The Epicurean's Atlas: Domaine Faiveley Musigny Grand Cru 1976
Region: Côte de Nuits, Burgundy | Variety: Pinot Noir
“François Faiveley once said: ‘I would have been a perfume-maker if I was not in the wine business’”
T here are two traditions in the Faiveley family: making wonderful wine and expanding the opportunities to make more wonderful wine. Pierre Faiveley established the négociant business in 1825; his son Joseph gave his name to the company, although these days it is used for the négociant bottlings while Domaine Faiveley distinguishes wines made from the estate’s own considerable holdings. When the wine business was in the doldrums after the First World War, Georges Faiveley helped found the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, a convivial society of Burgundy aficionados who gather to eat, sing and, of course, drink. Georges was – according to his great-grandson Erwan, the estate’s current Managing Director – a visionary, and the Confrérie remains “a great tool for promoting Burgundy and France”. Erwan’s father, François, helped to found the Music and Wine Festival, an annual series of concerts in some of the region’s most beautiful buildings, which spends its proceeds on musical education for young people.
Siblings Erwan and Eve (they also have another brother) are the seventh generation, but they are far from complacent about their extraordinary inheritance. Walk into the winery today and a shady passage leads to a magnificent courtyard backed by vineyards, with a very familiar life-size bronze at its centre. There are 11 extant versions of Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss and, since 2021, the Faiveleys, in a nod to their great-great-uncle Maurice Fenaille, who was once the sculptor’s patron, have owned one of them.
This generation of Faiveleys invests not just in art, but also in keeping the business up to date. Their new winery is magnificent, an airy space that resembles one of France’s grand 19th-century train stations, which may be appropriate, given that the family also owns a company that makes equipment for the railway industry.
When opportunities arise, Erwan is astute in his purchases of the famously scarce Burgundy terroir. His acquisition of Domaine Monnot has brought Grands Crus in Puligny-Montrachet, including Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet and Bâtard-Montrachet, into the family. Today, they have 12 hectares of Grands Crus and 27 hectares of Premier Crus, including three clos en monopole: Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Clos des Issarts, Beaune Premier Cru Clos de l’Écu and Corton Clos des Cortons Faiveley Grand Cru, which is the only Grand Cru attached to a living family.
Their average holdings in each are a hectare, which is unusually large for a region famed for its tiny slivers of land. Bordeaux, the wine writer Gerald Asher once wrote, is a hierarchy, while Burgundy is a democracy, and certainly this is true in the scattershot and individualistic nature of the terroir, if not in much else.
Still, the purchase of 0.1 hectares of Musigny may be Erwan’s greatest coup. From the 1940s, the family was farming the Mugniers’ 1.1 hectares, which, along with their own 0.03 hectares, made them the second-largest producer of Musigny after Comte Georges de Vogüé, with around 5,000 bottles a year. In the mid-1980s, Jacques-Frédéric Mugnier decided to take back his vineyards and the Faiveleys were left with the tiny plot they had bought in the 1930s. Production slumped to around 150 bottles, so it was cause for celebration when, in 2015, Erwan and Eve acquired enough of this precious terroir to more than quadruple their holdings to 0.14 hectares. It doesn’t sound like a lot of land and it isn’t. Their annual output of Musigny is now up to a generous 500 bottles. But Musigny is one of the most admired Grands Crus on the Côte d’Or and is less than 11 hectares in total. So this acquisition, made possible by a partnership with Pierre Chen, was at least as exciting as the Rodin.
Le Musigny is one of two Grands Crus in Chambolle-Musigny, the other being the larger part of Bonnes Mares. The vines, with their east–southeast exposure, sit on a steep slope of oolitic limestone that graduates, lower down, to tougher Comblanchien marble, overlaid with stony silt, rich in red clay. They overlook the walls of Clos de Vougeot, its grand Château the headquarters of Georges’ Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, which has blossomed into an international organisation with more than 12,000 members. As is the custom in Burgundy, the village combined its name with that of its most prestigious vineyard so that, by dint of its situation, little Chambolle became Chambolle-Musigny, forever associated with one of the greatest names on the Côte d’Or.
Musigny, to those lucky enough to be familiar with its wines, is a name that breathes a delicate perfume, beneath which lies a density of fruit and elegance of structure that combine power with grace to stunning effect. (“I think I would have been a perfume-maker if I was not in the wine business,” François Faiveley once said.) These wines are gentler than those of Chambertin or Romanée-Conti but can stand proudly alongside either. “Burgundy is still my favourite wine,” says Pierre Chen. “And, for me, Musigny is the top.”
The year 1976 was notable for several things: the arrival in France of Ramses II, the Egyptian pharaoh whose 3,000-year-old mummy would be restored by conservationists at the Musée de l’Homme in Paris; a heatwave that meant there was not a drop of rain in July, August or September; and the passing of the mantle by Guy Faiveley to his then-25-year-old son François, apparently by dropping the winery keys on his desk and leaving him to it.
The father’s faith has been more than justified over the following two generations. The Faiveley siblings may be fortunate in their birthright, but they are doing as much with that gift as they conceivably can. As for the vintage, the heat meant low yields but concentrated fruit and 1976 Musignys are dark and tannic, with powerful aromas of blueberry and stone fruit. There are delicate notes of leather and undergrowth on the palate, but the structure is still formidable. These are wines that, despite their long pedigree, still have a promising future ahead of them. In this, they resemble the family that made them.