Winemaking in Burgundy
The wines of Burgundy are often compared to those of Bordeaux. Even I myself have sometimes witnessed debates in forums, conferences and exhibitions. So which one is better?
In my opinion it is not correct to compare them. After all, some people like the delicate wines of Burgundy, and some like the tart and strong wines of Bordeaux. I told you about Bordeaux wines in the article “Bordeaux – the World Capital of Wine”, and in this one I will try to cover the rich history and variety of Burgundy wines. It’s going to be interesting!
The history of wine making in Burgundy
The first steps: the Celts and the Romans.
The remains of a small ancient vineyard from the 1st century BC (!) were discovered around the town of Gevrey-Chambertin – modern Burgundy. This area was inhabited by Celts before the arrival of the Romans. And in the town of Corgoloin was found church, where you can see images of Celtic god with a bunch of grapes in his hand and ornaments in the form of grapes. All this testifies that in these ancient times the Celts already grew grapes and made wine, albeit in small quantities.
The contribution of the Romans to wine making was also not insignificant. They improved and developed the craft. Ancient Roman amphorae have been found in Burgundy, which tells us that already a few centuries B.C. wine making in Burgundy was well developed enough to supply the county and sell it throughout the Roman Empire.
The troubled times: the fall of the Roman Empire
After the fall of the Roman Empire, the lands of Burgundy were conquered by the barbarian tribes of the Franks, Alemannes, and Vandals.
It was at this time that Burgundy got its name, still in use today. Based on the name of the Germanic tribe of Burgundians, they founded their kingdom of Burgundy in the Rhone Valley, gradually expanding it towards Dijon and Lyon. In 465 the territory was recaptured by the Franks.
Soon Burgundian wines became famous for their quality, and the best land was given by the king of the Franks to the monasteries, marking the beginning of the long and important influence of the monastic orders on the formation of Burgundian wine-making.
The heyday: the monks’ invaluable contribution
Winemaking especially flourished during the reign of Charlemagne, who paid great attention to the growth of the power of the empire and encouraged viticulture.
Compared with ordinary workers and winemakers, the monks owned vast plots of land and cellars where they could store wines in proper conditions. They kept a systematic analysis and organized archives of their observations, which enabled them to gradually improve their production techniques.
The Benedictine monks of the Abbey of Cluny in Macon were the first to receive the largest plots. This important and influential order had many followers in other European countries (Italy, Spain, Germany). And by the 13th century, thanks to the Counts of Burgundy, the Benedictines possessed the legendary vineyards known today as Romanée-Conti, Pommard and all the vineyards around Gevrey-Chambertin.
The Cistercian monastic order also had a considerable influence on the development of Burgundy’s wine industry. It was founded in 1098 and takes its name from the first monastery it founded, Citeaux, in the east of Nuits-Saint-Georges. The first vineyards were given to the Cistercians by the Count of Burgundy soon after the founding of the order; over time the order expanded and acquired new lands. For example, the founding of the Abbey of Pontigny and the purchase of land from the Benedictines marked the beginning of wine production in the Chablis.
Cistercians then acquired lands in the commune of Vougeot and by 1336 had expanded them, founding the vineyard of Clos de Vougeot and extending wine production to the Côte d’Or. The Cistercians were keen to observe how wine varies from one area to another, analysing and comparing these differences, and so began to define distinctive “cru” areas and to recognize the importance of terroir in wine-making.
Interesting Fact No.1 about the Middle Ages: in the 12th and 13th centuries, white wine was more valued than red. There were two reasons for this:
- Its transparency as the more transparent and pale the wine was, the better it was considered in this period when drinking water was not always safe to drink.
- It did not leave marks on clothing and decorations during Mass, unlike red.
Interesting Fact #2 about the Middle Ages: The wines of Burgundy in the Middle Ages were only those from its regions that were closer to Paris and that could be easily transported to the capital by river. These were the wines of the Auxerre region, where the Yonne river flowing through it allowed easy and inexpensive transportation to Paris.
