A statue of wine-pickers in Puligny-Montrachet

A Pause to Sip Wine in Burgundy

A few days ago, I set off from our Olive Farm overlooking the Bay of Cannes in the south of France on a nine-hour drive to our northern home east of Paris situated a few miles west of the border to the Champagne region. As I was travelling alone, I decided to take the timing at my own speed rather than my husband’s more hurried pace. In fact, I decided to break the journey with a stopover when and wherever the mood took me. I love such open-ended choices. It feels more like an adventure than a journey. The sun was shining; it was a very warm day. I made five hours without any stress and pulled up in Beaune for petrol and then decided that I would take my pause there. Not in the city centre – it has a one-way system which takes some patience and negotiating. 

Beaune is the wine capital, the epicentre of Burgundy in the Côte d’Or department, also known as the Slopes of Gold.

I checked into a modest hotel on the outskirts of the city. It had an outdoor swimming pool alongside which they were serving dinner accompanied by a choice of fine Burgundy wines. I ate my meal beneath the stars while sipping an excellent Beaune red. Perhaps it was the headiness of the fine wine but I decided that the next morning instead of heading directly to the motorway I would investigate a few of the neighbouring villages along the Burgundy Grand Cru route and try to discover a little of the local wine history about which I am fairly ignorant.

The following morning, I was again blessed by beautiful sunshine, beaming 25C. Perfect for a little motor along the lanes flanked by ancient plane trees. The vineyards were humming with life. The byways were slowed by tractor traffic.  

The cabs of these “speciality” tractors are high off the ground. The body looks very narrow. I assume they are designed specifically for vineyards and are used only for work in vine fields. The tyres roll either side of the vine rows, with the main body of the machine straddling the plants. The design, I think, is to avoid bruising the grapes. 

Most of the tractors I travelled behind were transporting wide-winged spraying machines filled with insecticides, which was a little troubling to see. It must be spraying season.

I had set my mental compass for Puligny-Montrachet, ten kilometres south of Beaune. Here is where some of the world’s most famous white wines are produced. This meticulously kept village with a population of less than 500 inhabitants is a pilgrimage site for many wine connoisseurs. 

Looking about, it seemed that everyone was earning their living through the production of this first-class wine because I was hard put to find a café for a morning cup of coffee and I did not see a single shop. Not so much as a tabac to purchase a copy of Le Monde. Eventually, I came across a lovely bar with outdoor terrace shaded by vines. Hélas, they shrugged, they were only serving wine. Even for me a little after nine in the morning is a bit early to imbibe!

Puligny-Montrachet seemed to exist solely for the produce of its vineyards. All the buildings, clusters of houses and caveaux selling or offering dégustations of the local wines are constructed from the local stone, which is pale in colour, almost white, and very elegant. A caveau, by the way, is historically a vault or a sepulchre where families buried their dead. In modern times here, they are used as wine-tasting cellars. Due to the thick stone walls, they keep the wines ideally cool.

The village of Puligny-Montrachet has two squares, in one of which I drank my morning coffee while watching the world (less than a dozen people!) go about its day. The postman dropped by delivering a couple of parcels to the house alongside the cafe-bistro where I was seated. Four elderlies from Yorkshire cycled by and then decided to stop for coffee. Cycling is a big tourist attraction in this sleepy and very leafy area. Cycling and wine-tasting. The thought of this combination brought some comical images to mind.

As I sat sipping my coffee, I wondered about the history of this lovely settlement which covers a mere 7.28 km2 and yet has a highly-prized international reputation for producing some of the very best wines in the world. The Montrachet whites are produced from the Chardonnay grape. Their reds are pressed from the Pinot Noir or Pinot Nero variety.

The Chardonnay vines were first planted in France in and around Chablis, which is north of both Puligny-Montrachet and Beane. Chablis is yet another town along this Burgundy Grand Cru route that seems entirely dedicated to its wine-production. The Cistercian monks who founded Pontigny Abbey in the Chablis region planted up their Chardonnay vineyards in the 12th Century.

 Abbaye de Pontigny

I got chatting to the lady who was serving the coffees. She told me that the mother monastery for the Cistercians in this region is Cîteaux Abbey in Saint-Nicholas-lès-Citeaux. I confess I hadn’t heard of it till I made this little stopover. Founded on Saint Benedict’s Day (21st March)  in 1098, this was the original house of the Cistercian fathers and it is still occupied today by thirty-five Trappist monks. In the Middle Ages, they produced cheese and, she told me, they still sell their famous cheese.

The monks were originally… [Read the rest of the article at The History Girls >>]

Similar Posts