First of all a definition is called for. What are “climats”?
I understand that most “New World” wine experts tend to mock the expression “terroir” as it considered a “non-tangible Gallic shoulder-shrugging isn’t-it-obvious?” French way of saying “you’ll never understand anyway” response. To us pragmatic, real-world thinkers, it is a French non-sensical word (that doesn’t even translate into English) meaning soil and weather properties that justifies the reason why French, and in particular Burgundy wine, is so good. So I have decided to cut and paste the official definition from the site http://www.climats-bourgogne.com as the Burgundian wine makers and officials have decided to try and get these “climats” officialised into the UNESCO World Heritage Sites!!
So the “Climats” of the vineyards of Burgundy is the title chosen to present Burgundy’s candidature for UNESCO World Heritage Listing.
“The word “climat” is the Burgundian translation of the word terroir’, taking on a different sense than usually associated with meteorological condition. Particular to Burgundy, the term climat’ designates a parcel of land dedicated to a precisely delimited vineyard, known by that name for hundreds of years, and therefore a precise plot, soil, subsoil, exposure, microclimate, and forming together within a vineyard characters that constitute a personality, unique to one terroir and one cru. These climats have created an exceptional mosaic of vineyards with a hierarchy of crus and an international reputation.”
Why are they doing this? “The shared ambition to preserve and promote the cultural and natural heritage of the wine producing Burgundy vineyards has drawn together all the Burgundy stakeholders. The extreme value of this heritage and a sense of shared responsibility are at the core of this initiative.” is the official response.
What are the real objectives?
The aims of the project can be resumed into the four following:
- Contributing to the protection of our natural and cultural heritage
- Raising public awareness of its exceptional value
- Enhancing and managing a unique area
- Handing down the legacy of this heritage to future generations
At what stage is the project?
The project can take up to 10 years to be completed. They are currently at the stage of being selected by the French committee of UNESCO. Then, once this is achieved the 21 member council of UNESCO will meet to decide the final outcome.
What are the stakes?
Economical primarily. If the region gets the official recognition from UNESCO, the doors will be open to increased revenue, in particular from tourism. When Bordeaux became part of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, tourism increased by over 30%. Burgundy should benefit from the increased international recognition, however, it may not be as simple as in Bordeaux.
The main reason why is the “complexity” of Burgundy wine. Despite being a “single-grape” region with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, everything else is much more complicated, from understanding a label, the classification system right through to the rural mentality of some of the estate owners.
In a region that covers 250 kms, there are over 3500 wineries, each of an average size of 8 hectares or 20 acres! Developping wine tourism is a delicate process, when you think that only 340 wineries signed a wine tourism welcome pact (10%), you realize how much more work is still to be done.
When speaking to several estate owners about developping tourism, I received a smile and a shrug, followed by “why should I invest in more staff and facilities for tourists who will taste my wine and not necesarily buy it? My winery is too small and the idea is not viable!”.
It’s true that having been subjected to 4 consecutive bad harvests, and considering that the yield per estate if all goes well is about 35,000 bottles, you can understand their apprehension. This is probably one of the reasons why Dijon is creating a Food & Wine gastronomic city and Beaune is building its “wine tourism city” over the next couple of years.
Nevertheless I feel it is important to support this project as the region is unique and its wine culture and history stretches over two millenium. In a world where so many new countries and regions are producing “mass” wine, this small corner of Burgundy merits official recognition and support, to keep alive its ancient if somewhat incomprehensible traditions. I’d ask you to check out their website and add your support to this project.