Less fortunate were wines from the Côte d’Or, which were transported overland, which was much longer, more difficult and more dangerous. Therefore, in the Middle Ages they were less well known and until the 15th century they were not called “vins de Bourgogne”, but “vins de Beaune”, which tied them to the main town in the Côte d’Or. Recognition came to them after 1305, when Pope Clement V moved the seat of the popes to Avignon. “Wines of Bon” began to be supplied to the pope’s table at the Palace of Avignon, which elevated them to the status of prestigious, if not the best wines.
Recognition: the Pope and the Valois dynasty
After moving the residence of the Pope to Avignon, Burgundy wines became the drink of choice for the nobility, prized by the Counts of the Valois dynasty, who ruled Burgundy until the beginning of the 15th century.
One of the first members of the dynasty to give special importance to wine making in Burgundy was Philip the Bold. It was by his decree in 1395 that he encouraged the eradication of Gamay from Burgundy, deemed unworthy, even harmful, and the planting of the noble Pinot Noir. Philip the Bold was one of the first to pay attention to the relationship between the volume of the harvest and the quality of the wine. The decree to get rid of the Gamay varietal had its reasons, as the variety was too productive on the land of Burgundy. The subsequent prohibition on fertilizing the soil with organic matter, also had an impact on the reduction of the harvest. After all, as we know, an abundant harvest is not always of good quality.
During the reign of Valois in Burgundy, its wines were considered the most expensive, refined and sought-after wines of France, appearing on the tables of popes and French kings.
Late 15th century: a slight lull
At the end of the 15th century Burgundy became part of the kingdom of France, the power of the monarchs gradually increased and the influence of the church decreased. And the land of Burgundy began to fall into the possession of the Dijon bourgeoisie. In addition, French kings and the titled classes began to build grandiose châteaux in the Loire Valley and spend their summers there, naturally favoring local wines, which were much easier to obtain than those of distant Burgundy.
Early 18th century: the first negociants
The development of the road network in the first half of the 18th century saw an improvement in the transport of Burgundian wines and the first negociants appeared. Some of them are still in operation today! For example, the Maison Champy, which began operating in 1730, and the Bouchard Père et Fils in 1731. Thanks to the negociants, the routes of the Burgundian wine trade expanded.
The French Revolution: the division of the plots
The French Revolution of 1791 redrew the estates of the church and nobility. Many lands were taken from the church and sold at auction.
In 1804, Napoleon Bonaparte decreed that the lands acquired by the bourgeoisie be divided by right of inheritance among family members into even smaller tracts. The vineyards of Bordeaux, unlike those of Burgundy, remained intact because they were owned by foreigners (most often Dutch merchants) who were not documented as individual plots but as shares of ownership. Thus the land of Bordeaux remained virtually untouched.
The early 19th century: a new heyday
At the beginning of the 19th century Burgundy was thriving as a wine-producing region and its wines were highly prized. The building of the railroad between Paris and Dijon in 1851, as well as a regional canal system, made getting wines to Burgundy much easier.
The mid-nineteenth century: a period of global and rapid change.
Devastating epidemics of powdery mildew and phylloxera significantly reduced the area planted.
The only sensible solution at that time was to graft European vines onto the roots of American vines. But this practice was forbidden in Burgundy until 1887. Three years later, having understood the inevitability of this procedure, Burgundian winegrowers began again to plant lots with grafted vines, but not haphazardly as before, but in orderly rows. guyot method was chosen for new plants, which ensures convenient handling, regulates the volume of the harvest and improves its quality.
The next stage in the organization of Burgundian vineyards came in the 1930s, when the borders of the region and some of the climats were officially recognized. At the same time, most Burgundian wines were supplied to the market by negociants, who still play a huge role in the region today. And small producers, in order to stay afloat, joined together in cooperatives, especially important in Macon.
Geography and climate of Burgundy
Such a variety of flavors of Burgundy wines give 30,000 hectares, which is only 4% of the total French vineyard area! Compared to Bordeaux, this is just under a quarter of its vineyards.
