Story and Photos by Alan Harper - October 2003
French wine production has been highly regulated and controlled for centuries, and nowhere is this sophisticated stewardship more obsessive than in Burgundy. Individual parcels of land called climats, some just a few acres, have names. Each is known for its unique character: a combination of soil, gradient, and how much sun it gets. The best of them—the Grand Cru and Premier Cru climats—produce their own wines. So, for example, the finest white wine in Burgundy—some would say in the world—comes from Le Montrachet, a narrow, east-facing field between two villages. The climat immediately above, Chevalier Montrachet, has stonier soil; its wine has less depth. Just down the hill, the wine from Bâtard Montrachet comes from heavier ground and so lacks the finesse of its neighbor. Three distinct wines, yet from top to bottom of all three climats, it’s barely 500 yards.
Burgundy reds come from the distinctive black currant Pinot Noir grape. Whites are almost invariably Chardonnay, that rich, flowery grape so beloved of the Australians and Californians, but here used to create a more delicate wine, less pungent, subtler. Almost uniquely in France, Burgundy winemakers don’t blend grape varieties.
The noble Burgundy vines owe much to America. First a U.S. import, the root-chomping phylloxera bug just about wiped out the European vineyards at the end of the 19th century. Then it was discovered that the roots of U.S.-grown vines were immune to its attack, so even now all European vines are grafted onto American roots. It’s a kind of horticultural imperialism.—A.H.
This article originally appeared in the September 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.