripeness in 2010 than in the run of recent warm vintages, but equally the work in the vineyard over the decade should have improved the quality of the skins. 

Considering tannin and texture, Brice Laffond argues that the wines were more austere without the stems. I would think that the move to softer extraction is more responsible for the diminishing austerity, though the inclusion of stems is useful in enhancing the impression of elegance through the floral aromatics it can bring. 

The 2010 is very good, but it’s not yet mature, even after 13 years. I am quite sure that someone will be savoring this vintage in another ten, maybe 20, years—who knows? But waiting that long should be optional.

By contrast, the 2019 is light-bodied, with fine, powdery tannins, and you could drink it immediately. Although lightness in a wine does not preclude aging, I doubt that this one will make old bones. But it’s not a top-quality vintage. I would say that Parinet and Laffond have nailed the accessible and elegant style they are pursuing and are justifiably pleased with the 2019. 

The greatest challenge, however, lies in striking a balance between style and terroir. Is 2019 instantly recognizable as Moulin-à-Vent? No, not instantly. But this cuvée is a blend that allows Laffond to create a wine with consistency of style. I wondered whether the single-vineyard wines would express Château du Moulin-à-Vent the terroir to a greater extent. So, I asked to taste blind the three single-vineyard 2019s.

The single vineyards were made in the same way. Each wine showed a clear and strong identity. I felt that the elegant and accessible style was of equal significance to the identity of each cru. Two of the singles are instantly accessible, but all will repay some aging. Frankly, I am very happy to drink well-executed, elegant, and accessible wine, and I am too old to wait 20 years for Moulin-à-Vent to come around. Producing a wine that remains faithful to the terroir while fulfilling a stylistic objective is a delicate balancing act that I’d say its makers have achieved. 

Edouard Parinet pouring at the tasting. Photography by Behrman Photography.

Tasting Château du Moulin-à-Vent

Moulin-à-Vent 2010

Classic cooler vintage with a fresh beginning. Some rain but good maturity. Harvest began on September 20. Slightly tawny at the edges. Full and expressive, rich blackberry fruit aroma, with a hint of cinnamon and mocha. It attacks the palate with vibrant energy and fresh acidity. In the middle, it is dense and compact. A firmly structured wine in which the tannins are still quite grippy and meaty. Assertive on the finish. This needs time to soften down and open up but is none the worse for that. Cool and powerful. I like the swaggering and muscular personality. 2026–40. | 88

Moulin-à-Vent 2011

A sunny spring kicked off an early start to a very dry and warm season. Rapid maturity, with harvest beginning on August 29. For a warm vintage, this is not heavy; rather, it has a light-footed feel. Full and rounded, but with cotton-wool airiness. A warm rose-petal perfume envelopes the palate, and the texture is soft and gauzy. It is somewhat languid, but the finish perks up and is surprisingly pure, tapering to a light and mineral line. Drinking well now and over the next year or two. | 85

Moulin-à-Vent 2012

July temperatures hit 102°F (39°C), and there were frequent rains. Edouard recalls severe mildew attacks and the need for rigorous sorting at harvest (from September 13) on two tables, after which the yield was just 16hl/ha. This is quite pale, with a lighter hue than the 2010. It doesn’t give much away on the nose. It seems a little weak and weedy, awkward and thin. There are light floral notes, a hint of violet, and some freshness to finish, but in comparison with the vintages around it, it’s one-dimensional and also feels a bit past its best. | 81

Moulin-à-Vent 2013

After a hot midsummer, rain showers were dodged in September, with harvesting starting at the end of the month. This was the first vintage since the domaine was managed 100 percent organically and Brice Laffond joined the domaine. This is rather understated, with light forest-floor aromas. It slides into the palate on a hint of smoke and pencil lead. Cooler notes marry with the warmer, more evolved aromas of hay and caramel, and it’s even a bit gamey, showing quite some evolution. The texture is supple. Lightly rounded, it wafts across the palate, lacking some intensity and substance, maybe, but there is freshness lightly threaded through. It is modestly attractive, but I wouldn’t keep this longer. | 83

Moulin-à-Vent 2014

This was the first vintage in which some whole-bunch was used, but 10 percent is not sufficient to make much of an impact. There is also a move to 228-liter barriques around this time. The summer was beautiful, and an early harvest began on September 9. Straight, upright, zesty aroma spritzed with coffee and nutmeg. Jumps onto the palate. I like the bright tension, the tangy freshness, and the fine-grained tannins, with their dark-chocolate snap. Despite the warm summer, there is no lack of freshness. The wine shows some evolution—the dark bramble fruitiness is layered with mulchy aromas of garden compost. The finish is well sustained and spicy. Neatly balanced, nicely intense, and well edged. 2022–30. | 86 

Moulin-à-Vent 2015

A very warm vintage. The harvest began on August 28. A strong wind accelerated the ripening. No cold soak, and softer extraction was employed from this vintage onward. Full, opulent, and sunny aroma. The palate retains its youthful, fruity chubbiness. Full-bodied. Ripe forest fruits, wild flowers, and anise spice. The tannins are creamy-smooth, the texture lightly glossy. This has a smoky-slate minerality and shows an upshift in quality and complexity. The finish is good, shimmering with a salty cleanness and a hint of five-spice. Brice recalls that 2011 and 2015 were similar seasons. I find the core is firmer, more enrobed and intense than the 2011, and generally more energetic, probably reflecting the improvements in the vineyard. 2022–30. | 89–90

