Tall, dark and daringly handsome, Edouard Moueix looks more like a character from a Jane Austen novel than a farmer but that is how he modestly refers to himself and his father, Christian – ‘We are farmers and that’s what we remain’. Nonetheless, the Moueix family is certainly not how you imagine your average farming family. The Moueix family more readily resembles a modern winemaking dynasty.
Hailing from a rurual background, Edouard’s grandfather, Jean-Pierre established the ‘négociant’ (wine merchant) house of Jean-Pierre Moueix in 1937 and then went on to purchase several outstanding Right Bank properties in Bordeaux including La Fleur-Petrus and Trotanoy. Edouard’s father, Christian Moueix is now at the helm of a prestigious portfolio of properties that includes Chateau Pétrus in Pomerol and Chateau Magdelaine in Saint-Emilion. Despite his family’s prominent vineyard holdings and importance within the Bordeaux winemaking fraternity Edouard remains extremely humble, just like his father.
Edouard’s father, Christian Moueix, studied viticulture and winemaking at the University of California at Davis in the late 1960s. With relevant qualifications and locally acquired wine knowledge, Christian was particularly impressed with some of the classic reds that the Napa Valley produced. When an opportunity arose in the early 1980s to become a partner in the purchase of an outstanding vineyard in Napa’s Yountville, Christian took it. The Napanook vineyard was planted by George Yount in 1836 and is located at the foothills of the Mayacamas range in the middle of this hourglass-shaped valley. This was a chance to realize an ambition of his to produce a Cabernet Sauvignon based, Bordeaux-style red in California.
Since 1983 wines from the Napanook vineyard have been produced under the Dominus Estate label. Over the past 30 years Christian Moueix has used the same approach he uses in Bordeaux to nurture the development of deeply rooted vines in the dry grown vineyard ensuring that extremes of heat and drought will not adversely stress the vines. Humidity from nearby San Francisco Bay Area adds an extra benefit during particularly dry seasons although Christian has customized a canopy management system that mitigates that humidity when the season is wetter.
With such a focus on the development of high quality grapes in the vineyard, the winemaking process takes a minimalistic approach in a winery that was purpose-built in 1997. The subtle design by Swiss architects blends into the landscape in an unassuming manner, a characteristic that seems to fit well with the owner’s personal traits. Recently in Singapore to showcase some of the family’s wines, highly affable Edouard Moueix presented a tasting of six fairly recent vintages of Dominus Estate during the ‘Matter of Taste’ event organized by The Wine Advocate.
Originating from Napa it was no surprise that all the wines relied significantly on Cabernet Sauvignon – from 81% in 2001 increasing to 95% in the youngest wine tasted, which was the 2010. Small proportions of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Merlot were included in the older wines although Merlot seems to have been dropped from the blend more recently. Always looking to the future, Edouard confided that the property has a single vineyard of Petit Verdot from which they are eager to make a 100% varietal wine. At the moment they are enjoying the ‘fruitiness of youth’ of this vineyard.
The 2001 Dominus Estate was an impressive wine to begin the tasting. Considered a ‘classic’ vintage in Napa the wine showed an unexpected elegance with the spicy, cedary and savoury nose, fine silken tannins with superb mocha flavours as well as delicious black cherries and licorice notes. Above all it was complex yet harmonious with a long length. In comparison, the 2002 Dominus Estate was fairly closed on the nose and displayed much more inherent power on the palate with concentrated dark chocolate and rounded, fleshy tannins.
One of my favourite wines in the line-up was undoubtedly the 2006 vintage. It is a wine that requires more time to develop further but at eight years old the pedigree of the estate is clearly evident. The primary black fruit aromas gave way to attractive fruitcake and mocha characters as the wine opened up in the glass. The fine, firm, dusty tannins balanced with the glossy, black briary fruit concentration and lifted freshness. Edouard commented that this vintage has a ‘vibrancy’ – that energy should ensure it matures into a charming wine and retain its freshness over the years.
A difficult vintage in 2008 produced a small but fully ripened crop. Densely coloured with a concentrated nose of powerful black and red spicy fruit, the palate was very full-bodied but with an intrinsic freshness that resulted in a long length of ripe flavours. Concentration seemed to be the hallmark of the 2009 Dominus Estate. It will be wonderful to re-taste this wine again in a few years time as currently it expresses little so may be going through a particularly closed phase of its development – similar to a shy teenager waiting to fully express itself at a later date.
Edouard Moueix commented that the 2010 vintage was one of ‘exaggerations’ – it was cool, then hot, then cool again and so forth. The resulting wine was of high density crimson in colour with an opaque, black core. The nose exhibited concentrated black fruit with a lifted fragrance of violets. Primary fruit flavours of briary blackcurrants mixed with sweet licorice and dark chocolate that were offset by very firm tannins currently giving the wine a hugely structured, brooding character that requires lots more time before it will show its true nobility. Nonetheless, the potential is very much present.
Undeniably these wines are not cheap but with such a guaranteed pedigree they are unlikely to disappoint.