It’s a rainy night in Prague as I look out the window towards the woody hills of the Mala Strana. The streetlights play on the wet glass and mimic the invisible stars hiding above the clouds.
Realising I’m now in the 7th country of this trip, I’d best get a move on on updating the details of the journey.
Leaving the Western side of France and enduring a long 6 hour drive across the country filled with paddocks of white Charolais cows, we arrived in the walled city of Beaune, former fortified home to the Grand Duchy of Burgundy. The ramparts still stand as daunting armour to guard the heart of the city.
The Burgundians rule during the middle ages was a kingdom of valuable lands that stretched from France through to Belgium. We would see the immense history of this reign as we moved further north on our trip.
Beaune lies almost in the middle of Burgundy, with Lyon to the south & Dijon to the north it was a perfect position to camp for a few days. With many large wine houses like Bouchard and Louis Latour situated there, the smell of fermentation filled the air. More importantly, it is also the home of Alex Gambal, to whom I must deliver 2 bottles of precious cargo as a gift from David Lloyd of Eldridge Estate.
Arriving towards the end of vendange, an understandably tired Alex was a little dubious as to who I was and what this strange request to meet was. After a 2 minute introduction and explanation, Alex was visibly touched by David’s gesture.
Discussion of the 2012 vintage detailed the incredible diversity that nature can put on show, and to quote Alex ‘none of the old guys have ever seen a vintage like this.’
Storms, heat, rain and hail all contributed to the individuality of this season where crop levels will be extremely low but those that got fruit in are expecting decent quality.
Burgundy is a daunting place for a wine lover without contacts. Although there are wineries everywhere, not many are open for public walk-ins. Alex was invaluable with some help as to where to start, we headed for the Co-op cellars of Chassagne-Montrachet. Chardonnay may be Chardonnay…but the differences in body, structure, flavour, smell and colour of 2 wines from the same vintage, but from vineyards simply metres apart can be a revelation.
The look of exclamation and realisation on my wife’s face, after tasting two Premier Cru whites and armed with a vineyard map, was one of the memorable moments of the whole trip when she discovered that the wines were a dichotomy..as individual and as related as fingerprints on thumb & forefinger belonging to the same hand.
Of course, Burgundy’s most famous flagship wines are those from hills rising sharply behind the tiny speck of a village, Vosne-Romanee and the eponymous Domaine Romanee Conti that produces the most expensive Pinot Noirs in the world.
Arriving early by car, we were alone on the road that intersects the precious paddocks of Romanee Conti, La Romanee, Romanee St Vivant and Richebourg. The crossroad parallel with the Grand Rue, leading to the sizeable (for the area) La Tache was where we simply sat on the wall to soak in the moment.
A cool, crisp morning with bright sun clearly giving the demarcations of the sibling vineyards, I made a little promise to myself that I will drink these wines in my lifetime!
Other devotees on the same pilgrimage then started arriving at this revered site, the same looks of rapture on their visages mirrored my own from minutes previously. Cameras pointing, flashes sparking. Phone calls being made to all corners of the globe in an effort to share the moment and convey the joyous feeling with a physically absent fellow wine lover (to do this and not create an envious response is a difficult task!).
Our chambre d’hotes landlady had recommended a visit to a pretty nearby township that wasn’t on our initial plan, but we trusted her view and made our way to Pernand-Vergelesses in the hills above Savigny-les-Beaune.
A tiny township built on a sharply rising hillside, the steep switchback streets were best attacked on foot. Gorgeous tiled rooves replicating the exquisite Hospice de Beaune adorned the houses, whilst the communal lavoirs, centuries old, were well placed to take advantage of the natural waterflows from the tor above.
Completing our ascent we were rewarded an incredible panoramic vista of the valley of the Cote d’Or beneath us. Patchworks of green vines competed with the autumnal orange of the forests Our landlady had done well.
A pre-existing appointment at the cellars of Domaine Pierre Guillemot in nearby Savigny-les-Beaune cut short our sightseeing.
The medium bodied and floral reds from the surrounding Premier Cru vineyards provided one of the vinous highlights of the trip in the 2007 Les Serpentieres.
Ripe cherries and light brambles with a velvet tail that left a desire for more, it was an absolute steal at €16.
A big thanks to Neville Yates of Eurocentric for his recommendation.
The universe has a way of rewarding those who do good turns, so the delivery of David Eldridge’s wines led us to his friend and fellow Australian winemaker George Mihaly of Paradigm Hill who was finishing up vendange with Thierry of Domaine Guillermard in Pommard. A tasting was hastily arranged with Thierry in his cellar with the guests of their chambre d’hotes.
George only briefly present for the introductions before heading to the TGV back to Paris for his flight home.
Very little English was spoken at the tasting but wine crosses lingual barriers and Thierry was a very generous interpreter. Each bottle he fetched from deeper in his cellar dazzingly trumped the one before it: culminating in an exquisite Criots Batard that dripped with power, elegance and flavour.
Unfortunately due to differing schedules, I missed a chance to catch up for a beer witih Joe Holyman of Stoney Rise winery in Tasmania who was also in Beaune at the same time…it seemed that there was an Australian invasion of workers there for vendange.
The next day after checking out (a tip for travellers: unless you want to be looked at like a drug dealer, make sure the biggest note you try to use is €100. €500 raises more suspicion than a balaclava in a bank), our little Pablo was once again packed & saddled ready for the continuation northwards to Champagne.