Edouard Moueix has quite a name to live up to; ever since the family left the pastures and gorges of the Corrèze to seek their fortunes trading on the banks of the Dordogne river in Libourne, Moueix has been synonymous with a host of wine domains in Saint Emilion and Pomerol. Such was the rapacious rate with which the various branches of the family put down their roots on the Right Bank of Bordeaux, that today their list of châteaux is very impressive.
I catch up with Edouard in his home at Château Belair Monange where he has lived with his American wife Kelly and his children for the last decade. We want to focus on this domain because we, like Edouard, believe strongly in the quality of this estate and it is still relatively unknown to fine wine connoisseurs.
Can you tell us why you changed the name of Château Belair to Chateau Belair Monange?
We purchased the Saint Emilion first growth in 2008 and wanted to make a break with the past as well as honouring Adèle Monange, my great grandmother, mother of the famous Jean-Pierre Moueix who did so much to put Pomerol on the map. Adèle married Jean Moueix and at first, they lived in Paris and had creamery, probably remembering the great cheeses of their native region but after a few years one of the cousins called them to say that there was a property in Saint Emilion, Château Fonroque for sale in 1931. The family moved down to Bordeaux and the rest is history.
What were the first challenges when you bought the domain?
It was early September and we were very lucky that the harvest was late because there was not enough time to prepare for the vintage as we would have liked to. We finished harvesting on the 24th October and only then we had time to look around and see what an incredible amount of work needed to be done. 198,000 cubic meters of liquid concrete, enough to fill up the cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris twice, were used to reinforce the quarries that were about to collapse under the vineyards. The vines here grow on top of a honeycomb of ancient cellars and passageways that had been mined over the centuries to provide the stones used to build many of Bordeaux’s most famous public buildings, monuments and châteaux.
Can you tell us a little more about the vineyards?
Belair Monange is located on four different levels and the first job was to reinforce the lower levels. The ground here is made up of three and one half to four metres of bedrock, with very little top soil. Of the original seven- and one-half hectares of land, six hectares were pulled out, the terraces repaired and the vines replanted. Having combined Belair with the neighbouring château that we already owned, Château Madeleine and more recently with Clos de Madeleine which separated the two other estates, the total surface of Belair Monange is now an impressive 23.5 hectares with 16 of those in production today: eight hectares of terraces facing south and eight hectares of south facing clay slopes.
The label is really striking and totally different to the old label, indeed to most other Bordeaux labels.
Yes, naturally we thought quite about the design with the red angel. It comes from the Durer etching scene of Joaquin, father of Mary, whose wife could not have a child. Filled with shame, he left for the hills and lived with the shepherds. One day an angel came to him there and announced that his wife was pregnant with Mary and that this daughter should be raised by holy women in order to give birth to Jesus. The label surprised people at first and especially the red ink but we needed the wine consumer to instantly recognize the wines while sticking with tradition.
What are your ambitions for Château Belair-Monange?
Vineyards first – it is always about a vineyard. I have to admit that the start was not easy. We bought the estate in 2008 at worst time and probably put the company in jeopardy because of all the building work. There was no going back. We had bought the property that my grandfather always wanted but the cost was enormous. It’s a great challenge but I am convinced that it is the best terroir we have in the group today.
How old were you when you first became interested in wine?
I grew up in Paris with my mother and my first job was in shipping before I got into wine. What really attracted me at the beginning was enjoying wine as a wine drinker; We drunk wine with every meal and I wanted to be part of a group of wine lovers/wine drinkers. One day my boss in the shipping business served one of my father’s wines and that made a big impression on me. Wine sort of grew on me and then 13 years ago, father gave me a great proposal to live abroad first in Japan and then in the USA to start learning the business. When we got married in 2010 we lived at first at La Fleur Petrus and moved here to Belair Monange in 2012. Home is here now and there are always lots of things going on around us.
What is your biggest wine challenge?
Tomorrow! In the last 20 years we have gone through a huge evolution in the vineyards from wine being made from the entire property, to a parcel by parcel selection to even smaller lots or portions of the parcel. The next step will be considering each vine by vine. With Artificial Intelligence this could happen sooner than you think. We are in a region where uncertainty is the key and that forces us to be ready to face future challenges.
Who is the winemaker that you admire the most?
Someone that I really admire is Alvaro Palacios because he has been able to reinvent the wines of Spain.
What wines will we find in your personal cellar?
Quite a lot of wine actually. Bordeaux of course and then very European – very little southern hemisphere except old South Australians, a few Italian and Spanish and some lovely Burgundy whites.
If you hadn’t made your career in the wine business, what would you have done?
I would have made a lousy architect but I would really love to have done that. I see in 3D – I get that talent from my mother; she has an unbelievable eye. We have a new project with Herzog and De Meuron, the great Swiss architects who designed the Dominus Winery in Napa Valley and we have a really good friendship with them. I have convinced my father to leave an architectural statement here in France – he has that at Dominus in Napa; now we are working with them again on a great project here in Saint Emilion. They are designing a new winery for Belair-Monange on the other side of the road that runs down the hill from the plateau. We hope that we will vinify the 2020 Chateau Belair-Monange there. As I said, there are always lots of things going on.
Click here for an overview of Moueix's wines.