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Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg’s Clos Vougeot 1984-2015
BY STEPHEN TANZER | OCTOBER 10, 2019
The historically important Grand Cru of Clos Vougeot has acquired a reputation over the centuries for being one of Burgundy’s most “masculine” wines: that is, tannic and brooding in its youth, often displaying a cool, reserved menthol-and-herb quality in the early going, and routinely needing a decade or more of cellaring to become more civilized. Ironically, one of the finest examples of Clos Vougeot comes from an estate that is as female-dominated as any in Burgundy.
Since the death of Georges Mugneret in late 1988, the family domaine has been run entirely by women: Georges’s wife Jacqueline and his daughters Marie-Christine and Marie-Andrée. In fact, the family has been so devoid of Y chromosomes that when Marie-Christine’s daughter Lucie gave birth to a baby boy shortly after the 2016 harvest, he was the first male member of the family to arrive since Georges was born in 1929. Perhaps fittingly, the Mugneret wines are perfumed, graceful, structured and profound but never hard—and this is especially the case in recent vintages.
A rare opportunity to explore an outstanding Burgundy Grand Cru through three decades of production arose last spring, when the two sisters generously organized a vertical tasting of their most celebrated wine to commemorate their 30th anniversary of taking over the family domain.
Georges Mugneret's Clos Vougeot vines close to the Château
The Early History of Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg
Although there have been Mugnerets in Vosne-Romanée for centuries, the Mugneret-Gibourg estate only dates back to 1933, when André Mugneret and Jeanne Gibourg, five years married, established Domaine Mugneret-Gibourg, purchasing a large house and its old cellars and winery in the middle of the village on the Rue des Communes. At the outset they owned just over 4.5 hectares of vines, producing Bourgogne Rouge, Vosne-Romanée, Nuits-Saint-Georges Bas de Combes and the Grand Cru Echézeaux. Their only son Georges Mugneret, who practiced medicine through most of his adult life, was then responsible for enlarging the family estate - and increasing its reputation - with purchases of parcels in Clos Vougeot (in 1953), Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Chaignots (1971), Ruchottes-Chambertin Grand Cru (1977), Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru Les Vignes Rondes (1982) and Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Feusselottes (1985). All of these new plots officially became part of Domaine Georges Mugneret.
The two different labels were often a source of confusion for Burgundy aficionados as both labels emanated from the same cellar, but the two entities were merged under the Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg label in 2009, the same year that Georges’s wife Jacqueline retired. Today the Mugneret sisters, Marie-Christine Mugneret-Teillaud and Marie-Andrée Mugneret-Nauleau, control nine hectares, including a hectare of vines in Vosne-Romanée Le Pré de la Folie and Echézeaux Les Rouges du Bas that are sharecropped by their cousin Pascal Mugneret (Domaine Gérard Mugneret). Pascal’s grandfather Réné was the uncle of Georges Mugneret (i.e., the brother of André Mugneret). No one ever said that Burgundy family trees were simple.
Production of Burgundy was a constant financial challenge through the ‘60s and ‘70s, so in 1964 Georges became an ophthalmic surgeon, a practice he continued until several years before his death in 1988. Winemaking was actually his avocation (he farmed his vines on weekends) but it was one he took to heart, and his income as a surgeon allowed him to be especially discriminating with his vineyard purchases. By all accounts, Mugneret was his own toughest wine critic.
Marie-Andrée and Marie-Christine Mugneret
The Mugneret Women Take the Reins
Dr. Georges successfully fought off cancer in 1982 but was taken ill again in early 1988 and died in November of that year. (I’m sorry to say that I never had the opportunity to meet him, because my first tour of Burgundy took place that same month.) His widow Jacqueline, a former school teacher, was responsible for holding the family estate together after his death, and her oldest daughter Marie-Christine gave up a budding career as a chemist to take over winemaking responsibilities. Marie-Christine, incidentally, had earned a doctorate in pharmacy in 1983 with a thesis entitled “Is Wine a Medicine”? In 1992, Marie-Andrée, Marie-Christine’s younger sister by nine years, joined the estate after completing enology studies at the Université de Bourgogne-Dijon.
