I am pleased to share my Burgundy wine tour experience with the Wine Scholar Guild, as it was the trip of a lifetime. My wife and I arrived a couple of days early and enjoyed fine wine and dining in Paris before our quick train trip over to Beaune (via Dijon). We spent Sunday on our own, touring the Hospices de Beaune, wandering the city streets and having a lovely dinner.
On Monday morning, we met many of our colleagues in the hotel’s breakfast area and friendships were formed rapidly. Andrew Jefford (the group leader) was already surrounded by a group of admirers. Mary, our travel coordinator, gathered us all onto the bus and the week officially began. Mary began the tour by assuring us that she would take care of any and all problems and asked only that we keep to the schedule so that the visits would proceed as planned. She could not have been more professional nor more helpful from the opening moments through the time we parted ways in Dijon on Friday afternoon.
Most of Monday was spent in the Côte de Nuits and therefore there was relatively little “bus time,” but Andrew did give us a brief overview of our day’s visits. The day began with a stop at Louis Jadot where we learned how a huge négociant operates. The host then treated us to a spectacular tasting of about 10 wines, culminating with a Corton and a Corton-Charlemagne. We learned quickly that we were going to have to learn to spit in order to survive the week. We next took a short hike through the vineyards of Vosne Romanée, looking at the dirt and admiring the understated Romanée Conti plot and its beautiful surroundings. The hike was followed by a great lunch accompanied by a generous serving of local wines. It was at this point that the group decided to take turns sitting next to Andrew so that each of us could learn from his every word during the meals.
The afternoon tastings included a trip to Clos de Tart where we toured the vineyard, spoke with head winemaker, Jacques and drank several incredible wines from recent vintages. Many of the women in the group found the charming Jacques as appealing as the wines he produced. Chateau de la Tour in Vougeot was next. We were again treated to a wonderful tour and an extensive tasting program before returning to our hotel. The day ended with a group dinner at L’Ecusson restaurant in Beaune – a perfect opening day!
At Clos de Tart with Jacques Devauges
At Chateau de la Tour at Clos Vougeot
Day two began early (and with some groans), as we all amassed for the two hour drive up to Chablis. Andrew led a thoughtful and analytic discussion of Chablis, and caught us up on some of the other information we needed to know about the Côte de Nuits. Most of the group slept for a little bit as we made our way up to Chablis, but everyone was wide awake for the vista stop to see the wall of Grand Crus! Thereafter, we toured Domaine William Fevre, spending time with the winemaker out in the Grand Cru vineyards! Our visit there finished with a tasting of 12 different wines, including many from the Grand Cru climats. We had a lovely lunch in Chablis and there was no lack of wine, despite our liquid breakfast! We walked down the block to Domaine Droin, where Benoit, the winemaker and owner, shared another 12-13 wines with us, complete with his impassioned explanations and philosophies. Andrew provided enough questions to keep the entertaining commentary moving along! Before leaving Chablis, we headed over to Chablisienne to experience a cooperative winemaking operation. We were again greeted with enthusiasm and treated to an entire menu of paired tastings, each selected to make a specific point about terroir or vintage year. We left for the long drive home and most of the group slept, likely induced, at least in part, by the fact that we had tasted more than 35 wines in the course of the day. My wife and I had another great dinner in Beaune that night.
Wednesday morning started with breakfast. There was lots of comradery and laughter as we headed back onto the bus for a nearby destination. Our first stop in the Cote de Beaune found us at Domaine Jean-Noel Gagnard. The winemaker took us into her home where we gathered in the basement cave and tasted a wide assortment of wines. It began with a Bourgogne regional appellation and worked up to several wonderful Chassagne-Montrachet premier crus. The setting was magical and our hostess was simply delightful and fully engaged with all of our group members. A 2008 Boudriotte was the final act and the “oohs” and “ahhs” were dramatic.
We moved on to Domaine de la Pousse d’Or in Volnay where we witnessed some fantastic innovations. The winemaking operations here work totally with gravity so that grapes are treated gently from beginning to end. We were shown newly developed barrel attachments that enabled the visualization of malolactic fermentation and allows for barrel topping without oxidation – amazing stuff! We then proceeded to the caves (some of which were hundreds of years old) to have an extensive tasting. Our hostess asked, “What would you like to taste? ”and Andrew helpfully took the group through a graduated program that allowed us to taste a panoply of spectacular wines. At one point, we got to taste a wine of which only two barrels exist! The generosity shown to the group was incredible. We ate lunch at Le Montrachet, a Michelin one-star restaurant, and Andrew and Mary must have thought we looked thirsty, as the fantastic wines kept flowing. Then we had an opportunity for a leisurely stroll through Puligny-Montrachet and lots of picture taking.
