Christian Moueix: Representing Himself and Bordeaux with Honesty, Integrity, and Intelligence

"Basically I am a viticulturalist at heart, and my best moments are out in the vineyard."
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Christian Moueix's biography reads like no one else in the wine trade, and has led to, amongst other accolades, his selection as Decanter magazine's Man of the Year in 2008. He has involved himself in enology, viticulture, and the sales and promotion of eight chateaux on the Right Bank of the Gironde river in Bordeaux. He is also, along with his wife Cherise, the owner of Dominus Estate In Napa Valley. Their deep involvement in Pomerol, Saint Emilion, and the region of Bordeaux, along with their long ownership of the Dominus Estate have given them a perspective in wine that is truly unique.

He explains his start in wine:

My grandfather was a wine producer in Saint Emilion and my father became a wine merchant in 1937. I would have required quite a bit of imagination not to follow their footsteps. I obtained my degree in agricultural engineering in Paris and then went to study enology at the University of California Davis in 1968-69. The following year I returned to Libourne to work alongside my father, Jean-Pierre Moueix.

Ets. Jean-Pierre Moueix is divided into three areas. We have eight chateaux in Pomerol and Saint Emilion. We are wine merchants, buying and selling the wines of other chateaux in Bordeaux; and finally, we produce a line of generic wines. But, basically I am a viticulturalist at heart, and my best moments are out in the vineyard.

What do you look forward to most in wine?

I try to put myself in the place of the consumer and my goal is always to please him, starting with ensuring that the wine reaches the consumer in good condition. All fine wines should be transported in reefers and hopefully, someday this will be the rule and not the exception.

What do you look forward to least in the wine trade?

The tendency of certain winemakers to make over extracted wines is really a shame. Wines are made for drinking and should be pleasurable to drink. On a completely different front, I find the speculation of top wines regrettable, even if it is probably inevitable.

Talk about the differences between the properties you are involved with, in terms of terroir, your involvement, and the type of property.

This is a subject that could take days, if not a lifetime to discuss, but obviously, one of the most gratifying aspects of my work has been producing wines from chateaux in Pomerol and Saint Emilion and having each of these wines, from neighboring parcels, turn out so differently with their individual style and expression. Many factors come into play, such as the terroir itself, but also the varietal, the age of the vines, and an often overlooked element, the human factor.

... And then to move to Dominus Estate in Yountville, Calif., has been akin to living in a parallel dimension; some aspects are so very different and others are universal. Producing wines is a never-ending lesson and it really keeps you humble... You just never know enough!

As the Chinese 'Gold Rush' for Bordeaux wines appears to be leveling out, Bordeaux seems to be making a re-entry into the U.S. market. What is the strategy, other than lowering prices?

The strategy of most Bordeaux wine merchants is to shortcut the three tier system so that wines reach the shelf at a lower price. It makes a lot of sense but personally, I remain faithful to the three tier system.

Why did Bordeaux seem to abandon the U.S. market? I understand the opportunity in Asia, but at the same time, hard work was needed to create a U.S. market, and now it seems that work will have to be re-worked.

Bordeaux made the mistake, one more time, to put all its eggs in one basket. In my long career, I have known improbable shipments to Japan in the early 1970s, to Taiwan in the mid-'80s and to China between 2008-2012. People with common sense knew the quantities shipped to each of these destinations were far greater than these countries ability for consumption.

What would you consider your greatest achievement in wine?

Clearly Dominus Estate in Napa Valley is my greatest achievement -- a fruit of love, hard work and luck. But also, on the French side, it has given me tremendous satisfaction to consolidate some of my family's properties without sacrificing anything on the side of quality. It is easy to get bigger but rarely does one improve the quality at the same time.

What would you consider your greatest achievement outside of wine?

Outside of wine, one of the things that has given me great pleasure is Cherise's and my working and personal relationship with the Swiss architects, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. Not only have worked together on some exciting projects but we also have learned a great deal from them over the past twenty years. Learning something new in a different field is always stimulating. Finally, our three families have become close and we look forward to our times together.

Who are the people who most influenced your career?

In chronological order: my father; then Maynard Amerine who was my teacher at UC Davis; and finally Bob and Margrit Mondavi, without whom I would not be in Napa Valley.

What would you recommend to a newcomer in the wine trade?

Think long-term, like 20 to 30 years. Focus on the vineyard and launch your early vintages at a reasonable price. Build a brand whose sole aim is quality.

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