Since the early ‘90s, Marie-Andrée has essentially been in charge of the vineyards while Marie-Christine takes care of winemaking - both with the help of chef de culture Florent Lompré since 1999. But the division of labor is hardly clear-cut when the two sisters begin to discuss the making of the estate’s wines. And now the next generation has begun to do its bit: Marie-Christine and Marie-Andrée each have two daughters, and three of the four young women have joined the family domaine in the last two years.
The Mugneret Clos Vougeot vines in autumn
The Estate’s Prime Holding in Clos Vougeot
“Clos Vougeot was the first parcel our father bought when he was still a medical student,” Marie-Christine told me during our tasting. At one point the family believed that this parcel might once have been owned by Georges’s grandfather, who had put away 300 bottles of 1929 Clos Vougeot for young Georges, but it was almost certainly from another plot. When Georges’s grandfather died, his children had no choice but to sell the parcel to pay the inheritance taxes. “So there was no more Clos Vougeot in the family,” said Marie-Christine.
Georges’s grandmother’s brother Marcel, who was a well-known merchant farmer in La Plaine de la Saône, helped Georges buy the parcel of Clos Vougeot at auction in 1953 - just one-third of a hectare but ideally situated in the northwest portion of the clos just below the Château du Clos de Vougeot, the first rows to the north of Domaine Méo-Camuzet’s much larger (about three hectares) holding. The year after the purchase, Georges replanted 2 of his 18 rows of vines, which run about 300 yards from east to west, up the gentle slope, and finished replanting the parcel in 1960, all to a massale selection. Since then the estate has only replaced vines as they die, using clones from a local nursery. The soil is pebbly and gravelly, containing more calcaire than clay, very well-drained and particularly stony in the higher portion of the parcel.
The average age of the estate’s Clos Vougeot vines is now around 60 years, according to Marie-Christine. She noted that yields in the 21st century have been very consistent, “always around 40 hectoliters per hectare.” That translates here to six to eight clusters per vine, or about one per shoot. Marie-Christine added that it was a challenge in the 1990s to control yields. But, following the introduction of a sorting table in 1993, in the new century the sisters have become more disciplined about debudding, have cut back on use of fertilizers, and now pull leaves during summer.
The sisters are not big fans of green harvesting, preferring to carry out an ébourgeonnage, or de-budding, early in the season to control yields. Still, they do not hesitate to green-harvest vines that are carrying too much fruit, although this is normally limited to younger vines. And while they do not farm their vines according to organic or biodynamic precepts, they practice sustainable agriculture and lutte raisonnée (or “reasoned fight,” a more pragmatic approach to farming in which chemical vineyard treatments may be used if absolutely necessary).
Marie-Andrée said that in 2000 she and her sister started ploughing their vines in Clos Vougeot with the objective of forcing the roots deeper, into the mother limestone rock. She noted that this process has changed the wine in the past ten years or so, bringing greater concentration, minerality and refinement. And the sisters are quick to credit their chef de culture Lompré for his painstaking attention to their Clos Vougeot plot.
The old barrel cellar at Domaine Georges-Mugneret-Gibourg
Harvest, Vinification and Élevage at Domaine Georges-Mugneret Gibourg
Since the days of Dr. Georges, the estate’s wines have been known for their structure and long aging potential. No doubt this was partly due to harvesting before the grapes became too ripe and acidity levels began to fall, but Georges was also reportedly willing to vinify at least his top cuvées with a small percentage of whole clusters. Marie-Christine and Marie-Andrée have always destemmed their fruit entirely; although, they experimented with some whole-cluster vinification with their Echézeaux in vintage 2016.
And, if anything, the sisters are picking earlier today than they did as recently as the mid-2000s, as they don’t want “too much maturity.” (Only one of the vintages of Clos Vougeot we tasted, the 2013, was harvested in October.) “Too much ripeness is like a screen,” said Marie-Andrée; “it mutes complexity, high notes, minerality and precision.” All of these characteristics, of course, are key components of the estate’s pure style and critical to their objective of preserving terroir character. Normally the Mugnerets lightly chaptalize their wines but don't acidify. According to Marie-Andrée, even as little as 0.3% chaptalization can extend the fermentation two or three days, which gives more complexity to the wine.