Alain from William Fèvre showing group Chablis Grand Cru
Tasting elegant Volnays with Frédéric Lafarge from Domaine Michel Lafarge
The afternoon visit was at Domaine Michel Lafarge, where we walked through the biodynamic vineyards, met the house chickens, learned about hail-damage prevention efforts and ultimately tasted an abundance of spectacular wines (one of which my wife helpfully described as seductive). We had a great dinner in Beaune at a romantic place called 21 Boulevard, and since we were not trying any with the program, my wife and I shared a bottle of Puligny Montrachet. Another fantastic day!
Thursday involved a pretty drive down to the Mâconnais (about an hour trip), and Andrew gave us a lesson on the geological differences between this region and the Côte d’Or. We had a great visit at Domaine Thibert Pere et Fils in Pouilly-Fuissé, where again, we were treated to about a dozen wines. We toured the facilities and saw many more innovative technologies in a rapidly growing operation. We stopped for a wonderful lunch before heading back north into the Côte Chalonnaise. We stopped first at Domaine Michel Juillot where we were met by the winemaker and owner. He was very gracious as he poured a wide range of wines from the region. En route to Bouzeron, we stopped in Rully, a picturesque village and took a few photographs. The last stop for the day was at Domaine de Villaine in Bouzeron. In addition to an extensive tasting menu, we were treated to an engaging philosophical commentary regarding all aspects of biodynamic farming (and just about anything else that came to mind) by our host. He charmed us with his stories and his passion. Oh – and the wines were great, too.
With Thierry Brouin barrel tasting at Clos des Lambrays
Pierre de Benoist from Domaine de Villaine giving a fascinating presentation to the group
After a short break in the hotel, the group gathered for the five minute walk to the Jardin des Remparts, another Michelin one star restaurant. The gala dinner was a multicourse dinner the elegance of which was only surpassed by the wines that Andrew chose to accompany it. We drank (no one was spitting at this point) a premier cru from Chablis (in magnum format), followed by a premier cru from Nuits-Saint Georges (Clos des Marechales) and a Gevrey-Chambertin grand cru (was it Charmes?). We all staggered back to our hotel, beginning to feel sad that our wild adventure was nearing an end.
Friday morning began with suitcases being loaded onto the bus and we headed off to Clos des Lambrays in Morey-Saint Denis. This was my favorite stop on the trip. The winemaker, Thierry, was delightful and shared a lifetime of experience and perspective with us. We toured the beautiful gardens, looked at his vineyards, and made our way to the cellar. At one point, hoping to share a village level wine with us, he dipped his pipette into four separate barrels, creating a blend that was spectacular. It was amazing to watch this be crafted before our eyes. Their grand cru wines, both new and vintage, were equally spectacular and were shared with amazing generosity. Down the street, we visited with Domaine Dujac, another top-notch domaine with a reputation for biodynamic and innovative winemaking. The tour was followed by an extensive tasting. Remarkably, at one point, the host made reference to the 1998 vintage. Later, during the tasting, he ran into the cave, and returned with the last existing bottle of the 1998 vintage which he shared with the group. It was an incredible show of kindness. A nice lunch was followed by a final stop at Drouhin Laroze, a domaine that seems to collect grand crus! We sat in an elegant tasting room and did a series of comparison tastings of village level, premier cru and finally, grand cru wines – a tour de force! Sadly, we all headed back to the bus for the short drive to the Dijon train station.
As my wife and I were staying the night in Dijon, we were in no hurry to leave and had opportunity to reflect as the 15 of us exchanged hugs, smiles and promises to cross paths again. Andrew and Mary were part of the group and we all hoped to share additional trips with them. I think I can say honestly that we made incredible friends, many of whom we have exchanged emails with since returning home. We learned a lot, we tasted a lot, and we laughed a lot. What more can someone ask for from a “vacation”?
Thank you to the Wine Scholar Guild, to Andrew and Mary, to the many winemakers that we met and learned from, and most of all, to those who shared the fabulous trip with us!
BY Bruce Smoller
Bruce Smoller MD is the Chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the University of Rochester, School of Medicine and Dentistry. He holds the WSET level 2 and 3 awards, as well as the French Wine Scholar certification.