Burgundy: Wine Travel
Visiting Burgundy is a wine lovers mecca, a sense of history and tradition like no other. Where knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation. I’m not going to profess that in the short time we had to visit it makes me an expert on Burgundy, far from it, with the nuances of this region I feel we just scratched the surface. However, I will share some travel advice, providing a couple of ways you can go about discovering this region. It is indeed a wine region to be explored to appreciate the essence of terroir-driven wines.
The only thing easy about Burgundy is the grape; you’re drinking Chardonnay if it’s white and Pinot Noir if it’s red. I found a new appreciation for the Chardonnay grape, and now I'm hooked. Burgundy is after all the origin of Chardonnay, the most planted grape in the world. As for Pinot Noir, many hold Burgundy as the highest standard.
Terroir reigns supreme here, and the nuances will distinguish the wine. It is just amazing to see the soil change so dramatically in what looks to be a single hillside. I won’t get into all the various crus, climats, soils, slopes, sun exposure, altitudes, microclimates and growing seasons (all of which are well documented) but suffice it to say, Burgundy is about terroir and the farmer. Due to the inheritance laws, an area as small as a few rows of vines may distinguish two different producers. Learning producers and location is of extreme importance in Burgundy.
The town of Beaune is the perfect home base in the heart of Burgundy and oozes wine. To find old and rare wines from the region visit Mon Millesime wine shop; you’ll feel like a kid in a candy shop. The Beaune market is on Wednesday and Saturdays and is great to experience if you have the opportunity; the cheese!!! The market is held outside the Hôtel-Dieu and adjoining Les Halles, the landmark building in town. Besides the historical and colorful architecture, the Hospices wine auction is held here every November (organized by Christie’s with some of the most expensive wines in the world). There are also many excellent restaurants to be discovered, as this town is the epitome of farm to table.
There are multiple wine shops offering tastings, as well as some big-name producers, have their tasting facilities in Beaune; for example:
• Joseph Drouhin
• Louis Jadot
• Bouchard Pere et Fils
When visiting Joseph Drouhin, you will learn the history, stories of the winemaking and explore their underground wine cellar beneath the town of Beaune. It’s in these underground cellars where you will enjoy a tasting of many of their wines.
For an easy entry to tasting, with limited planning and booking winery appointments, my suggestion would be to try each towns local Enoteca's and visit the Châteaux. The Route des Grand Crus is well marked, and each of the small towns along the route typically has a tasting room representing some of the local producers. The large Chateaus are another great way to learn about Burgundy's appellations, viticulture, and winemaking. Here are a few examples:
• Château de Marsannay
• Château de Meursault
• Château de Pommard
• Château de Santenay
If you want to dive deeper into Burgundy, you will need to plan well in advance. Most of the Domains are small, family-run establishments without marketing departments, and you will most likely visit with a member of the family. It is an experience I would recommend. One way to obtain an appointment is to book through the wineries distributor; you can contact them directly or have your wine shop make an introduction. Just know that getting an appointment may take as long as three months to arrange, but if you have specific places you want to seek out it can be worth the time for a private appointment.
We had a fantastic visit and tasting with Vincent Guillemot now winemaker at Domaine Pierre Guillemot in Savigny-Les-Beaune. He and his brother Philippe, grandsons of Pierre, run the winery and were so accommodating in sharing their time and wine with us. They are deeply rooted in their family traditions but curious to learn new techniques. His family's philosophy is to make quality wines at affordable prices, which as you know most Burgundy wines are not cheap. Their Corton Grand Cru was superb, and he said it could easily age another 25+ years (50 in good conditions) - the aging potential here is just astonishing.
I also have to make a shout out to Alex Gambal, an American owning land in Burgundy! This ownership is an anomaly. You will need an appointment but hearing about his journey and tasting his wines is well worth the time.
We were lucky enough to have as our landlord the winemaker at Domaine de Villaine. I know I said if it was white it was Chardonnay, but now I’m going to contradict that by saying he makes the best white wine using the aligoté grape; this is the almost forgotten third grape of Burgundy. The wine is mineral and elegant at the same time with just a light hint of creaminess. You should seek this out for a unique find and pair it with seafood.