It’s a Family Affair

Three generations of the Moreau family.

Three generations of the Moreau family.

Family inheritance is a familiar and important concept in most countries, with inevitable cultural variations. But nowhere is inheritance more important than in the wine regions of France, and nowhere is it more complex and fascinating than in Burgundy.

The Napoleonic Law of Succession (early 1800s) stipulates that property must be distributed to family members through inheritance, which means that most Burgundy vineyards are divided among multiple owners — siblings, cousins, etc. If a single family maintains ownership of a vineyard for multiple generations, and if there is no family dispute or even a congenial split, the vineyard is likely a “monopole” (one owner, one wine). Another scenario is when multiple family members own vines and produce wines from shares of a single vineyard. This all creates enormous confusion for consumers trying to sort out winemaker and vineyard information on labels.

A genealogy chart would be helpful! It’s a family affair.

The Moreau family (assembled above) hosted the 2014 reception for St. Vincent as part of the annual festival of Chevalier du Cep Henri IV de Givry. Grandfather Xavier started the wine estate very recently (1975) in Burgundian terms, though his family had owned land in Givry for many decades. In 1990, son Michel joined Domaine Moreau and now runs the winery along with his wife and son, Alix and Vincent. The estate’s Aligote Blanc and 1er cru Clos Ste. Antoine are both superb.

For over 25 years, the Moreau family has adopted my friends Harry and Ann Santen as family. As I became a new Chevaliere — despite the fact that my French is worse than terrible — they welcomed me into their home with open arms amid a throng of siblings, in-laws and grandchildren.

Early on Sunday morning following Saturday’s festival celebration, this multi-generational entourage of Moreaus descended upon the recently renamed Domaine du Gardin-Perrotto. Known as Clos Salomon for 380 years, since the du Gardin family created the estate, the vineyard is textbook monopole. After her husband’s untimely death several decades ago, Jacqueline du Gardin took over running the winery very successfully. In the early 1990s she hired winemaker Fabrice Perrotto, hence the change of name to signal the business partnership. Her son Ludovic has also joined the family business. Although Mme. du Gardin is not “officially” related to the Moreau family, it was quite clear that the families of Givry do not stand on such ceremony. They are families of the vine. What happens next to the du Gardin-Perrotto winery will be a family affair.

The Moreau family (and U.S. guests) descend upon Clos Salomon/Domaine du Gardin-Perrotto.

The Moreau family (and U.S. guests) descend upon Clos Salomon/Domaine du Gardin-Perrotto.

Barrel samples of red Burgundy from Clos Salomon.

Barrel samples of red Burgundy from Clos Salomon.

With cautionary notes that 2013 was a difficult vintage (as was 2012), the group tasted a 2013 barrel sample of Clos Salomon juice still undergoing malolactic fermentation, and a 2012 bottle sample revealing a fresh, lively and classic Givry cherry fruit profile. Clos Salomon consists of three different parcels from which grapes are selected for highest quality. The 2009, which was an excellent vintage in Burgundy, offered a richly colored wine, at once delicate and deep on the palate with silky tannins. Even so Mme. du Gardin recommends drinking this wine 2016-19.

Domaine Thenard

Domaine Thenard

In a gentle but bone-chilling rain, our entourage moved on to Domaine Thenard. As an interesting historical note, in the late 19th century, ancestor Paul Thenard discovered that carbon disulfide could be used (in part) to combat the dreaded phylloxera louse. In 1832 Paul and his wife founded the estate which has been continuously operated by his descendants. The current winemakers are M. Jacques Bordeaux-Montrieux, who is a cousin of Xavier Moreau, and Jacques’ son Jean-Baptiste Bordeax-Montrieux.

M. Bordeaux-Montrieux, current owner and descendant of Paul Thenard.

M. Bordeaux-Montrieux, current owner and descendant of Paul Thenard.

Domaine Thenard produces excellent 1er cru wines from the vineyards of Cellier aux Moines, Clos Ste. Pierre and Bois Chevaux. Its superb Grand Cru wines (Montrachet and Corton Clos du Roi) are sold to necogiant Louis Jadot for export worldwide. As a very special treat for wine lovers, the group was privileged to taste 2011 Montrachet from the barrel as well as a 2009 Corton Clos du Roi. It was a coveted experience in the wine world!

Now the complexities of a family inheritance story unfold. Like vines and wines, families mature and change over time. The final piece of this family puzzle: cousins Xavier Moreau and Jacques Bordeaux-Montrieux, as well as about 20 other family members, own shares of Domaine Thenard’s vineyard properties.

My advice? Don’t try to draw a family tree or figure out the web of family relationships. Just enjoy the wine, and be mindful of how much you can learn about families, vines and wines from the label. Volumes have been written about Burgundy by premier writers including Clive Coates, Jasper Morris and Jancis Robinson, all Masters of Wine. These are excellent resources for learning about the long-lived joys and complexities of Burgundy.

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