Wednesday of this week we set off by train for Beaune in the heart of the Bourgogne (Burgundy) wine-making region of France. Our high-speed train left the Paris Gare de Lyon station at around 12:20. We arrived in Beaune around 3 pm and were met at the train station by Bourgogne’s flesh and blood version of the Energizer Bunny, Patrick Chabrolle, the proprietor of our five-suite, boutique hotel, Les Climats de Beaune.
Although it rained much of our first day in Beaune, we did get out to walk a bit of this quaint town. Things were a bit quiet around town, since the French observe a national holiday on May 8 to commemorate the end of World War II. We did manage to find a restaurant for supper, as did seemingly all the dog owners in town who can’t abide the thought of dining out without their hound at their feet. Three dogs in a small French establishment is three too many in my book. Sorry all you dog lovers out there, but I’d rather not dine out with other peoples’ dogs, especially not when it’s tight quarters and one of the dogs is a standard poodle and the other two are barking terriers who were a bit agitated about the larger poodle and were getting fed from the table. I won’t write about the meal, since the food was average.
Thursday morning, around 9, our guide from Burgundy Discovery, Patrick, picked us up in the VW van. After picking up one more couple, for a total of three couples, all from America, we were on our way to our first vineyard, Domaine Michel Prunier & Fille. The owner, Michel, was our host and guide. You will notice the word “Fille” in the name of the domaine. That indicates that Michel is passing the winery on to his daughter, which in the past would have been unheard of. You’ll see from the photos below, though, that women are making inroads into the winemaking industry in Bourgogne.
Michel took us through their 300+ year-old cellars and discussed winemaking in Bourgogne. One fascinating thing about vineyards in the Bourgogne region is that they are almost all small operations. This is unlike what you might see in Bordeaux or California. Many of the operators in Bourgogne own only 10 hectares of vineyard, or roughly 25 acres. The vineyards surround the villages, and the winemaking operations tend to be right in the villages. The wineries are largely family owned and operated, with extended family members helping in the vineyards. The way French law works, descendants must inherit equal shares of any property, so it can be a challenge for someone to amass enough acreage to support a winery.
Our second vineyard was Domaine Desvignes. The young vigneron (grows the grapes and makes the wine) Gautier, is the son of the owner. Gautier studied in Oregon under a Burgundian winemaker, so he uses a mix of new and old approaches, although many of the wine-making methods are stipulated by French law and cannot be altered.
At each of the vineyards we visited we had a wine tasting. In traditional wine tasting style, we generally didn’t swallow the wine but instead swirled it around in our mouths, giving it a good tasting, before spitting it out into a vessel. While this might sound a bit nasty, believe me, when tasting four to six wines at three wineries, if you didn’t spit the wine out you’d be fairly well soused by the end of the day. I will admit to allowing myself to swallow the last wee little bit of each pour.
It was fascinating learning of the winemaking methods in the Bourgogne. We have always enjoyed the Chardonnays of Bourgogne, but I knew much less about the reds from the region, almost entirely made from the Pinot Noir grape. Our third winery for the day was Domaine Lejeune, where they produce some amazing Premier Cru reds. After kicking things off, Aubert, the owner, turned things over to one of his winemakers, Guillemette, a relatively recent graduate of winemaking school. The Premier Cru vineyards are rated just behind Grand Cru in terms of quality. After Premier Cru comes the Village wines. The ratings are specific to plots of land and were established back in the 1930s. Generally, the ratings do not change, although at Domaine Lejeune they are making an effort to get one of their plots of land designated as Grand Cru. To be honest, most of what we drink back home would fall into the Village category, which is just fine for this value-wine aficionado. One fascinating tidbit about Domaine Lejeune is that they still use humans to stomp the grapes. I’ll see if I can sniff that out in the two bottles we brought back to Paris.
Priscilla and I had decided beforehand that we were going to buy six bottles of wine today at each of the wineries we visited, assuming that shipping was available. So sometime in the fall, we will take delivery of 18 bottles of wonderful Bourgogne wine, 2 Chardonnays, 2 Crémant (Bougogne’s version of champagne), and 14 Premier Cru Pinot Noirs. We also picked up two everyday bottles of Pinot Noir to bring back to Paris with us.
All in all, we were extremely pleased with our time in Bourgogne. The tour we selected focused on lesser known wineries, which I’m glad we chose. The Bourgogne countryside is simply gorgeous, and the small-scale nature of the winemaking there helped make things seem super accessible and approachable. None of the winemakers were stuffy or pretentious, they were simple people who are rooted to the land in an incredibly intimate way. That attitude was refreshing, as were the lovely, delicate wines of the Bourgogne. I will conclude this post with a slideshow of photos to give you more of a sense for our time in Beautiful Burgundy.