*Jean Pierre Moueix is patriarch of the most powerful and respected wine family in Pomerol and St. Emilion. Since World War II, Moueix has purchased or acquired marketing rights to virtually every top chateau in Pomerol, as well as several important chateaux in St. Emilion. In doing so, he has made the name Jean Pierre Moueix synonymous with the finest wines of these contiguous regions 25 miles east of the commercial city of Bordeaux.
Without question, the popularity, success and current insatiable demand for the fleshy, supple wines of Pomerol is in large part due to Jean Pierre Moueix. Along with his son Christian, he has actively publicized on the world market the virtues of these wines, which had until the 1950s been largely ignored outside of western Europe.
Jean Pierre Moueix's holdings read like a who's who of Pomerol. Since 1961, the firm has been a co-owner of the flagship of Pomerol, Chateau Petrus, a wine that remained in obscurity until Henri Soule' of the now-defunct New York restaurant Le Pavillon began to promote the 1952 to knowledgeable wine connoisseurs. Now Petrus is Bordeaux's most expensive red wine, fetching astronomical prices at English auction houses, and is in much more demand than its aristocratic and famous Medoc and Graves competitors, Lafite Rothschild, Mouton Rothschild, Latour, Margaux and Haut Brion.
While Petrus is the most famous name in the Moueix stable, it is not the only superb wine. From its modest and rather drab riverside offices in Libourne, the Moueix firm owns and/or manages the top-flight Pomerol estates of Trotanoy, Latour A Pomerol, La Grave Trigant de Boisset, Lafleur, Le Gay, La Fleur Petrus and Lagrange. In St. Emilion, it owns the famous vineyards of Magdelaine and Fonroque, and controls the sales of one of St. Emilion's most famous properties, Chateau Ausone. And, numerous smaller properties meticulously managed by this firm also make excellent wine.
Founder Jean Pierre Moueix is still very much in evidence in this family operation, but for the last several years he has turned over the management of the vineyards and the winemaking to Christian. His son has, in turn, in the last decade taken the reputation of the Jean Pierre Moueix firm to even greater heights and its operation much further afield -- as far, in fact, as California's Napa Valley.
Yet, he made the transatlantic venture in the family's quiet manner even though many joint Franco-American operations in the wine country of California have received enormous publicity. First was the highly promoted Domaine Chandon's sparkling wine operation, and more recently, the much balleyhooed Robert Mondavi-Baron Rothschild joint winery operation with Opus One Cabernet Sauvignon. However, how many wine enthusiasts have heard about the wine Dominus (which rhymes with Petrus) that Moueix has made with Robin Lail and her Napanook Vineyards?
Because Christian Moueix wants to live privately with his wife and two children, and pursue his one great passion, the production of sublime wine, it is not surprising that the joint Moueix-Lail venture to produce Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon has been kept at an amazingly low profile.
He and Lail own an established vineyard near Yountville planted primarily with cabernet sauvignon, as well as a little merlot and cabernet franc. The vineyard was first planted by John Daniels, the late winemaker at Inglenook. Between 1955 and 1974 the grapes from this vineyard were sold to Robert Mondavi, Charles Krug and Inglenook, and then Christian Brothers Winery had the contract to purchase the grapes until 1982.
In 1982, Moueix had the opportunity to produce his first cabernet sauvignon in California, but after flying to Napa from Bordeaux, he rejected the grapes as not quite perfect enough for his standards. His first Napa Valley wine would have to wait until 1983.
"Eighty percent of the wine's quality is made in the vineyard, not the wine cellar," says Moueix, "and I have been blessed with the responsibility of making great wine from soil in France which is the most unique and finest in the world."
Nevertheless, Moueix, who studied oenology at the University of California at Davis, and whose firm in Libourne employs one of Bordeaux's most talented young oenologists, Jean Claude Berrouet, both decided that only Bordeaux winemaking techniques would be used to make his Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon.
His American winemaking friends cautioned him that "a different approach was necessary" because "Napa was not Bordeaux" and identical winemaking procedures employed in Bordeaux would not be as successful.
Moueix believes that wine is better if handling is kept to a minimum and that very conservative viticultural practices should be employed in the vineyard. He refuses to budge from his basic winemaking philosophy, a decision he said made him at the time "sleep very little, and feel isolated and lonely."
Backed by Berrouet and American Daniel Baron (who was trained by Moueix at Chateau Petrus), Moueix severely pruned back his vineyard in the spring of 1983. When the grapes were deemed ripe and healthy enough to be used for his first vintage of Dominus, he made the wine strictly "a la Bordelais." A long, 14-day maceration of the grape juice on the skins was followed by placing the young wine in two-year-old oak casks brought over from France and previously used at Cheval Blanc and Petrus.
Unlike many of his California winemaking peers, he refused to centrifuge (mechanically clarify) his wine juice, refused to filter it prior to putting it in the barrel so as not to strip out flavor and aromatic giving materials, refused to use fashionably new oak barrels, and refused to add acidity to the wine.
In quite simple terms, the wine was treated minimally by human hands. Cellarmaster Daniel Baron has racked (transferring the wine off its deposit or lees to clean barrels) the wine several times already to let it aerate and develop bouquet. The result, by either California or Bordeaux standards, is a remarkably complex, deeply scented, rich, intense wine that will no doubt set a standard for excellence in California cabernet sauvignons.
The 1983 Dominus will not be bottled until late next spring or summer, and the release date and price for the 2,500 cases have not yet been established. The wine will be distributed nationally by the Chateaux and Estates Wine Co. of New York City.
Moueix has had an immense influence on the viticultural and winemaking philosophy employed in his native Pomerol and St. Emilion. With one vintage behind him in California's famed Napa Valley, his likely influence on his winemaking peers there will no doubt be significant, and cause many to rethink their philosophy of making California cabernet sauvignon. Wine Briefs
French wine enthusiasts have had every reason to party over the last several years because of the succession of excellent harvests in France. This has fortuitously coincided with a rampaging, macho dollar, and faltering, feeble franc, which has caused prices for French wines to tumble. However, you may want to think about the future. The 1984 French crop looks mediocre and tiny throughout most areas of the country, and prices are already escalating upward as buyers take positions on remaining stocks of 1983, '82 and '81 French wines in full anticipation of a poor '84 crop. A small, poor crop in France should cause more than one California winemaker, owner and investor to sleep just a trifle better.