Aquaplaning our way up the A6 from Geneva, the road illuminated by sheet lightning, was the rather unnerving manner in which we arrived late Sunday evening into Beaune. A fitting welcome from a wine region whose relationship with mother nature is all encompassing.
The storm had cleared the following morning leaving a stunning blue sky, morning mists and a striking murmuration of starlings. All framed by an absolutely stunning Golden backdrop. Enchanting and fiery. This was the Cote d’Or as you dream to see it. Conjure up images of iconic Autumnal scenery and set it against a patchwork of hallowed vineyards. A wow moment in any wine career.
We were here to taste the 2018 vintage from barrel, tank and bottle. An annual pilgrimage to the famed Cote d’Or to get to grips with the next vintage release. Burgundy En Primeur tastings, whist in theory similar to those we do in Spring in Bordeaux (Please see Xavier’s blog) in practice are so very different. The tiny scale of the Domaines, the vignerons themselves, the cheek by jowel nature of the vineyard plots and the importance of a white variety too!
At each Domaine we taste right through a range from Bourgogne to Villages, through to 1er Cru and Grand Cru. Red and White. Back vintages too. This as opposed to tasting just the Grand Vin -and increasingly a second wine – at a typical Bordeaux Chateau. The schedule is approximately six visits per day tasting 10+ wines at each Domaine. This number can be much higher at those visits where they have a Negociant business. Tastings are usually in amazing underground cellars adding to the mystique and authenticity.
A word on Negociants. They are entirely different to their counterparts in Bordeaux. In Burgundy such is the fragmentation of ownership a Negociant business is a way to increase volumes. For context, the Grand Cru vineyard Clos de Vougeot, for example, has over 70 different owners spread over 50ha. Compare this to say Chateau Lafite. Over 100 ha. One owner! Welcome to Burgundy! Here the Negoce don’t just sell wine, they assemble it from a variety of sources through long term contracts with vineyard owners. This provides a much wider range of Appellations and a whole new business. The passion and dedication of the winemakers to express and understand each individual terroir is impressive.
In between visits we drive up and down the Route de Grand Cru. A star studded roll call of vineyards stretched out along gentle rolling hills punctuated by limestone walls. Gevrey Chambertin, Nuits St Georges, Chambolle Musigny. Each leg seems to recharge your soul in time for the next visit.
Lunch is always at a local spot. Meursault one day, Volnay the next and so it goes on. Sadly always with too little time. But pleasantly always surrounded by Burgundians. Winemakers, workers, locals and a spattering of international wine clients. A chance to enjoy stunning Burgundian food and leaf through brilliant wine lists. Affordable too. We would usually pick something from a Domaine we have just been to or are heading to next. To continue to immerse ourselves fully. A week or so later and patronage would be considerably more international.
Something that strikes you is how a new generation hold the reins in so many of the Domaines you visit. There is a new found thirst from younger wine makers to widen their knowledge, embracing influences from wine regions around the globe and a very keen respect for their vineyards. Increasingly aligning to organic practices, even Biodynamic. The latter, to be fully certified Bio, is an incredibly brave goal given the challenges of producing wine in Burgundy and seeing successive vintages nearly wiped out. We watched a short film on the 2016 vintage with Pascal Marchand from Marchand Tawse shortly after our trip in the Walton Street Cellar. Worth seeking out.
Our visit concluded with a view out over the vineyards of Volnay. Lunch had been outstanding. The hospitality all about the people, the down to earthiness and the local ingredients. As we gazed out the Alps were lurking on the horizon. Reminding us the forces of nature are always at play in this captivating wine region. Don’t miss the opportunity to taste the 2018s at our Burgundy Tasting on 14 January 2020. You can view the full 2018 Burgundy En Primeur list here.