Reminiscences of a Wine Collector (Part Three)

On Burgundy...

Geoffrey Luce
February 2020

This is the third chapter of my monograph: Stories, experiences, and advice that I hope you will find entertaining, compelling, and useful. You can find me on Instagram @winebarter. I encourage you to go back and read the first two installments if you haven't yet.

I love Burgundy. But it requires a lot more work relative to Bordeaux to understand it. No dear reader, you are not alone. I had many, many aborted attempts to understand the wines of Burgundy. I liken it to my attempts to read War and Peace for the first, second, and even the fifth time. There are just too many names, too many that refer to the same person, too many connections. But I found in reading this book, and it is one of my absolute favorites, I finally began to understand only after placing the characters in a framework of relationships and their families. And it’s well worth the effort, because it is a rich and absorbing story, with heroes and heroines, contextual in history, which I came to love. So too the wines of Burgundy. Read that sentence again, and the subject matter could easily be Burgundy.

The essence of Burgundy is the concept of terroir. ‘Terroir’ refers to all the natural elements – the geography, the contours of the land, the slope’s facing direction, the inclination to the sun, the geology, the type of soil, drainage characteristics, climate, typical rainfall - everything that GOD and nature have bequeathed to that particular climat that makes it unique. These are the permanent things as opposed to weather and other transitory elements that the winemaker is given in a particular vintage. And a word about vintage - The vintage year for a Burgundy is much less important to collectors than for any other wine region, because it is interesting to see what the winemaker was able to do with what he/she was given. Some years were free from challenges, but some had challenges of heat, some were ravaged by hailstorms, some with frost after flowering, some with too much rain, some with too little; but after everything was said and done what did the wine in the glass show? This is also the reason why producers are so important in this region. Think Henri Jayer, Lalou Bize-Leroy, Christophe Roumier, Aubert-de-Villaine, Jean-Claude Ramonet, etc.

I had read several books about Burgundy and subscribed to Allen Meadows's The Burghound before I ever stepped foot on this hallowed ground. But I have to tell you that it’s much easier to understand these wines if you visit. Of course, it all starts with a map of the Côte d’Or, which begins just south of Dijon and extends past the city of Beaune. The Côte d’Or is made up of the Côte-de-Nuits in the north where the great red Burgundies are located and the Côte-de-Beaune just south of Beaune where the Grand Cru whites are produced.

If you do travel there, I think Beaune is a good home base from which to explore. When you are planning your trip, I recommend looking through Allen Meadows’s travel guide which is complete with restaurant reviews to make at least that part of the trip easier to navigate. Set up appointments to visit a whole range of producers, obviously with ones you love at the top of your list. Our typical day went something like this: We started tasting each morning say at 10am or 11am, lunch at 1pm with wine, followed by nap, and then dinner at 8pm with wine of course. Glorious!

During our first trip in 2014, we dined at Bistro L'Hotel, Ma Cuisine, Abbaye-de-la Bussiere, Caveau-des-Arches, La Cabotte in Nuits-St-Georges, Caves Madeleine, La Ferme-de-la Ruchotte, and La Ciboulette. All great meals. What was so much fun was that when Laura and I were dining alone we were sharing wines with the nearest table... so we met a lot of people. My starter at Ma Cuisine was my favorite: Allan Meadows recommended Oeufs with Black Truffles. I have no words for how good that was! Best meal overall: Bistro L'Hotel.

Let me share with you a story... really an adventure. In general, we were taking the D974 in and out of Beaune; they call it the Rue-des-Grand Crus. But we could see "roads" in the middle of the vines and of course I wanted to see the wall with the stone DRC marker. Some fellow travelers told us you can ride bicycles in there that you can rent at the train station. Caroline Parent had told us that is where the DRC marker is and that you could drive your car on that "road" as well. So, after lunch one day we set out with this goal in mind. I cut into the vines just north of Nuits-St-Georges around Vosne-Romanée. We were in a Mercedes C class and we didn't see the marker on the nearer "road" so we headed up to the path (no one would consider this a road, and since it had been raining everyday it was mud) up the hill within the vines with more elevation. That was a mistake(!)... But we eventually made it out of the quagmire. I had to get out of the car and walk in front with Laura driving to determine if we could proceed forward. Anyway, against the normal male aversion, since I didn't want to abandon my quest, I decided to ask for directions. We had a French speaker with us -- my niece Stephanie who lived in Paris. Anyway, we were passing a cemetery and two older gentlemen were getting out of their car, so we approached them asking about the DRC marker. They knew exactly what we were talking about. They took us to DRC's building where we then had to further explain that we were seeking the stone marker in the wall. They knew where that was too, of course. At the marker designating the Romanée-Conti vineyard, we took photos of them and us. And then they wanted to take us to La Tache. And then to the Chateau at Clos Vougeot to look at the vault where the La Confrerie-des-Chevaliers-du-Tastevin has a room of wines that they designated as great. Amazing! We said our goodbyes and it was time to drive back to Beaune for our nap.

On our most recent trip over the Summer of 2018, we traveled with a group from Wilson Daniels to the festival Musique et Vin. On the first night of the festival we attended a La Paulée-style dinner at Château de Meursault. Historically La Paulée-de-Meursault refers to a traditional end-of-harvest celebration in Burgundy. In 2000 Daniel Johnnes, the wine director for Daniel Boulud’s restaurant group, brought this tradition to the US starting La Paulée as an homage to “the Burgundy spirit of generosity and camaraderie.” In recent years, the American version has alternated between New York and San Francisco. The next one is March 4-7, 2020 in New York City.

La Paulée-style dinners are popping up everywhere. They are BYO events where guests bring extraordinary wines to share with the remuneration being bragging rights and the willingness of others to fill your glass with wines they brought. These are tremendously fun events, boisterous, and festive with great food, wine, frivolity, and singing of the La-La song complete with hand waving and clapping. We met so many people and tasted so much fabulous wine. I brought 2005 Vogüé Bonnes Mares. Wilson Daniels made arrangements to have our wines shipped over together. Some other bottles at our table were 1999 DRC Romanée-St-Vivant in magnum, 2000 DRC La Tâche in magnum, 2002 La Tâche, 1993 Rousseau Chambertin, 2005 Coche-Dury Puligny Les Enseignères, 2011 Raveneau Valmur, 2001 Vogüé Les Amoureuses, among others. See what I mean? This is certainly a lifetime memory that I cherish.

The book I like most on Burgundy is Clive Coates’s My Favorite Burgundies, published in 2013. I like it because he provides detailed maps of where different owners are situated for important climats, as well as tasting notes which I think you know by now that I am a fan of. The definitive book has recently been written by Allen Meadows and Doug Barzelay titled Burgundy Vintages, A History from 1845 .

I hope you enjoyed reading this. It was fun remembering. We all have different passions, and it is especially rewarding being with people who share yours. Wine people are the best people. They are friendly, generous, and giving. Cheers until next time.

By Geoffrey Luce
January 2020