Moulin-à-Vent: 100 Years of Great Gamay

Today, on April 17, 2024, the producers of Moulin-à-Vent are stepping up and attempting to put the Cru in their Cru Beaujolais. On this, the 100th anniversary of the delimitation of the Moulin-a-Vent appellation (which predates the modern French appellation system by a decade), a formal request is being made to establish 14 Premier Cru vineyards within the Moulin-à-Vent appellation.

The process of establishing these 14 Premier Cru vineyards began in 2009, and a significant amount of research, paperwork, consensus building, and tasting have brought the Union des Viticulteurs de Moulin-à-Vent to this momentous point, exactly 100 years to the day from when France first officially decided that Moulin-à-Vent was a wine region deserving of a clear definition.

A Windmill and Its Vines

Moulin-à-Vent, literally “the windmill,” is one of the 10 so-called “Crus” of Beaujolais. Despite being referred to as “crus” these 10 appellations are no different than any other ordinary appellation in France, which is to say that no official quality designation has been made of their vineyards, which is what the official use of the word “Cru” normally entails. These 10 appellations of Beaujolais are casually described as “crus” mostly to distinguish them from Beaujolais Nouveau and more generic Beaujolais Villages wines.

Named after the 16th-century windmill that still stands above the Rue des Greneriers (street of grains) in the commune of Romanèche-Thorins, Moulin-à-Vent is a newer name for a wine region with a lengthy reputation for excellent, long-lived wines made from the Gamay grape.

For a long time, this section of Beaujolais was named after the commune which encompassed it: Romanèche. But Romanèche had something special, and everyone knew it: a vineyard named Moulin-à-Vent situated just below the commune’s main windmill. This vineyard would eventually become so famous for the wine it produced that sometime between 1913 and 1924, the entire wine region would adopt it as a moniker, setting this Beaujolais Cru apart from all the others that merely inherited their names from the most prominent village nearby.

Such a move wasn’t without precedent. Originally there was just one Montrachet in Burgundy, for instance, but now we also have Bâtard-Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet, and Bienvenue-Bâtard-Montrachet. Everyone wants a famous name if they can get it.

And there are good reasons for Moulin-à-Vent’s fame.

A Distinguished History

In 1860’s, an enterprising and multi-talented young engineer named Antoine Budker spent his days designing roads and bridges, and his nights and weekends studying wine. Fascinated by the terroir of southern Burgundy, in 1869 he published a beautiful map entitled “Carte des Vignobles des Côtes Beaujolaise, Mâconnaise & Chalonnaise,” in which he meticulously charted and described the vineyards of the region.

The map is an astonishing work of hand-drawn design and cartography, but it also contains an incredibly detailed and precise qualitative judgment about the various terroirs of the region. Budker’s work, perhaps inspired by the (then recent) 1855 classification of Bordeaux, represents the first known classification of the various lieu-dits of southern Burgundy.

1869 Carte des Vignobles des Côtes Beaujolaise, Mâconnaise & Chalonnaise by Antoine Budker. Courtesy of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France.

As you can see, in addition to beautifully detailing the region, half the map is made up of Budkers rankings of the various vineyards in each region, carefully grouped into 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th growths. Within the commune of Romanèche, Budker grouped 21 different lieu-dits, or named vineyards into classes, assigning Premier Cru status to Les Carquelains, Moulin-à-Vent, and Les Thorins.

We don’t know for sure how Budker made his judgments, though it’s likely that in addition to his own…

Source : https://www.vinography.com/2024/04/moulin-a-vent-100-years-of-great-gamay