What started as an innocent, yet necessary, jaunt down to Burgundy for a few days turned into (another) ridiculously memorable experience. As most wine professionals know, it is not recommended to turn up at a cellar door in any renown wine region without an appointment arranged at a chateau or domaine ahead of time. This is most evident in Europe, and especially in noted regions such as Bordeaux, Loire, Champagne....and definitely Burgundy. But, filled with hope, optimism and excitement, I jumped on the train out of Gare du Lyon in Paris and set out for the SNCF station for the center of Burgundy: Beaune, where the Côte du Nuits and the Côte Chalonnaise form a nice little sandwich around the Côte de Beaune. The only thing I knew for certain was happening was a meet-up with a fellow stagier from Domaine François Villard where I had just completed harvest, for a few days of pinot and chardonnay drinking, and maybe a few snails. Having just signed on a few days ago with French importer Paul M. Young back in San Francisco, I was all of a sudden filled with the inspiration to visit such rockstars of the Burgundy scene as Nicolas Rossignol, René Bouvier and the girls at Louis Chenu Pere et Filles.
Not even knowing where I was going to be sleeping that night, I was forwarded directions from Scott, which indicated that he would meet me at the station and take me into town where his host in the region, and subsequently mine, would be meeting us. The setting of appointments would have to wait until tomorrow, which, unfortunately, happened to be Sunday. Luckily, our host was none other than the amazing Muriel Deléger, of the famous Colin-Deléger Montrachet family. She now resides just outside of Beaune, and runs her own organic and biodynamic vineyard consulting firm for the forward-thinking vignerons of Burgundy. In addition, she runs a fantastic enotourism company called "Les Essence du Sens, La passion du Terroir en Bourgogne". I don't think that needs any translation. In effect, she hosts in-depth vineyard tours of some of the more exclusive, organically farmed properties in Pommard, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, Clos du Vougeot, Vosne-Romanée, Givry, Chablis, Beaujolais..... Daughter of the famous winemaker Georges Deléger, she is deeply rooted in the soil of Burgundy, literally, and is as passionate a enthusiast for the biodynamic and organic farming as anyone I've ever met.
So Muriel was to be our personal host and guide for five days in Burgundy. Beats the local Travelodge, for sure. Her passion and mine ignited instantly, and that Friday night, we began making plans for the next day and for Monday and Tuesday appointments. Better late than never. But it seems flying by the seat of my pants, packing a bag at 10 pm the night before after getting inspired to get out of Paris and see what is literally a few hours' train ride from my door, has been my modus operandi lately. And, as last minute plans always show, when you're not expecting much, the things that come to light take on an even more awesome aura. My plan shaped up to be this: Bouchard Aïne et Fils, Chateau de Meursault, Maison Champy (depuis 1720!), Domaine Chandon de Brailles, Nicolas Rossignol, Domaine Drouhin. And a plan to eat considerable amounts of escargot.
Saturday started leisurely at the prolific winter marché in the square just next to the famous Hospices du Beaune, and an hour drooling over the insane wine book shop inside the Athenaeum (where the infamous Côte de Nuits and Côte du Beaune topography maps came home with me). On Saturday, for the weekend crowd, many of the large domaines located within the medieval stone walls of Beaune offer tastings and tours without appointment. The most interesting I discovered was the tour and tasting at Bouchard Aïne & Fils, where they take you literally on a tour of the senses.
Five chambers down in the domaine's cellars have been devoted to one of the senses: Sound, Sight, Smell, Taste and Texture. Led down dark corridors with the tell-tale French gravel crunching below your feet and the distinctive must clinging to your nostrils, you don't need much to supplement the Sound and Smell senses. After the predictable alcove of Pure Wine Aroma Essences , we happened upon the Texture cave, where a long bar was set up alongside one side of the room, covered in six different materials: silk, velvet, canvas, metal, fur, leather, lace, faux leather....each one representing the different textures of the wines we had tasted through. Silk for Chambolle-Musigny, Velvet for Pommard; Fur for Vougeot Grand Cru. The Charmes-Chambertin Grand Cru 2004 stole my heart, although I settled for a more recent vintage of the Chambolle-Musigny to take home with me.
The next morning had me early at the doorstep of Château de Meursault, where I was greeted by a friend of Muriel's and the contact for the maison's enotourisim department. It was still early, but as the fog lifted, and Véronique explained more about the history of the Château de Meursault....I realized I was at the home of La Paulée, the famous and exclusive lunch held to celebrate the end of the vintage, and has become in it's own right one of the big auction events in Bourgogne, in addition to Hospices du Beaune and the Clos de Vougeot dinner. Here, the Château was founded in the 11th siécle, with the caves being built from the 11th siécle through the 16th siécle. And we thought we had contractor issues these days. A morning shot of 1er Cru Meursault 2006 woke me up with gunpowder, pencil lead and almonds, but balanced beautifully with the palate of peaches, apricots and honey. I was ready for the vin rouge. The Corton Grand Cru was outstanding, although young, and the Volnay 'Clos des Chenes' 2004 also stood out. But really, at the Château de Meursault, it was really the Meursault that took home the prize.
The day rounded out with a quick tour and taste at Maison Champy, one of the oldest companies in Beaune, having been formed in 1720, and has 28ha of certified Biodynamic and Organic vines. A nice composite of wines from their various vineyards in Pernard-Vergelesses, Corton-Charlemagne, Corton and Beaune, they are elegant wines that should be enjoying more exposure in the international markets soon. Escargot count at this point: 12.
Through some miracle of local intuition, Muriel called to the offices of Domaine Drouhin, notoriously difficult to secure an appointment with, and she was able to arrange a meeting with one of their people the following morning at 10. If you look for a huge, imposing château of a place with en enormous stone tablet outside the gate proclaiming "Domain Joseph Drouhin", you would be looking for the wrong place. Quietly situated on a small street next to the Notre-Dame, it's humble exterior misleads you to the unbelievable history and richness below the cobblestone street. Three acres of caves snake below the streets of Beaune; the core of which lie beneath the old crushpad that was purchased in 611 by the church to host their grape crush. Looking out out the original glass windows onto the oldest street in Beaune, rue d'Enfer, towards the oldest church in Beaune, while standing atop some of the world's greatest wine cellars, the twinge of mold and dust in your nose and the stark chill emanating up from the stones below your feet, you start to feel very small, and very infinite, all at the same time. And you're connected to the past, as well as the present. And then you wind your way down the stone and iron spiral staircase to the cave below, where the wines of Joseph Drouhin are waiting your judgement.