At the foot of the rolling vineyards of Moulin-à-Vent, just across the road from its famous namesake windmill, Domaine Diochon has been making Beaujolais the old-fashioned way since 1935. Bernard Diochon, the beloved, mustachioed character immortalized by photographer Gail Skoff, succeeded his father in 1967. As a torch bearer to the ancestral methods passed down to him, Bernard explains, "I like tannic wines without heaviness; with fruit and floral aromas. I don’t like weighty wines with hard tannins. My favorite wines are St Emilion from Bordeaux, and Chambolle-Musigny and Nuits-St-Georges from Burgundy. Every vigneron naturally chooses to make wines in the style they prefer. It works well that Kermit and I share the same taste; it’s what has allowed our relationship to last for so long." Picking when the grapes are perfectly mature, traditional whole cluster fermentations, aging in large old oak foudres, and bottling unfiltered in the springtime have characterized the house style.
According to Bernard, one of the most unique qualities of the domaine is the quality of the soil that they farm. Crumbly granite allows the vines to plunge easily towards “gore” subsoil, which feeds the vines, while adding a pronounced mineral component to the wine. (James E. Wilson, author of Terroir, explains gore to be an accumulated mass of sand and thin clay deposits with weathered feldspars, mica, and quartz.) Given the old age of his vines, anywhere between forty and one hundred years old, yields are naturally small. These are wines that are easy to enjoy in their youth but can handle years of cellar aging with great ease.
In 2007, Bernard wanted to retire but had no heirs. He appointed Thomas Patenôtre as his heir apparent, which has turned out to be an easy transition. We are grateful that the Diochon tradition continues through Thomas, safeguarding the ancestral methods that distinguish real Beaujolais from the mass-produced and highly over-commercialized juice that floods the market today.
Kermit Lynch: "Diochon’s Moulin-à-Vent is juicily delicious yet there is a majesty to it. It is full-blown and full-bodied, yet it has a lush, supple, swallowable texture. No hard edges. No astringency. No heat. Moulin-à-Vent is supposed to be the grandest of the region’s Grands Crus, and here you sense a certain grandeur throughout the taste experience. And don’t overlook the visuals. Diochon’s color is always a sight to see. The color, like the flavor, is cassis-like. This wine is a perennial favorite at the retail store in Berkeley, and Bernard himself is one of the most respected and beloved figures in the region. His wild moustache looks as if it has seen the inside of a million wine glasses, and it’s hard to imagine a world without wine like this."
International Wine Cellar
April 201290 Bright purple. Intensely perfumed bouquet evokes potpourri, cherry pit and Asian spices, with a bright mineral overtone. Juicy and precise on entry, then broader and weightier in the middle, offering chewy blackberry and bitter cherry flavors and slow-mounting spiciness. The long, penetrating finish features powerful notes of candied flowers and dark berries. This wine is a very good cellar candidate.
August 201189 Thomas Patenotre – who has rented and farmed Bernard Diochon’s vineyards since 2007 – perpetuates his predecessor and mentor’s practice of multiple cuvees and bottlings, with the Diochon 2010 Moulin-a-Vent Vieilles Vignes that I tasted in June representing the unfiltered cuvee destined for the U.S. and bottled in May (the domaine’s fourth bottling of the vintage), and as usual predominantly from the layered decomposed granite and clay of the lieu-dit Champs de Cour on which the estate is situated. Blackberry, cedar, and smoked meats are shadowed by leafy herbal overtones, and saturate a palpably extract-rich palate suffused with fine but abundant tannin. Tart berry skin and pungent herbs lend a relatively austere cast to a lightly-chewy but impressively persistent finish. While this is short on charm, it suggests that some patience will be rewarded with further intrigue and a versatile table companion that should remain so for at least 4-5 years.