Committing To A Long-Term Relationship With Burgundy

a berry of Gamay Teinturier in the Mâconnais

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.

talented vigneronne Fanny Sabre, age 32, who worked for Philippe Pacalet for several years

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.

Sylvain Pataille in the Clemengeots vineyard, Marsannay

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.

Jean-Yvez Bizot overlooking his Gâchés vineyard, in Vosne-Romanee

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.

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A bientôt! RS



Being-Together, With Wine, And Supporting Domestic Winemakers

Earlier today, I sat down to work on the article about orange wine that I started last week, and I thought: “Ugh. Who even cares?”

It’s hard to reconcile writing about wine, food, the stuff of revelry, with the events of this week. It’s still too raw for me to formulate cogent words about what I’m feeling, or how I see my life changed by this election.

But I do want to suggest that, for those of us who find beauty, culture, and intellect within wine and food, that we hold really tight to that. I don’t think I have exactly the same feelings as I did four days ago, with regard to wine, food, or life in general. But, and while I’m not quite ready to parse it all out and dive in, I do think that wine and food encourage community, and this is what we need right now. Not that we have to get wasted, or overindulge–but rather, take time to share a meal or a special bottle with someone, or some people, you know and care about. Talk about the wine if you want, or not; it’s the being-together that’s most important.

On this note, I do want to mention an upcoming dinner that I know still has a few seats left: the Division Wine Co dinner, at Rebelle on Monday night. One half of this urban winemaking team, the passionate and knowledgable Tom Monroe will be there to talk about these delicious Chenins, Gamays, and Pinots. Tom and his business partner Kate Norris are incubating a lot of Oregon’s future natural winemakers in their urban winery in Portland. If there ever was a time to support our domestic winemakers, now would be it. I’ll be at the dinner, and hope to see you there. Below is the menu and line-up of wines. 


Latest Writings + Travels From Oregon + California

Finally, this hot, humid mess of a summer is nearing its end. Despite not having AC in my apartment, traveling excessively, breaking my laptop, and living out of suitcase across continents and coasts, I’ve had a very productive past few months, and I’m really excited about what the fall will bring. I know already that it will mean larger writing projects, travel to Champagne and South Africa, a food-and-drink crawl in L.A., and a new collaboration with a talented illustrator.

I’m still coming down from the high of a week in Napa and Sonoma during harvest. I’ve been in wine country during harvest before, but for some reason this trip was particularly enthralling. I think those California gold hills, with their rugged stature and sprawling woods, got into my soul a little. My heart was captured by the vineyards of Sonoma in particular, where the cool air kissed my skin and the sun warmed my back as I rode on a tractor through rows of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Gamay. 


Before that, there was Oregon, where I spent a fascinating week visiting producers all over the state, leading up to the International Pinot Noir Celebration. I wrote about some exciting aspects of Oregon wine on Vine Pair, which you can read here; I also have a freshly published piece up on about the killer urban winery scene in Portland. Read that one here. I’m looking forward to writing some more detailed features on the bustling wine culture of Oregon, so be on the lookout for that in the near future.

Scholium Project bottles

As I go through my notes from Napa, Sonoma, and the Central Valley, where I spent a day helping the team at Scholium Project (read my 2015 profile of Abe Schoener here), I’m enthralled to know that American wine is so diverse, so forward-thinking in many aspects, and so, so delicious. And speaking of delicious, I should also mention that Food Republic published my round-up of San Francisco’s best new spots to eat and drink (based on research from an earlier trip), read that here.

Before I left California last week, I spent a day in San Francisco. Walking around the Mission, I came across the “Free Box” outside Dog Eared Books, and there was a copy of M.F.K. Fisher’s Gastronomical Me. How perfect, I thought, to have a collection of essays from one of our country’s pioneering literary food writers, to read on the plane back to New York. I opened it up and read the first sentence of the prologue: “People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security, and about love, the way others do?” 

I laughed and held the book to my chest, reassured to know that, back in the 40s, Fisher was grappling with the same question that often occupies me. I believe she wrote this forward in the middle of WWII, and while we aren’t in exactly that situation on a global scale, it’s unquestionable that conflict and suffering dominate great swaths of our planet, near and far. Knowing that so many issues in my city, our country, and this world are deserving of the power of the pen, I do sometimes wonder why I dedicate myself to writing about food and wine, something which seems on occasion quite petty, self-serving, and limited to a small, well-heeled population. But I knew right away where Fisher was going with that question. I think my answer, today, is not too different from hers: “There is a communion of more than our bodies when bread is broken and wine drunk.” And I would add that it’s about beauty. If you’ve ever stood in a vineyard with the late afternoon sun setting over ripe grapes, as a farmer details each soil type on every hill on his property, and looked out onto the fog rolling in from the mountains, you’ll understand what I mean.