The region itself is located in eastern France, between Paris and Lyon, stretching more than 200 km. But it is more accurate to say that the distance between the northernmost part of Burgundy – Chablis – and the southernmost part – Macon – is measured, not in kilometers, but in hundreds of millions of years, during which its varied and valuable for wine-making soils were formed (see below).
As far as the climate is concerned, it is continental for the whole region, but for some wine-producing regions it may be considered semi-continental. The northernmost part of the region, Chablis, is sometimes influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, while the southernmost part, Macon, is influenced by the Mediterranean Sea.
Burgundy’s continental climate
There is a significant difference in seasonal temperatures: winters are cold, but summers are quite warm, and sometimes even hot. Precipitation, often in the form of downpours, occurs in May and June, which can disturb the even flowering process of the vines. And if they fell in October, which is also not uncommon, they can spoil the last, decisive days before the harvest, diluting the extra moisture in the aromatic components in the berries.
In early spring, young shoots are often threatened by frosts (especially in the north, in the Chablis), which can destroy the newly opened buds and reduce the volume of the harvest. And in summer, thunderstorms and hail, which can even seriously damage the vines themselves. The difficult and inconsistent conditions, the changeable summers, all undoubtedly affect the price and quality of the wines from year to year.
The northern part of Burgundy lies at the edge of the range of latitudes suitable for ripening red grapes, where white varieties ripen much better. That is why the north of Burgundy is more appreciated for its white wines, while the reds, although they exist in this part of the region, are characterized by a light body and high acidity.
The viticultural conditions in the south of Burgundy are the direct opposite of those in the north. Here, too, white wines are more common than red wines, but they have a peachy-pineapple, sometimes even exotic profile. This phenomenon can be explained by the slight, but still tangible warming influence of the Mediterranean Sea.
Burgundy – the wines of aristocrats and kings
Bourgogne (Burgundy) is a French wine region located in the eastern part of France.
The uniqueness of terroirs, great wines and ancient winemaking traditions are the main features of the region.
- Geographical characteristics
- Appellations and microregions
- Chablis & Grand Auxerrois
- Cote d’Or
- Cote Chalonnaise
- grape varieties
- Red wines
- White wines
- Rose wines
- Cremant de Bourgogne sparkling wines
- Wines from Burgundy
- Vineyard area – 30 052 ha
- Annual production volume of 2,300,000 hectoliters of wine
Burgundy is located in eastern France, part of the Bourgogne-Franche-Comte region.
The surface is characterized by a predominantly flat landscape, there is a small (low) mountain range.
The soil cover is represented by limestone soils, which do not differ significantly in composition from one wine-growing area to another (different admixtures – clay, minerals). It is the soils that play an important role in determining terroir in Burgundy.
Burgundy Pinot Noir is as pale as red can be pale. Refined, aromatic, the wine is a delight. That said, Pinot Noir is considered one of the most difficult varieties to grow in the world.
Oz Clark, British wine expert. Quoted in Wine by the Glass.
Appellations and microregions
The regional appellation of Bourgogne AOC extends to 5 major appellations, including Beaujolais.
Chablis & Grand Auxerrois
- Area – 2,400 hectares.
- Production of AOC wines – 135000 hectoliters per year.
The appellation produces:
- Chablis Grand Cru;
- Chablis Premier Cru;
- Petit Chablis.
- Area – 11,000 hectares.
- Production of AOC wines – 400000 hectoliters per year.
Microregions of the Côte d’Or:
- Cote De Nuits (Côte de Nuits).
- Cote de Beane.
- Area – 1000 hectares.
- Production of AOC wines – 50000 hectoliters.
- Area – 4500 hectares.
- Production of AOC wines – 250000 hectoliters per year.
Production of wines of Burgundy region:
- White dry: 59%.
- Red dry and rosé: 30%.
- Sparkling wines: 11%.
84 AOC , including 14 DGC (Demoninations Geographiques Complementaries) for all appellations, 27 DGC for Macon AOC.
In addition, there are seven “Regionale” zones and 44 “Village” appellations.
All grape varieties that are authorized for the production of wines of all AOC Bourgogne.