Following the harvest, which is done by hand, the fruit is sorted in the cellar on a sorting table and then goes into cement vats for the fermentation. “We pick the Clos Vougeot in two hours one morning, before the tourists arrive,” noted Marie-Andrée. The sisters typically like to give their grapes a brief pre-maceration cold soak but avoid using large doses of sulfur dioxide to delay the onset of fermentation. Since 1999, all of the estate’s wines have been fermented with indigenous yeasts. (Their father frequently used a selected yeast strain and a pied de cuve.) Their fermentations normally take a few days to start, said Marie-Christine, who added that they cool the grapes a little in years when ambient temperatures at harvest time are warm. The fermentation temperatures generally climb to 33 or 34 degrees C. during the early, active portion of the fermentations, and the sisters routinely do a remontage in the morning, then a pigeage at 2:00 in the afternoon, followed by another remontage at the end of the day. They describe their vinification as classical, and fairly gentle, noting that their pressurage is not overly extractive. Their Clos Vougeot is one of the estate’s only wines that may get a bit of post-fermentation maceration - “because it can support it,” said Marie-Christine - but just one to three additional days on its skins. Total time in vat is normally about 17 to 22 days for the Clos Vougeot, but a couple days less than that for their village wines and Premier Crus, before the wines are pressed and drained into 228-liter barriques for aging.
The Mugnerets use barrels from four coopers - Rousseau, François Frères, Billon and Cavin - of which the first two are the most important for their Clos Vougeot. (They stopped using Berthomieu barrels about ten years ago.) While they age their village wines in as little as 10% to 20% new oak and their Premier Crus in 30% to 50%, the Clos Vougeot routinely gets 70%. The wine is racked for the first time (usually in early summer) after the malolactic fermentation, then assembled in a stainless steel tank late in the second winter, where it spends two to three months for a natural sedimentation. Bottling takes place without fining or filtration in April or May. The sisters make a sulfur addition during the blending but not again during the bottling. The finished wine typically carries about 18 parts per million free sulfur and about 50 total.
A vertical collection of Clos Vougeot from the cellar of Domaine Georges Mugneret-Gibourg
Some Brief Observations on the Tasting
Perhaps the most striking feature of my vertical tasting was that it foregrounded the distinct improvement in the wines made here during the past 12 to 15 years. The 1990s and the early 2000s were a time of transition, as the sisters were learning on the job and making a host of changes, particularly those intended to limit yields and eliminate sub-par fruit at harvest time. In the tasting, the wines beginning in 2005 were consistently outstanding; for her part, Marie-Andrée pointed out that it was around 2008 that the considerable work that had been done in the vineyards around the turn of the new century really began to bear fruit. The wines since then have shown the energy, purity, aromatic complexity and terroir specificity of the best vintages made by their father in earlier decades. They are more elegant and more precise and tightly coiled than ever before, and they showcase more consistent grape ripeness and lower crop levels. They are clearly among the classiest, most refined versions of Clos Vougeot being made today and are fully capitalizing on their favored location in the clos.
I should point out that a few key vintages (2002, 1999, 1990) were missing from the tasting, as the estate has virtually run out of stock. (Had I had these wines in my cellar, I would eagerly have added them to this article, as I did the with 1988 and 1985; in fact, I opened my last bottle of the ’90 at home but it was corked.) But the absence of these vintages was partly mitigated by the inclusion of some surprisingly successful wines from lesser years, including cool or rain-plagued growing seasons in which careful sorting of the fruit at harvest was a necessity.
As long-time fans of the Georges Mugneret wines know, the estate has long had a reputation for outperforming in very warm growing seasons, owing to a predilection for harvesting early enough to retain sound levels of natural acidity. So it’s probably a safe bet that the Mugneret sisters - and their daughters - will meet the challenges of global warming over the coming years as successfully as anyone else in Burgundy.
See the Wines from Youngest to Oldest
Read more about Stephen Tanzer's 2019 Burgundy verticals
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