Story and photos by Sebastian Price
Discovering Wines of Burgundy
Nothing else is cultivated here but varietals of chardonnay or pinot noir vines that cling to ancient limestone soil, deposited when shallow seas formed and disappeared millions of years ago. The micro climate is said to vary greatly depending on how much sun and shade is exposed on the gently descending landscape. Surrounding the town of Beaune, “the terroir” is considered ideal growing conditions for these two popular wine producing grapes. The town is recognized as the unofficial capital of the wine producing province of Burgundy.
I came to this famous wine region to deepen my understanding and appreciation of arguably some of the best wine produced in the world. Beaune, I soon discovered, is a charming town with a decidedly sophisticated rural ambience located in the very heart of the French countryside. Beneath medieval ramparts and former cloistered convents a vast maze of wine cellars are connected under the entire ancient town.
Strolling towards the town’s center, I encountered the shining bright edifice of the Hotel Dieu, founded in 1443. The Hotel Dieu is a perfectly preserved medieval hospice with distinctive glazed polychrome roofs. A tour of the hospice gave an interesting insight into the medieval minds of those wealthy and poor folk now long forgotten. The wonderfully executed altar piece of the Last Judgment by the famed Netherlandish artist Rogier Van Der Weyden evokes some of the universal awe and trepidation that most of those in the ancient town and hospice must have genuinely felt.
Modern Beaune can be very much about enjoying special epicurean material pleasures of wine and food prepared to the highest of French standards. While the town has many Michelin star restaurants, I found conveniently located next to my hotel, one of the most up and coming restaurants in Beaune. Le Clos du Cedre restaurant has an exceptional chef who is on his way undoubtedly to being awarded more Michelin star status. The chef, Christophe Ledru, appears to have combined a particularly innovative approach while maintaining a solid French culinary tradition. The restaurant is located in an elegant 19th century master vintners mansion with high ceilings, spacious rooms and paneled carved walls. The wine cellar has some of the most prestigious Burgundy wines available. The wine recommended by my sommelier complimented perfectly well the unique flavor of each dish served at my table. The fresh ingredients on the menu are mostly sourced from local farms including the Charolais beef.
Adjacent to the restaurant, the Hostellerie Le Cedre is a 5 star luxury hotel. During my stay there I enjoyed the hotel’s high standards, which are tastefully reflected in the quality of the furnishings; the relaxing comfort of spacious accommodation that combines in an understated way, modernity and a traditional provincial interior design. My suite during the night let in the stars through the wide adjustable skylight while the stillness of the early morning outside continued to ensure my restful night’s sleep. The outdoor garden that surrounds a large shading cedar tree provided a very pleasant breakfast setting as the sun rose to begin another almost cloudless blue sky. During early evening the lounge bar with the nearby grand piano proved to be a wonderful place for a relaxing drink.
Château de la Crée
Since I had come to enjoy and learn about Burgundy wine I soon discovered some of the most exquisite Bourgogne chardonnay and pinot noir vintages, produced from the fine grapes grown on the slopes of this estate outside of Beaune. Nicolas Rollin built the estate in the 15th century when Chancellor to Phillippe the Good, the Duke of Burgundy. As I toured the grand Château and sojourned into the vineyards, my enthusiastic guide described and revealed all aspects of wine making on the estate. I tasted many award winning Premier Cru vintages, such as Santeney Premier Cru Gravières 2014 Blanc and Santeney Premier Cru 2013 Rouge. Visiting the estate deepened my appreciation of fine wine but also revealed the many interesting facets of wine making that can be gleaned on some of the best estate vineyards in Burgundy.
Only 3 km (1.86 miles) south from Beaune, on a beautiful sunny day, I chose to cycle to the Chateau. The fresh warm summer breeze enhanced the pleasant ride through small villages and along the narrow pathways in the vineyards. This magnificent country estate lies within the ancient vineyard of Clos Marey-Monge in the heart of the Côte d'Or. The estate originally consisted of two Châteaux, and since medieval times the Burgundy wines of Pommard have garnered a solid well-earned recognition.
Terroir is often cited as a reason for the high reputation of Burgundy wines. On the estate I learnt that even a few meters distance can make a notable difference in soil composition with varying degrees of limestone soil and exposure to sunlight affecting the quality of wine. My guide showed different soil profiles coming from just one acre of vineyards. After tasting wines from each “clos” I appreciated the contribution of the minerality coming from the terroir. Over three centuries of family ownership, culminated in the new current vigneron, the American, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and Francophile Michael Baum.
Château de Beaune, Bouchard Père & Fils
The last famous wine estate I had the opportunity to savor and indulge in tasting their consistently top quality wines began after a remarkable tour of the estates cellars located under the towns ramparts. Millions of bottles are stored in these underground cellars or caves. Many of the bottles are over two hundred years old. Bernard Bouchard one of the founders turned the cellars under the bastions and ramparts to the important task of carefully maturing his exceptional wines as early as at the beginning of the 1820s. Included in these vintages are bottles of rare grand cru, and premier cru white and red burgundy. Prominent wine aficionados from the United States and elsewhere fly-in to taste and select from these world famous wines. The tour of the renowned cellars and fortress gardens followed by the wine tasting proved to be one of the many highlights of my trip to Beaune.
I came away from my visit to Beaune and its surroundings with a much greater understanding and a more balanced appreciation of what can be discerned as truly great wine. While enjoying at the same time, many of the other interesting and compelling attractions encountered during a stay in the region. No doubt Burgundy’s wine makers will continue to live up to their global reputation as producers of some of the best wine available.
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