The Bourgogne Wine Region

The Bourgogne wine region is located in the Eastern part of France, in the valleys and slopes west of the Saône River, a tributary of the Rhône, on a primary commercial axis linking Northern Europe with the Mediterranean Basin, a historical trading route since the Middle-ages. The Romans were the first to introduce viticulture into the area during their settlement of Gaul sometime during the 3rd century BCE. The Benedictines at the Abbey of Cluny, and the Cistercians, at the Abbey of Citeaux, have had an important influence on the development of Burgundy wines through the dark ages, relayed later on, by the Dukes of Burgundy until the French revolution.

Today, there are 29,000 hectares of vines planted in Burgundy, accounting for 4% of all commercial winegrowing in France. The average yearly production is 170 million bottles per year, 59% white wines, 30% red wines and 11% sparkling wines. The Grand Crus vineyards represent only 1% of the Burgundy production, while the Villages and Premiers Crus represent 46% and the Regional appellation Bourgogne represents 53% of the production.

The Climats and lieux-dits give Bourgogne wines their unique identity. Their origins lie in the environment, local heritage, know-how and human history. The Climats confer their own unique organoleptic qualities onto the wines of Bourgogne, such as their appearance, aromas, flavours and texture. In 1935, the National Institute for Origins and Quality (INAO), made official the usage of the word “Climat” and on 4 July 2015, the Climats were included on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Although most people are focusing their attention on the “Route des Grands Crus”, along the Côte d’Or, from Marsannay in the North to Santenay in the South. The Bourgogne wine region can be divided into 5 areas:

1) Chablis

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Chablis, the northernmost district of Burgundy, lies about 15 km east of Auxerre in the Yonne department, situated roughly halfway between the Côte d'Or and Paris. For many wine drinkers, Chablis has become synonymous with Chardonnay, which covers 100% of the appellation. There are 4 different appellations. At the top of the classification are the 7 Grand Cru vineyards, which are all located on a single hillside near the town of Chablis, from northwest to southeast: Bougros, Les Preuses, Vaudésir, Grenouilles, Valmur, Les Clos and Blanchot. Together, the Grand Cru vineyards account for 3% of Chablis annual production. Second in quality are the 40 Premier Cru vineyards, which are covering an area of 750 ha. All of the Chablis Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards are planted on Kimmeridgean soil which imparts a distinctively mineral, flinty note to the wines. Next is the generic AOC Chablis with 2,860 ha. At the lowest end of the classification is "Petit Chablis" which includes the outlying land with 560 ha planted out of 1800 ha permitted.

2) The Côte de Nuits

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The Côte de Nuits, is located in the northern part of the Côte d'Or, the limestone ridge at the heart of the Burgundy wine region, and stretches over 20km from Dijon to Nuits-Saint-Georges. The Côte de Nuits is most famous for its red wine made from pinot noir. The Côte de Nuits covers 14 communes. Only Six villages produce 24 grand cru wines (from North to South): Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-Saint-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot, Flagey-Echezeaux and Vosne-Romanee. The world’s most expensive wine is produced here, in the Monopole Grand Cru vineyard called Romanée-Conti.

3) The Côte de Beaune

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The Côte de Beaune, extends over 25km from Pernand-Vergelesses to Les Maranges. Around the town of Beaune, the vineyards are mainly planted with Pinot Noir (Volnay, Pommard, Ladoix), although the Chardonnay grape produces a few marvels on the Corton hill (Corton, Corton-Charlemagne). From Meursault onwards, the Chardonnay grape dominates, producing legendary Grand Cru appellations such as Montrachet, Chevalier-Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet, Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet, Criots-Bâtard-Montrachet and less well-known villages such as Saint-Aubin and Santenay.

4) The Côte Chalonnaise

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The Côte Chalonnaise and the Couchois is some 25km long by 7km wide and produce ruby red wines made from Pinot Noir, as well as delicate white wine from Chardonnay and Aligoté. Enjoying hot summers and dry weather in the fall, the grapes have no problem ripening here. There is no Grand Cru in the Cote Chalonnaise but some villages produce many Premier Cru wines: Bouzeron, Givry, Mercurey, Montagny and Rully.

5) The Mâconnais

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The Mâconnais is a winegrowing region with a southern accent where the Chardonnay grape reigns supreme, the wines from Pouilly-Fuissé and Saint-Veran are particularly sought-after, and where patches of Gamay can be found at the border with Beaujolais. In 2010, the total Mâconnais vineyards covered 7,000 hectares corresponding to 45.7 million bottles of wine.

There is no doubt that Burgundy today is the benchmark for top quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir throughout the world. The demand is high and the supply is limited, driving mechanically the prices to atmospheric levels. A phenomenon accentuated by speculators, who are purchasing bottles only to sell them for a profit later, and never intended to drink it. The practice is frowned upon by the winemakers who are routinely claiming that they are producing wine for people to enjoy drinking, not to invest in.