acques-Frédéric Mugnier in Chambolle-Musigny has been running the domaine that bears his name since the mid-1980's. Over the years he has acquired a very down-to-earth view on his work.
– I don't have a very romantic idea of winemaking, he explains. It's not a creative process. The creation is done by nature. I'm just in charge of providing the proper environment for the grapes to transform themselves into wine.
Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier is sitting in his office in the Château de Chambolle-Musigny at the top of the village. He is talking about his work as a winemaker, his philosophy. After a quarter of a century in this profession it all boils down to one thing, the work with nature. That's what he finds most rewarding.
– Many young winemakers see it as a challenge, he continues. They see it as a creative thing, crafting the wine. But I would say it is the wrong approach. Every young winemaker does that. I used to be like that when I was young. I saw winemaking as a challenge and that I would be the greatest winemaker in the world and make the greatest wine.
For a long time Domaine Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier was a small domaine, even by Burgundian standards. 4.05 hectares that included village Chambolle-Musigny, the Chambolle-Musigny premiers crus Les Fuées and Les Amoureuses and the grands crus Bonnes-Mares and Musigny. Then in November 2003 the Nuits-Saint-Georges premier cru Clos de la Maréchale was returned after a 53 year long lease. This meant that the domaine more than tripled in size overnight. With its 9.76 hectares the Clos de la Maréchale is the largest monopole in the Côte d'Or.
– It was a big change. We had to extend the facilities and the cellar. And it was very important to change the organisation, to have a new team. All this gave us much more power. It is a bigger team and it is a better team. In fact, we probably spend three times as much time in the vineyards now. The size of the domaine has been multiplied by 3.5 and the team has been multiplied by more. We now have a permanent team and bring in additional people when it is needed.
The vineyards have been in the Mugnier family since the 19th century, but in 1984 when Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier began considering a career as a winemaker all of it had been leased off for a long time.
– At that time nobody was taking care of the vineyards seriously. I wasn't sure I wanted to be a winemaker. It was necessary to take some time to try to understand what was going on and what should be done. At that time I was working as an engineer in the oil business.
– My father had two businesses. One was wine, but the main business was liqueurs. So he decided to sell the wine to négociants and to lease off the vineyards.
Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier decided to give the wine world a go. He left the oil business and got the proper training at the Lycée Viticole. His first vintage was 1985.
– But it took me almost ten years before I really understood what kind of wines I wanted to make, he says.
Coming from the oil business he didn't quite have the background as many of his colleagues.
– It's probably a good thing to be an outsider, Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier says. Many winegrowers don't have much experience from the so called real world. Burgundy is the most beautiful place on earth and we have the best vineyards in the world. It's a great place, but the world is larger than Burgundy. The world is larger than wine. Living in a city, working in a big company and working in different places around the world are very important things.
Having worked in the Middle East, in the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia, for four years it was quite a change for him coming back to Chambolle-Musigny. The cultural differences, moving from the oil business to wine, were considerable.
– I like the people who have an interest in wine. They are people who have a sensibility for beauty. They are looking for the aesthetical part of life, something that is shared with the whole wine community. People who have an interest in wine also have an interest in other good things in life – music, art, nature etc. They are different from oil men.
When the Clos de la Maréchale returned to the domaine it also meant that Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier for the first time had vines outside the commune of Chambolle-Musigny to work with. Some changes were made and today the clos produces three different wines – both red and white Clos de la Maréchale, as well as the Nuits-Saint-Georges, Clos des Fourches.
– Many of my friends asked me about the Clos de la Maréchale and how I was going to make the new wine. I thought about it and finally it came to my mind that the only correct answer would be to make it the way I'm used to making wine. You can't force it just to create something that people expect from a Nuits-Saint-Georges or the Clos de la Maréchale. Terroir will come through eventually, whatever I do. It's not necessary and it could even be a bad idea to have a preconceived idea of the wine and try to make it taste like that.
Clos des Fourches is the old name of the Clos de la Maréchale, the name it had up until the late 19th cenury. The wine is classified as village Nuits-Saint-Georges, not premier cru as the Clos de la Maréchale, and comes from young vines. Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier reintroduced the white Clos de la Maréchale after having tasted some old bottles made by his great-uncle.
– I had the last bottle from 1943 a few years ago, he says. And it was in very good condition.
Instead of uprooting and replanting, the chardonnay was grafted onto the old rootstocks in a part of the Clos de la Maréchale. This is a very delicate process, because if you fail you might end up with a vineyard where every second vine is not producing anything and you will be forced to uproot anyway. If the job is done properly you will have a vineyard that produces good grapes right from the start. In this case success rate was high and in 2005 Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier produced the first white Clos de la Maréchale in half a century.
When Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier talks about winemaking and his wines he always comes back to one thing – the expression of nature. Wine is not about technology, and the winemaker just gives nature a helping hand.
– The metaphors that come to my mind are always related to arts. The winemaker is not an artist, but there are similarities. Just thinking of dance. If you look at a dancer and think, "Wow, she must have spent day of hard work!" then I think she has failed. It should look easy, it should look perfectly natural. You should just see the beauty, not the hard work behind it.
He feels it should be the same with a wine. It should just be as natural as possible. The winemaker's skills should not be something that is noticed. Just the beauty of the wine itself.
– I'm very proud of not being pretentious, he smiles.
© 2009 Ola Bergman