© 2016 Chris Terrell
I must confess that wine wasn’t the sole reason I went to Burgundy. This was not intended to be a “wine tour.” In fact, I’ve always found the “wine tour”—at the least the Napa Valley version—to be hackneyed. Don’t get me wrong, I love wine, and I love Pinot, but not in that crazy Miles-from-Sideways kind of way. When it comes to French wine (which I do love), my go-to regions have always been the Rhône and Bordeaux.
Yeah, I was due for an attitude adjustment.
When we drove into Burgundy for the first time, it was like one’s first trip to the Louvre: “wow, there’s a Renoir!”; “look at that, a Monet!”; “that’s a Picasso!” It was a struggle to focus on the road and not gawk at so many well-known places: Volnay, Pommard, Gevry-Chambertin, and Meursault. It was like walking into a bar in 1967 and finding The Who, the Rolling Stones,and the Doors all playing at the same time. But it’s even more than that because in Burgundy you can walk up to, and sometimes into, the vineyards and talk directly with the winemakers themselves. It’s like going into that bar and playing guitar with Pete Townsend.
During an afternoon drive from Beaune to Saisy, a bit groggy from lunch, I pulled off the main road into Pommard (Remember what I said about this not being a wine tour?) and found a co-op selling local wines. I was quickly greeted by a friendly and enthusiastic young woman (who says the French are rude!), who proudly gave me a mini-education about the wines of Pommard.
She talked about how she wanted to visit America. I talked about my love of France. We both talked about our differences as a people—gregarious and optimistic Americans vs. the reserved and cynical French, although we both agreed that Texans are big and bombastic. An entente cordiale!
Scooping up my wines, I energetically ran back to the Renault. I pulled onto the D973, heading back to Saisy. But wait! Is that a sign for Volnay? I thought. I couldn’t resist. After all, the first Burgundy I ever tasted in my life came from Volnay. How could I not stop?
I parked the Renault so I could better explore the village on foot. Laura promptly fell asleep in the car. (My enthusiasm for wine touring was waxing, and hers was clearly waning.) I walked around the village, past an old somnolent church on this random Wednesday—Volnay is a village of barely 300.
As I made my way back to the car, I noticed a vigneron’s shop, with a sign proudly displayed that read “open; tasting.” I walked into what looked like someone’s home, and it probably was. An older, slim, bald gentleman, who looked remarkably similar to Patrick Stewart, greeted me with a warm, yet formal, “Bonjour.” In my best halting restaurant French, I inquired about tasting his wine. His eyes lit up: “Mais oui!” We went down into the cellar where he let me try several of his wines: One from Pommard and two from Volnay. I bought all three.
After Volnay, back on the D973 to Saisy. Then I saw the sign for Meursault, a village famous for its whites. Another tasting. Another two bottles of wine. And yet still it was not the last tasting; I was determined.
This time—from Dijon to Saisy—we visited Gevry-Chambertin, one of the more famous villages in Burgundy. Two more tastings and four more bottles of wine. Here, one vigneron was a newbie, having only been in the business since the late 18th century. The second one was a bit more of a veteran.
We walked into a parking lot situated between two buildings and a vineyard right to our left. Wine had been made here since the 17th century. We heard barking, both human and adult, and a young child’s giggles. Otherwise, the place was quiet. Suddenly a dog bounded up the stairs from the cellar, quickly followed by a boy around six or seven. Next, came his rather stern looking mother.
As best I could, I told her that we would like to taste some of their family’s wines. With an efficient wave of her hand, she directed us to the tasting room. We tasted several. This was damn good wine; even the young ones were good. We obviously saved the best for last. But it wasn’t just the wine that made this tasting so enjoyable. This was where a family had lived for generations making wine.
I helped the young boy with his English, teaching him to count from one to ten. (He was quite good.) Mom began to smile. We all got a good laugh when the dog Gaston—he had a name by this point—ate the crackers. As we left, the mom was insistent that Luc—he too had a name by this point—thank us and say goodbye in English, but he would have none of it. Chocolate was clearly denied as a result of this breach of manners, and he ran off, but when we walked back, I turned and saw him scamper back to the cellar with a piece of chocolate in his hand. Good to know that the infamous French parent may on occasion be soft as an American.
We arrived back to our cottage just as the sun was setting—just in time for dinner. Thankfully, I had the foresight to buy at least one bottle of wine that we could drink that night. As the lamb chops were braising, I opened the back door and looked out at the fields we would be leaving soon. I was both content and sad at the same time—that whole “parting is such sweet sorrow” thing.
I thought to myself, “Damn I love this place.”