I hail from a place where just about everything is, in the grand scheme of things, fairly new. The houses are, maybe, 75 years-old. The schools were built in the ’60s. Supermarkets did not replace small artisanal bakeries and butchers, because there hardly ever were any. Growing up in the typical American suburbs, one’s sense of the past is vague, illustrated in high school history books but hardly livable or comprehendible in any way. Heritage is whispered about during visits from grandparents, who generally would rather forget the past, its global wars and times of bare-cupboard scarcity.
What, then, gives me, a child of the American suburbs, any right to delve into the profound mysteries of Burgundy? Can a Millennial do justice to a region whose history stretches back over a Millennium?
I am writing from Paris, after spending a week traveling around the Côtes d’Or, visiting producers including some whose wines I’ve deeply admired for many years. I am humbled by the experience. It was my second visit to Burgundy; the first was in 2014 when I somehow got myself into cellars of the likes of Frédéric Mugnier, knowing very little about what I was experiencing. Now, I have a much stronger grasp of wine tasting and wine writing, and my French is finally good enough to do an entire visit in that language in cases where the vignerons don’t know much English. But still, I feel that I am really only seeing the tip of the iceberg, in Burgundy, just beginning to understand the diversity of grape varieties there–meaning, the various clones and older varieties of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Aligoté, and Gamay–and the nuances of vinifying Pinot Noir in particular.
What helps, though, is that there is a forceful, somewhat younger generation in Burgundy–people like Julien Guillot, and Fanny Sabre, who have learned from their parents and mentors, and who believe deeply in the terroir they work with, and have their own, strongheaded ideas about how to best represent them.
Along with Guillot and Sabre, I have a lot to think about after stimulating visits last week with Sylvain Pataille, Jean-Yves Bizot, Antoine Jobard, Pierre de Benoist of Domaine de Villaine in Bouzeron, Dominique Derain, Pierre Fenals of Maison en Belles Lies, and JJ Morel.
Burgundy is not only an old and storied winemaking region, it is constantly changing, and quite significantly in the second half of the Twentieth century. New issues arise all the time–some related to climate (frost and hail, mainly, as well as the Suzuki flies of 2014), and others related to winemaking techniques, such as the much-discussed premox problem. Every year, there seems to be less and less wine made in Burgundy; meanwhile, the region’s top talent is churning out better and better wines, but at higher prices. I’m privileged, as a wine writer, to have access to some of these domaines for tastings, but I can’t really afford to drink most Burgundies on my own dime, unless we are talking about young Village-level or Bourgogne appellation wines, which I’m always happy to drink.
I guess the answer to my above rhetorical question is: I don’t really have any right, per se, to cover Burgundy as a journalist–except for the fact that I find the region fascinating, and I really do love the wines when they are made with care in a non-interventionist way. And I have a lot of respect for the vignerons working in this fashion, despite the market pressures.
Anyway, over the next few weeks and months, I’ll be working on some stories based on this tour, and I’ll try to do justice to such a complex and fascinating region. But the fact is, I need to commit to Burgundy, if I want to truly understand it. This isn’t a region you pass through and say, “well, that was fun,” and never revisit. It requires a lot of study and attention, over time. I can say for sure, after this trip, that I’m captivated enough by the wines and the terroir to gladly lend myself to the task.
By the way, I have a new story out, focused on the main New World sister winemaking region to Burgundy–yep, Oregon! I covered a recent tasting of Gamay wines from all around Oregon for the August issue of Wine & Spirits Magazine. Read the article here.
I definitely encourage you to seek out Oregon Gamay; many of the producers are treating the grape with the same attention that you’d find in Cru Beaujolais wines, so these are wines of finesse meant for aging. A few that I really liked are in the following slideshow; reach out directly to the wineries via their websites for availability and pricing.
A bientôt! RS