Burgundy wines are made in the Burgundy region of eastern France which includes the slopes and valleys to the west of the Saone River. The region ranges from Auxerre (north) to Macon (south), and sometimes includes the city of Lyon if Beaujolais wines are considered as part of the Burgundy wine producing region. Near Auxerre, Chablis, a white wine made from Chardonnay grapes, is produced. The most famous of Burgundy’s wines originate south of there, in the Cote d’Or, where all the “Grand Cru” vineyards are situated, with the exception of Chablis Grand Cru.
The Cote d’Or is divided into the Cote de Nuits, south of Dijon to Corgoloin, and the Cote de Beaune, which runs from Ladoix to Dezize-les-Maranges. This region, in the heart of Burgundy is small – only about 40 km long, and only a couple of kilometres wide in some parts. Because the vineyards are located on the eastern side of a hilly area, they are protected from rain and the prevailing westerly winds. The Grand Cru vineyards, which produce the best wines, are usually on the mid and higher slopes, where the grapes get the most sun exposure and the best drainage. Premier Cru wines are grown lower on the slopes, and the “village” or table wines are produced in the flat territories of the area.
Farther south, the Macon region produces white wine in large quantities, and still farther south the fruity red Beaujolais wines are made from Gamay grapes. One of the main reasons why so many different types and grades of wine are made in Burgundy is that the region is home to numerous different micro climates, and some parts of the region can experience hail, rain, and even frost during harvest time.
Evidence of wine making in the region goes back to the first century CE, and for centuries Roman Catholic monks were very influential in Burgundy wine making. In the year 587 King Guntram made the first recorded donation of a vineyard to the church, and the church’s influence was even more pronounced during the era of Charlemagne.
The Benedictines and the Cistercians were the biggest vineyard owners in Burgundy for several centuries, with the Cistercians creating the Clos de Vougeot, the largest walled vineyard in Burgundy. Most of the Burgundy wines produced during medieval times remained in Burgundy because the area was land-locked and wine generally had to be transported by waterways in barrels.
During the 20th century, the economic depression of the 1930s and the devastation of the Second World War resulted in much rebuilding of the vineyards afterwards. It took until the mid-1950s for the vineyards to return to health, indeed producing some of the best wines of the 20th century during that time.
Wine-based tourism in Burgundy is extremely popular in the 21st century, with holidaymakers participating in wine tastings, exploring the wine trails of the region and taking vocational classes in wine making there. The region is a popular place to get married, take cooking classes, and ramble leisurely through the vineyards. And the world-famous gastronomic traditions of the Burgundy region ensure that even a teetotaller has plenty of sensory delights to look forward to in this beautiful and culturally rich region of France.