To celebrate the engagement of our friends Kenga and Duncan (who interestingly enough met at our wedding!), we recently spent a weekend in Beaune, the wine capital of Bourgogne (Burgundy), known as one of the most famous wine regions in France and in the entire world. We were graciously hosted by Kenga's sister, brother-in-law and nieces and spent a lovely weekend checking out markets, driving through vineyards and nearby villages, listening to music provided by Luis and our visiting musician friend Armando Tito (check him out playing live with Cesaria Evora here) and of course drinking lots of the excellent Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs for which Burgundy is renowned.
Blessed with gorgeous spring weather, we started our Beaune adventure with a stroll around the charming downtown, amid cobblestone streets and old fortresses and churches.
Burgundy's unique climate, geography and soil have given way for 27,600 hectares of vineyards, which produce about 200 million bottles of wine each year. This represents 0.3% of the entire world's wine production, which is no small feat! The region's wine history dates back 2000 years, and perhaps more than anywhere else in France, wine-making in Burgundy is all about terroir, that hard-to-translate term that essentially refers to the special characteristics of the land in which a certain product is cultivated. Terroir in Burgundy is defined by the particular grape varietals (cépages) which are grown, the weather (semi-continental), the exposure and orientation of the vineyards and of course the soil and sub-soil. Burgundy is particularly known for its white wines, made primary with Chardonnay grapes (though a small percentage comes from the Aligoté varietal). The region's red wines are mainly Pinot Noir, with a bit of Gamay grapes as well.
We were lucky in that Kenga's brother-in-law Philippe is a treasure trove of wine knowledge, himself working in the wine barrel industry. Throughout the weekend, he brought out countless bottles of incredible Burgundy wines to taste and patiently answered all our questions.
Another highlight of the weekend was our visit to the Chateau de Mersault, which is a glorious château dating back to the 11th century. One of the most visited estates in the Côte-d'Or départment, the Chateau de Mersault is set on 60 hectares around the famous wine towns of Aloxe Corton, Savigny-les-Beaune, Beaune, Pommard, Volnay, Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the estate and its underground cellars, which have up to 700,000 bottles of wine! Some of which we tasted of course :-)
One weekend was definitely not enough to discover all of the charms of Burgundy, but it was certainly a good start! If you ever have the opportunity, definitely put Beaune on your itinerary during a visit to France. You can get there quickly via TGV high-speed train (an hour and 40 minutes to Dijon and then a local train of 15-20 minutes to Beaune) or make the drive as we did (about three and a half hours). If you love good food and wine, interesting architecture and acres of acres of vineyards as far as the eye can see, you will love Beaune!