The prestigious vineyards of Bourgogne23-10-2017
Just 250km south-east of Paris, Bourgogne or Burgundy as it is sometimes known, is one of the most prestigious vineyards in the world, with a number of its wines achieving worldwide renown.
A thousand years of history
The vineyards of Bourgogne are backed by a rich historic past. In the Middle Ages, religion played a huge part in promoting vine-growing already established by the Romans, and monks, notably from the Cistercian and Cluniac Orders, were instrumental in developing the fame and reputation of the vineyards throughout Europe. It was the powerful Dukes of Burgundy who followed their lead, transforming the grapes into a serious operation and introducing new methods of working. In the 19th Century, driven by the advent of modern viticulture and scientific progress, Bourgogne extended its reach to the rest of the world. The unique patchwork of vineyard smallholdings known as “climats” in the Bourgogne region, is largely responsible for the most developed illustration of the notion of “terroir”, small plots marked out by the nature of the soils and climate. In 2015, the climats of Bourgogne took pride of place on Unesco’s prestigious World Heritage List.
Three departments and many AOC-AOP
The Bourgogne vineyards span some 28,400 hectares across the regional departments of Yonne, Cote d’Or and Saone et Loire. Clay-limestone soils, planted predominantly (80%) with Chardonnay for the whites and Pinot Noir reds, characterise the region, where Aligote (white) and Gamay (red) are also planted. The resulting wines are essentially single-varietal, and while the whites reign supreme and account for 62% of production, the region excels at the full gamut of white, red and pink, together with a raft of sparkling wines and cremants. At least 100 AOC wines are produced, of which Romanée-Conti, Echezeaux, Chambertin, Montrachet, Chambolle-Musigny, Meursault, Chablis, Vougeot, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Pommard, Givry and Beaune feature among the most prestigious.
Increasingly sought-after in international markets
In 2015, sales of Bourgogne wines hit new heights in export markets, with an increase of 5.5% in value on the previous year, underlining their great commercial appeal. Exports account for 50% of total sales, in 180 countries. With volume exports practically stable in 2015, their performance outside France remains driven by the white wines, which account for 68% of exports in volume and 52% in value. Chablis accounts for 40% of white wines sold abroad (37% in value). The success of Bourgogne white wines in recent years is particularly impressive in the US, Canada and Great Britain. The US market is dominated by AOC Chablis and Petit Chablis, AOC Macon Villages and other white regional wines from Bourgogne and Macon, while Chablis and Petit Chablis lead the way in Great Britain, Sweden and Denmark.
Quality and Quantity for the 2017 harvest
After several years of less favourable weather, notably in 2016, the Bourgogne region has now returned to normal levels of production. Good weather, with alternating periods of warmth, sunshine and just the right amount of rain, provided perfect, steady growing conditions for the vines. Volumes should see a 20% increase on 2016, with an estimated production of 1.5 million hectolitres according to the BIVB*. Notable producers Louis Fabrice Latour and Claude Chevalier went as far as to compare the 2017 vintage with 1999, which is similar in style. There should be some excellent wines.
A Journey through the Vines
Without doubt the best way to appreciate the wines of Bourgogne is to head out and discover them first hand. At just over an hour and a half from Paris by train, this iconic journey crosses 31 towns and villages typical of Burgundy and opens the doors to a wine region of world-renown. Clearly indicated by small grape-adorned signs, the “Route des Grands Crus” wine trail, which this year celebrates its 80th anniversary, takes in 37 villages and follows some 1247 vineyards, where some of the world’s finest wines are harvested, including Côte de Nuits, Aloxe-Corton, Richebourg, Pommard, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Gevrey-Chambertin, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Romanée-Conti to name but a few. Between Dijon and Santenay, visitors can sample innumerable wines, while tracing the famous Grands Crus tourist route, firmly established on the Unesco map since 2015.
Taking in a number of historical monuments along the way, the vineyard route is an opportunity to uncover the most prestigious estates, all keen to throw open their doors to visitors. Each appellation offers cellar door tastings hosted by producers, and many other attractions, including the Route de la Chouette, or Owl’s trail, around Dijon, the Imaginarium experience in Nuit-Saint-Georges or a visit to the historic Hotel-Dieu, otherwise known as Hospices de Beaune. Or why not time your visit to coincide with one of the many wine festivals in the region, including the St. Vincent Festival towards the end of January.
*SOURCE: Data released by the BIVB (Bureau interprofessionnel des vins de Bourgogne), the region’s wine trade body.