Burgundy is the oldest continuously producing wine region in the world, but time is not standing still in its historic vineyards and chateaus. We have been visiting Burgundy for fifteen years, and although wine has been made here since the first century AD and tradition reigns strong, there is always something new afoot in the original home of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Some developments are obvious, as in a new restaurant, tasting room, or visitor center, while others are subtler, such as a return to traditional vineyard management, the emergence of women in a male-dominated industry, or the reclamation of the region's French name, Bourgogne.
Our most recent visit was centered in the walled city of Beaune, with excursions into the Cote de Nuits, Cote de Beaune, and Cote Chalonnaise. A cool, wet spring was just giving way to blue skies, and ancient, gnarled vines had begun putting out tender green leaves, the first tentative promise of the vintage of 2013. One of the biggest transformations we have noticed here, as in many other places where grapes are grown, is the return of weeds and cover crops in vineyards as agricultural practices revert to natural, organic, or biodynamic after decades of overuse of herbicides, pesticides, and fungicides. Where in the past you would only have seen dirt between the rows, vines now share space with weeds and wild grasses, adding even more green to the verdant landscape.
Jean-Louis Trapet's family has been making wine at Domaine Trapet in Gevrey- Chambertin for seven generations. Jean-Louis, who manages the vineyards and winemaking, shifted to biodynamic farming in the mid 1990's. Domaine Trapet's 12 hectares, which include some of the finest Grand Cru and Premier Cru parcels in Gevre-Chambertin, have been Demeter Organic Certified since 2005. Trapet's winemaking style is "minimal intervention," in order to allow the natural character of the grapes and terroir to take center stage on the palate. As an adjunct to their winery tasting room on the main road through town, Domaine Trapet has just opened a table d'hote, which literally means "host's table," referring to a restaurant with a set menu of the day. Flights of the domain's wines can be enjoyed alongside a three-course meal in a rustic setting with modern touches.
Chateau de Pommard is the largest private monopole in Bourgogne, with a 49-acre plot surrounded by a high stone wall. (A monopole is a walled vineyard with a single owner, while a clos is a walled vineyard that has more than one owner.) There are many surprises inside the walls of this large vineyard and chateau, including an open courtyard with sculptures by Salvador Dali and an art gallery featuring works by Picasso, Chagall, Warhol, Dali, and Lichtenstein plus several modern artists of more recent vintage. In sharp contrast to the bright colors and abstract shapes of the 20th and 21st centuries, the chateau's wine museum is dominated by an enormous antique wooden wine press, and the walls are lined with glass cases holding farming and winemaking implements dating back to the 17th century.
Amaury Devillard's grandfather, the Marquis de Jouennes, produced his first bottle of red Mercurey in 1934. Amaury and his wife Pauline currently live in Chateau de Chamirey, built in the 17th century, which sits right next door to their brand-new tasting room. Visitors to the airy, stone walled structure can taste wines not only from Chateau de Chamirey, but from the family's other wineries: Domaine de la Ferté, Domaine des Perdrix, Domaine de la Garenne, and Domaine du Cellier au Moines. The stately family home and modern tasting facility are in close proximity to the Devillard's 91 acres of Mercurey vineyards, 37 of which are Premier Cru classified.
Bouzeron, in the Cote Chalonnaise, is best known to wine lovers as the home of Aligoté, Bourgogne's other white grape. The tiny village may soon be known to gourmands as the home of Le Bouzeron, Chef Ludovic Briday's eatery focusing on modern interpretations of traditional Bourguignon cuisine. Chef Briday's "Trilogie" menu offers three versions of a dish, be it lamb, duck, or escargot, on a single plate. Each preparation is just as delicious as it is artistic, and a three-course lunch really equals out to a nine-course tasting menu. The focused wine list contains more Bouzeron AOC wines than we have ever encountered in one venue.
Maison Joseph Drouhin is housed in some of Beaune's most historic buildings, including a 12th century winery, cellars belonging to the Dukes of Bourgogne and the Kings of France ranging from the 12th to 18th centuries, and the Dukes of Bourgogne Parliament Building. The latter has recently been converted to the Oenotheque Joseph Drouhin, a tasting room and retail shop where over 60 of the venerable house's wines are available. For the first time since Drouhin was founded in 1880, the cellars are open to the public. Founder Joseph Drouhin's great-granddaughter Veronique handles global marketing and sales, and her brother Philippe manages the estate's 180 acres of vineyards, employing only organic and biodynamic techniques.
