BURGUNDY is the Wine Region of the Month
by A.J. McClellan, Certified Sommelier and Founder of Roots and Water
The Romans were first to make wine from the vineyards in Burgundy, located in east-central France. After the fall of Rome, there was a dark age until the Catholic Church embraced viticulture. The abbey for the Benedictine Order of Monks was based in Burgundy during the 10th and 11th centuries. The monks maintained the vineyards and more importantly, the wine-making knowledge and skills during this often turbulent period of history.
Over time, the nobility acquired extensive vineyards and the winegrowers came to be called vignerons. In 1804, Napoleon issued the Napoleonic Code stating that all male citizens were equal under the law and would equally inherit any estates (including vineyards). This fractured the ownership of the vineyards over time and lead to the uprising of the ngociants, who were uniquely suited to the challenge of fractured vineyard ownership. They were able to purchase small, disparate lots of grapes or wine and combine them to make a commercially viable product. Ngociants controlled almost all of the sales in Burgundy until the 1920s when domains started to bottle their own wines.
Today, Burgundy remains a sparsely populated region, famous for its crisscrossed network of canals and grand chteaux. The wines that are produced from this region are often referred to as Bourgogne , named after the region. The five main growing areas in Burgundy are Chablis, Cote dOr, Cote Chalonnaise, Cote Maconnais and Beaujolais.
In Burgundy, red wine is almost always Pinot Noir and white wine is almost always Chardonnay. Pinot Noir was first mentioned in 1370 but believed to have been cultivated earlier than that in the region, is one of the oldest Vina Vinifera varieties and is prone to frequent mutation. Chardonnay has a later addition to Burgundys vineyards in the 18th century. Gamay later became the predominant grape grown in Beaujolais.
Burgundy is very heavily regulated with almost 100 wine appellations and four tiers of quality.
Grand Cru wines are produced by only 32 of the best vineyard sites in the Cte d’Or region and one in Chablis, as strictly defined by the AOC laws, and make up less than 2% of the regions production. Grand Cru requires that the vineyard must be hand harvested and must be produced solely from the single stated vineyard with stringent restrictions on maximum yield.
Premier Cru wines also have tight restrictions on must weight, yield, and minimum potential alcohol and make up 10 to12% of Burgundys production. They are produced from specific vineyard sites that are still considered to be of very high quality located in the Cote dor, Chablis, Cote Chalonnaise, as well as one new Premier Cru in Cote Maconnais.
Village appellation wines are still very prominent wine growing areas that have AOP status. Making up 36 to 37% of production, these are wines made from a blend of vineyards within the boundaries of one of the regions 44 villages
Regionale wines of Burgundy make up the remainder of wines produced over the entire region. Besides red or white wines, some of the regional appellations allow the production of rose and sparkling wines as well as wines dominated by grape varieties other than Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.
Over the next several weeks, A.J. will be posting about some of his favorite wines from the Burgundy region on the Savvy Cellars Wine Club blog.