I discovered recently that in the first half of the last century certain wines from Beaujolais, particularly from Moulin-à-Vent, were as highly prized (and highly priced) as those from some of Burgundy's most famous vineyards. At The Society we have price lists going back to the late nineteenth century and it makes fascinating reading leafing through old copies to see what members were paying for their wines back in the day.
In 1889 we were charging 19 shillings (£0.95) for a dozen bottles of simple Beaujolais while Beaune was marginally more expensive at 20 shillings. Today you would expect the Beaune to be at least double the price of Beaujolais. By the 1920s, when Spanish flu was at its height, Beaujolais had increased to 53 shillings a dozen, with the more superior Poncié Fleurie 73 shillings, but by the time the 1930s recession had taken hold we clearly couldn't get hold of Beaujolais at all (judging from their complete omission from the list). Beaune, on the other hand, was still on the list, but at just 24 shillings per dozen bottles – an increase of just four shillings a case over 40+ years! We have a list from the early stages of the Second World War showing Côte de Beaune at 32 shillings. In the same list we were selling Fleurie at a higher price than Pommard – today you would expect to pay three to four times as much for the Pommard.
But the most extraordinary comparison that I have come across relates to Beaujolais' Moulin-à-Vent and a certain grand cru vineyard in the heart of Burgundy. In 1932 Henri Mommessin, head of one of Beaujolais' largest négociant houses, bumped into a friend in the street. Seeing that his friend looked rather down in the mouth Mommessin asked what the problem was. His friend explained that he'd been attending an auction in Beaune with the sole aim of snapping up a parcel of Moulin-à-Vent that he'd been keen to acquire, but that the price had risen too high and he'd ended up missing out. 'So what did you do?' enquired M. Mommessin. 'Well I used the money I'd taken with me to buy another vineyard that was being offered in the same sale – Clos de Tart'.
Today a hectare of Moulin-à-Vent would change hands for around €100,000; whilst in late 2017 Clos de Tart was bought by François Pinault (France's third richest man) for an eye-watering €280 million (or €35 million per hectare)!