Maison Louis Jadot, also based in Beaune, was founded in 1859, and over the years has accrued 518 acres of vineyards across many appellations in the region. For the past twenty years, synthetic compounds have been banned in the vineyards. The biggest change at Jadot was the retirement of the esteemed Jacques Lardiere, who made wine here from 1970 until 2012. The new winemaker, Frederic Barnier, came aboard in 2010 as technical director, and eager palates the world over--ours included--await his first vintage as head winemaker.
Winemaking in Bourgogne dates back to Roman times, but only in the latest generation have women been able to either enter their family business or start their own domain. Anne Parent is the 13th generation winemaker at Domaine Parent in Pommard, and is the first woman in her family to make wine. She is also the founder of Femmes & Vins de Bourgogne, an organization of female winemakers and winery owners. It began in 2001 with six members, and has grown to 39 members from Chablis to Macon. In addition to Anne Parent, the original members were Mireille Desmont-Billard, Anne Schussler-Naudin, Veronique Desfontaine, Chantal Tortochot, and Virginie Taupenot-Daniel. Ms. Taupenot-Daniel, an owner of Domaine Tapenot-Merme in Morey Saint Denis, took over as president of the organization in 2008.
The best way to visit any wine region is to hire a car and driver, and we have encountered no finer service than Youri Lebault and Bourgogne Gold Tour. Unlike many drivers who simply shuttle you from here to there, Youri is certified by the Université de Bourgogne in Wine Culture and Tourism, and his specialty is geography and terroir. Youri's latest honor is his recent induction into Les Chevaliers du Tastevin, an exclusive society of Bourgogne wine enthusiasts. He has unparalleled access to the wineries and tasting rooms of the region, and is able to set up customized tours featuring wine from the most sought after chateaus and domains. When Youri asked us if we needed anything as we started out a day of wine tasting, Jeff jokingly replied that a glass of Corton Charlemagne would be a perfect way to start the day. Without missing a beat, Youri called Geremy Gateau, owner of Vinoboam, a boutique wine shop in Beaune, and within minutes we were pulling away from Vinoboam's front door in Youri's plush Mercedes with a glass of Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 2010 in hand.
Finally, let's get back to the name "change." Think of other well-known French regions: Bordeaux, Champagne, Languedoc-Roussillon, and the Rhone and Loire valleys, and you realize that they have all retained their French monikers, while Burgundy alone is hailed by its English designation. The Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB) is formally undertaking an effort to use the name Bourgogne when referring to regional appellation wines from Chablis and Grand Auxerrois, Cote de Nuits, Cote de Beaune, Cote Chalonnaise, and the Maconnais. So from now on, when you think "burgundy," imagine the color, and when you want a glass of elegant Chardonnay or Pinot Noir, ask for Bourgogne.
Chateau de Pommard, 15 Rue Marey Monge, Pommard
What's new? Art exhibits are changed annually, and a variety of visitor experiences are on hand, tasting sessions, vineyard and garden tours, and gallery tours. All tours are offered in French, English, or Mandarin.
Chateau de Chamirey, Mercurey
What's new? A modern tasting room offering wine from the Devillard family's five wineries. What's next? An onsite restaurant, bicycle vineyard tours, and eight restored guest houses with hotel-style amenities.
Maison Joseph Drouhin, 7 Rue d'Enfer, Beaune
What's new? Ancient cellars and tunnels winding beneath the streets of Beaune are now open to the public, starting in a 12th century winery with a 16th century wooden wine press, and culminating in a modern tasting room and wine shop. Basic wine tastings include eight wines, ranging from regional appellation wines to premier cru, and customized flights are available.
Maison Louis Jadot, 21 Rue Eugene Spuller, Beaune
What's new? The first vintage from winemaker Frederic Barnier is eagerly awaited, following the retirement of wine-world legend Jacques Lardiere. Tours and tastings are available by appointment.
Le Bouzeron, 2 Rue de la Mairie, Bouzeron
What's new? Chef Ludovic Briday's playful and artistic renditions of traditional Bourgogne dishes. What's next? Chef Briday is building a new restaurant just across the way, and giving up this space by the end of the year. We think there's a Michelin star in his future too.
La Maison Domaine Trapet, 4 Rue de Chene, Gevrey-Chambertin
What's new? A just-opened restaurant serving a prix fixe three course meal each day alongside flights of Domaine Trapet's appellation village and Premier Cru wines from Gevrey-Chambertain, and from their winery in Alsace. What's next? We hope they get a sign out front or you will never find this wonderful restaurant!
Bourgogne Gold Tour
What's new? In addition to his Mercedes S-Class Sedan, proprietor Youri Lebault has added a Mercedes Viano passenger van, so you and your whole entourage can travel in style. Since this is Bourgogne, "Turtle" will have to be re-named "Escargot."