Moulin-à-Vent 2016

A classic season, with no extremes of heat. In 2016, the proportion of oak was reduced in a move to make the wines more accessible. Lifted perfume. It has a hint of jasmine. A pure and equitable wine. The tannins give sufficient structure and firmness, while the texture is chamois-leather supple. It has a long, stretched, and elegant line. The bright fruit is streamed with freshness and it glistens on the finish. A more sophisticated wine. A combination of vintage conditions and the changes in the winery come together in the 2016 to produce the elegant style to which Edouard and Brice aspire. It’s my favorite. 2022–30. | 89–90

Moulin-à-Vent 2017

There was a hailstorm in July, followed by a hot August. “The affected berries dried and fell off in a natural sorting,” recalls Edouard, “but we also used the sorting table.” I am not sure the sorting was entirely successful, as I find this wine dusty. I don’t mind the herbal notes—some pleasant culinary herbs on the palate—but it is quite lean and gawky and lacks the freshness present throughout the flight, regardless of vintage. | 80

Moulin-à-Vent 2018

A dry and sunny vintage. Dark, spicy, and rich aroma. A dense and succulent palate, with thicker, smoothly textured tannins and svelte muscle. There is freshness, too, in its punchy vigor. A vivid, purple youthfulness to the fruit and exotic aromatics on the finish. Rich, but approachable. 2022–32. | 88

Moulin-à-Vent 2019

After a severe frost, the fruit was second set and the maturation was very late. Paler in color, this has a soft summer-fruit aroma. Light in structure, with slippery-powder tannins and the fragrance of warm strawberry fields, which floats across the palate. It has an appealing translucency and a fine balance of limpid fruit and lightly glinting acidity. A very well-executed wine from a difficult vintage. It is perfectly accessible now. A wine to enjoy with the youthful fruit to the fore—now and over the short term. | 86 

The following two mature vintages were served with lunch at Cabotte after the vertical. There is no doubt that the best vintages have great longevity.

Château du Moulin-à-Vent 1996

Light and mature autumn woodland floor and roasted chestnuts. It is quite fragile on the palate, slight and silky, and with hints of brown butter, cèpes, and new-mown hay. 1996 in Beaujolais does not have the terse acidity of the Côte d’Or, where some ’96s may never come around. This is gently flowing and integrated. | 83

Château du Moulin-à-Vent 1976

Wonderfully expressive and rich in aroma. Full and aromatic attack, this is deliciously expressive on the palate, with truffle, roasted coffee, dark chocolate, and oregano. Richly intense and elegant with age. It glides into a pure, precise, and persistent finish. This shows no sign of flagging. | 87–88
Three single-vineyard wines

“There are 600ha [1,500 acres] in Moulin-à-Vent and 69 lieux-dits, but only 15 to 20 of those have a real identity,” remarks Edouard Parinet. The domaine also produces five single-vineyard wines. Here are notes on the three kindly sent to me after the tasting. 

Moulin-à-Vent La Rochelle 2019

Lieu-dit La Rochelle, on a côte,has a thin layer of granite sands over very fine clays to a good depth. Complex and properly stressing soils, which have great balance. Average yield here: 15hl/ha. Exposure: south. Altitude: 920ft (280m). Rated as first class in the 1874 Budker classification. Fruity aroma with a perfume of strawberries and lifted notes of white pepper. Creamy textured, with fine and supple tannins. Plentiful red fruit and somewhat exotic aromatics on the rounded palate, juicy in the middle, all rather seductive. It is the finish that really impresses. It sharpens and focuses to become fine, precise, and much more mineral. Take a moment with this wine. I found it didn’t show its true potential when I first opened it. Easy to drink now, but it will repay aging to reveal the more delicate nuances. 2022–24. | 89–90

Moulin-à-Vent Champ de Cour 2019

Lieu-dit Champ de Cour comprises various forms of eroded granite and white alluvial clays, at the foot of the hill where the windmill stands. Deeper soils, which are able to keep water better. Average yield here: 35hl/ha. Exposure: east/southeast. Altitude: 720ft (220m). Rated as second class in the 1874 Budker classification. Rich, dark, and expressive. Black plum and earthy, with wafts of the spice market on the aroma. Full-bodied palate, with a thicker texture. Dark purple, a spicy opulence of fruit. Somewhat tarry tannins and a licorice bite to the finish. This has Moulin-à-Vent’s muscular typicity. It is smoothly muscular but still a little burly at present. Maybe this is the most instantly recognizable as Moulin-à-Vent, while the other single vineyards are more refined. But the good news is that it doesn’t need years to soften down. I think a couple will do it, yet there is plenty of density and the balance to last the course. 2024–30. | 87–88

Moulin-à-Vent Les Vérillats 2019

Lieu-dit Vérillats has a thin layer of granite sands at the top of a granite mount. Very poor and porous soil. Average yield here: 25hl/ha.
Exposure: east. Altitude: 985ft (300m). Rated as first class in the 1874 Budker classification. Upright and a bit uptight, too, with iron notes and savory lead pencil. Tension on the palate. Fresh and zesty bite. Both fruity and savory notes, tarragon and some bitter celery leaf. The tannins are fine-textured. There
is an appetizing green herbal note and slight crunch to the texture. Dark chocolate to finish, with a more mineral follow-through. There is a
coolness and reserve, which I like. Good tension on the finish. It’s accessible pretty much now but certainly has the intensity and structure to evolve. 2023–30. | 89

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