So Burgundy has a lot to thank the monks for…they could literally turn any raw material into some form of alcohol…and pretty good stuff at that!
In the year 867 AD, the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bald, gave the Chablis vines to the monks of Pontigny who started growing wine in the town of Chablis, picking ou the best plots whic produce Grand Cru Chablis today. During the same century, the Emperor Charlemagne gave his name to the hill in the village of Aloxe Corton, from which derives the Corton Grand Cru reds and in particular the Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru whites…
It was the Cluny (near Macon) monks that introduced Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grape varieties. Since there was a lot of abandoned land between the cities of Dijon and Beaune that wasn’t suitable for normal agriculture and thanks to desperate Lords and Dukes who would barter some land in exchange for a prayer guaranteeing acces sto heaven, the monks started making lots of wine…and money too. It became a very lucrative trade.
Since these monks were particularly astute, they realized that vines in certain areas produced better quality grapes, year in and year out. So they divided the land into plots according to aspect, soil, orientation etc. This became the concept of “TERROIR” today.
So what wines do we make in Burgundy?…yes, I can hear your shouting “Pinot Noir & Chardonnay”!!! But not just those two. We have about 31.5% Pinot Noir and 5% Gamay (which you find mainly in Beaujolais wines), 55% Chardonnay and 8% ALigoté.
On a much smaller scale, we also have Pinot Beurot (cousin of Pinot Gris), Pinot Blanc and César for white wines.
The whole of Burgundy covers 4 departments, the Yonne with 655 wineries covering 6600 hectares (16,000 acres), the Saone-et-Loire with 1870 wineries covering 13,200 hectares (34,000 acres), the Rhone (Beaujolais) with 2800 wineries covering 19,000 hectares (47,000 acres) and finally the Côte d’Or, the most prestigious area, with 1260 wineries covering 9,700 hectares (23,800 acres).
We will concentrate on the Côte d’Or region in a separate chapter.
AOC rules and the Burgundy classification system.
After the Phylloxera invasion which partly devasted the Burgundy region n the 1870’s, vineyards were scarce yet the demand for Burgundy wine was increasing. After the first world war, wine demand increased and since the wineries couldn’t meet the demand, certain fraudulous practices took place. This lead to a first controlled appellations law in 1919. This soon became obsolete and in 1935, the INAO, (national controlled appellations institute), supported by eminent members of the wine industry, introduced new appellation rules, to stamp out corruption and fraud.
We will pass by the new rules and head on to the classification system.
In Burgundy we currently produce about 177 million bottles of wine, of which 2/3 are Chardonnay.
45% of these wines are exported, 55% are sold in France.
This represents about 1 billion euros in revenue.
Burgundy represents about 3.5% of wine exported in the world
To make understanding Burgundy wines easier, the INAO adopted a 4-level pyramid.
Grand Cru – 1.4% of total production
1er Cru – 10% of total production
Village Appellations – 37% of total production
Regional Appellations – 51% of total production