VinoTripping Blog

Burgundy and surprises

Burgundy:  I had been warned I may see things I couldn’t unsee in Burgundy.  I wasn’t sure what that meant, and my imagination certainly played out the possibilities before we arrived, but overall we had a great time.  It was about a 5 hour drive from Bordeaux, so we got on the road early.  The drive was easy and beautiful.  The Burgundy area of France is laid out in tiny villages along their escarpment and it was easy to navigate.  As you drive that region, you see tiny towns around estates, and the little villages carry the names of unbelievable wines I had only read about or heard talked about as outstanding wines.  It was so cool to be sitting in a café in Morey St. Denis when I LOVE Morey St. Denis wines. 

Fact:  In France, you pretty much stay sober when you are touring as the tours last 2 hours and you typically only taste 2 wines, 4 maybe.

We arrived in Beaune late that afternoon and to our delight, our hotel was absolutely gorgeous.  We stayed at Hotel Le Cep, right in the center of Beane. There were restaurants and quaint shops all around us, however it was Castille Day, so many were closed.  Our only regret is that we didn’t have more time to shop.

When we arrived, I consulted with the sommelier of the hotel and he showed us their new gorgeous cellar and their outstanding collection.  Should you arrive and Beaune and hope to purchase some of the best wines in the area, I highly recommend you consult with Bernard at Hotel Le Cep.  If not, hang out with the bartender for some great tips of the region. 

Our room was beautiful and had a balcony overlooking the courtyard of the hotel.  We had a glass of wine at the bar and then headed out for dinner without reservations.  After a 15 minute walk around town, we settled on a restaurant overlooking a small square and enjoyed dinner with two outstanding wines.  When checking out, I asked if we could put a tip on our credit card and the waiter said absolutely.  His English was not impeccable, though most people we found throughout France had a very strong understanding of English.  I asked him to put $5 on the card, showing him 5 on my hand.  Unfortunately, he put $50 on the card.  It started pouring, he rushed to offer his umbrella and since we did not know how we were going to get Michelle back to the hotel without an umbrella, we chose not to correct him, but to let him keep the tip.  As Michelle reasoned, an uber would have cost an equal amount, so it all worked out in the end.  To top of the fantastic evening, we went to the hotel bar and consulted with the bartender.  He gave us a lesson on Burgundy wine labels and the classe system in the area, while we enjoyed glasses of wine with him.  By the time we went to bed, we had a firm grasp on Burgundy and the fact that the Burgundians don’t fully understand the classification system either.  We forgot our lessons and hastened to bed as we had a bike wine tour the next day.

We rose early, jumped in the car and headed down the wine trail from Beaune to Dijon.  The views were outstanding and we drove into a few of the little villages for vistas and cafes for espresso.  We arrived in Dijon and attempted to find the mustard factory.  Unfortunately, Dijon is a big city and we were limited on time, so we drove around a bit and then headed back down to Beaune for our bike tour. We stopped for a quick wine tasting on the road at a small estate that had been recommended to us, and then on to our bike tour.

Back in Beaune, we drove several blocks to our bike tour shop.  We were greeted and assigned bikes for our tour.  As we left the shop, I was a bit concerned about how far we would have to drive to find these vineyards, but we literally went right, and within 2 minutes we were out of the small city and into the Beaune vineyards.  It was hard to see because when you are in the city, it is fairly flat, but just past the buildings you are right there in the fields.

We rode over and across and through the fields, by medieval walls, past signs of legendary winemaking villages.  It felt like we traveled back in time, aside from the tractors that were pruning the vines.  We passed one UNESCO historical preservation site, where they were preserving the buildings where the winemakers tending the fields used to stay.  We then rode across the street to additional vineyards.  And that’s where I saw it….  We stopped to view rows of vines and talk about vineyard management.  It was explained that these plots of lands have been handed down from generation to generation, great-grandfather to grandfather, sons to sons to daughters.  Cousins own rows here or there.  There was a particular area where there were two long rows of vines (see pictures) and you could see the vineyard manager had elected to let the grass between the rows grow, the next two rows the vineyard manager had decided to cut the grass… and then the next two rows, the vineyard manager had used roundup to kill the growth in between his rows.  (WHAT?!?!?)

Controlling the growth between vines is always a vineyard managers choice, depending on the weather, the drainage and what they want influencing their vines and ultimately their grapes.  Using roundup, that has been found to cause cancer and god knows what else, will leach into their vines, but also into the neighboring vines and soil.  Now I knew what I had been warned about.  In Burgundy, there have been practices that have been handed down from generation to generation and there are winemakers who predominantly use organic and sustainable techniques, as widely practiced in Europe.  However, because of the history and laws in Burgundy, there are some winemakers with questionable practices.  There still are world class, unbelievably great wines, BUT I haven’t ever actually seen something like this.

After snapping our pictures and expressing our outrage, the group continued on through the vineyards, across the road toward the slope, up the hill, passed medieval walls and then up, up, up – climbing through a small city to a lovely vista.  There we stopped and looked out over Burgundy.  We were in Volnay and we tasted two white wines, one Verdejo Vinho and the other a White Burgundy (chardonnay).  The others in our group became friendlier as we headed back on our bikes, down the hill to a small local vineyard in Volnay, where the gracious winemaker from a small winery, Chateau Lahay, gave us a tour of her operations and then we sat down to her family table to try her lovely wines.  There we met two restauranteurs from CA, part of our group traveling with their two children on holiday who seemingly enjoy riding bikes through the countryside.  We met a honeymooning couple, one of whom is a rep from Gallo and who was just lovely.  We also were traveling with a dentist from a small island (Morea?), part of France, and his wife and friends.    As we rode back we shared stories and insights.  We really had a great time on this eye-opening bike tour. 

We arrived back in Beaune, and as the shops were still closed, we prepared to go to dinner.  We again walked through the city with no reservations, picked a small restaurant, and were delighted by the fantastic food and wine that we enjoyed.

We were sad to leave Beaune the next day, and agreed some time touring the small shops would have been just what we needed, but we had reservations in Reims in Champagne and so, after a quick breakfast in the courtyard, we headed to the car and to the road to the long awaited trip to Champagne.

Goodbye Beaune.  Hello Champagne!!!… glitz, glammer… or so I thought….

About Author

After graduating from Brandeis University, Alison worked as a teacher at two of the top high schools in the country and spent her summers traveling the world. On one of her adventures, she visited Stellenbosch and Paarl in South Africa, which ignited a lifelong passion for learning about wine. In 2004, she worked as a Wine Consultant for the Traveling Vineyard and began to study wine more intensively. While working as a high tech recruiter, she completed her Advanced Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust in the UK in 2018. Her wine travels have taken her to the wine growing regions of the US, Europe, Africa and Australia. Alison is a member of the Boston Sommelier Society, a member of the Guild of Master Sommeliers and is a Wine, Travel and Lifestyle Media Influencer. Currently, after leaving her recruiting career, Alison is running her business, Artisan Wine Group, teaching wine courses, running private and corporate wine events and organizing wine tours.

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