Getting to know Burgundy
Author: Charlie Geoghegan
Through a series of non-consecutive, though not entirely unconnected, experiences, Charlie Geoghegan begins to see the appeal in Burgundy. Over the course of six years, his recurring encounters with this often-mysterious region have resulted in a constantly growing appreciation for its fine wines.
It’s about 6am when we bundle into Sebastiano’s car and leave Bordeaux. It’s 1,074km to Düsseldorf, the home of Europe’s preeminent wine trade fair, ProWein. We’re a group of wine-business students on the hunt for internships, professional connections of various kinds and any residual knowledge or wisdom that may be available. Not present is Ueli, who has already started an internship, in Burgundy. He’s working for Becky Wasserman who, it transpires, is quite legendary. He’s already moved up there, so we’ll need to stop off on the way to pick him up.
About six hours into our trip, we stop for a relatively nippy al fresco lunch in the shadow of the Hospices de Beaune. We’ve got some high-quality cheese and bread, but we’ve got no cutlery to go with it. My first bite to eat in Burgundy is thus a fistful of pain de campagne crudely slathered with some Brie or something. There’s no wine, but nobody seems to mind. Ueli takes us for a little walk around Beaune and then we’re away, not stopping again until Luxembourg. It’s tomorrow by the time we get to Düsseldorf. That I’ve just had my first trip to the home of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir soon becomes a fleeting memory.
I’m a couple of months into a new job and we’re a lot of months into Covid. It’s the second, or maybe the third, lockdown. Having not thought a great deal about Burgundy for the last four years, I’m now working on Berry Bros. & Rudd’s Burgundy En Primeur campaign. It’s exciting and new; there are producers to interview (virtually) and a lot of writing to do. I’m making a cup of coffee when I get an email telling me that Dominique Lafon has joined my Zoom meeting. He’s early, but he’s also Dominique Lafon, who I understand from my research to be one of the great white-wine producers of his generation. The coffee can wait.
Over the next few days, I’ll interview a handful of Burgundy’s leading producers from the comfort of my living room. Over the next few months, I’ll find myself accidentally learning quite a lot about Burgundy. Editing and proofreading hundreds and hundreds of tasting notes written by Adam Bruntlett, our Burgundy Buyer, and Mark Pardoe MW, our Wine Director, will do that. I find myself buying a bottle or two here or there – maybe Burgundy is worth a closer look.
“No, please don’t open any more Grands Crus,” is a strange thing to say to a Burgundian winemaker. I don’t recommend it generally, though sometimes needs must. Here we are, under the ground at Domaine Follin-Arbelet. I’m in Burgundy for the second time in my life, this time with a small team of Berry Bros. & Rudd colleagues. The spectre of Covid has dissipated somewhat, for now at least, and we’re able to conduct this year’s interviews in person. Time is against us, alas; we’ve got more places to visit today, and we’ve already sent our photographer, Jason Lowe, to the next appointment. But Simon Follin-Arbelet is a gracious host and genuinely quite a fascinating fellow. We agree on tasting just one more Corton-Charlemagne with him before we head upstairs for an interview.
By the time the week is through, we’ll have covered considerable ground from Chablis to the Mâconnais. In Meursault we’ll walk the Lafons’ Clos de la Barre vineyard with Dominique’s daughter Léa and nephew Pierre. More than a few vignerons will insist on taking us off-piste, up into one hillside vineyard or another. We taste here and there, though not everywhere. We eat well, though not always traditional Burgundian fare: alongside my first oeufs en meurette, I experience snails as a pizza topping and a hasty kebab in La Roche-Vineuse. I’m breaking bread and spending time with some of the most passionate and knowledgeable wine people I’ve ever met. And I’m seeing how a place like Burgundy can make you want to be a wine person, or more of one. I am starting to like Burgundy.
It’s Monday morning in Beaune. I’m back in Burgundy with a slightly bigger team (and considerably more video equipment) than last year. We take a walk through the town’s streets, which are quiet but for one large group of tourists filtering in and out of the Hospices, and two municipal workers operating loud machinery. We have a croissant and coffee outside, despite it not being breakfast-outside weather. We talk about our plan for the week: the people we’ll met, the places we’ll see, the stories we’ll capture. There are some interesting names on our list: Lafarge, Colin and Liger-Belair. It’s going to be a good week.
Before long, it’s time to get going. Our first stop takes us down into the Côte de Beaune. I spend the next four days with colleagues who have become friends. I spot things that I wouldn’t have spotted before. I recognise the odd name here, the odd street-sign there. That’s the Hill of Corton there. Oh, we’re in Corgoloin; I know a bit about this place. Burgundy is no longer brand new, no longer a total mystery.
It is, of course, still mysterious. It’s complicated in a way that I will never in a million years fully comprehend.
Christmas is almost upon us, and it’ll soon be time for me to make another trip, this time back home to my family in Dublin. I am, to a considerable degree, a Bordeaux fiend, and I generally like nothing better at this time of year than a dusty old Claret or a rich, textured white from Pessac-Léognan.
I’m not sure that that’ll change (and I don’t think I’d want it to), but something tells me that a bottle of something Burgundian may find its way into my suitcase this year.