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The Terroirs of the Burgundy Wine District

A wide, deep fracture defines the morphology of the vineyards of the Côte. This ancient fault (35 million years old) corresponds to the western border of the rift valley of the Saône and separates the limestone plateaus of Burgundy from the clave plain of Bresse. According to the nature and the age of the sedimentary Jurassic subsoil, we can distinguish the Côte de Nuits to the north from the Côte de Beaune to the south. Moreover, the vineyards of the Côte enjoy maximum sun exposure and are sheltered from harsh west winds.

The Côte de Nuits

The Middle Jurassic of the composition of the Côte de Nuits is essentially limestone: crinoidal limestone rich in fossil fragments (Bajoccian) in the Bonnes Mares vineyard at Morey-Saint-Denis, Ostrea acuminate marls (with small oysters fossils), Prémeaux limestone with chert nodules, and granular white limestone of Comblanchien (Bathonian). The slope of the Côte de Nuits is punctuated by short valleys called "combes" that cut deep into the hillside (the combes of Vosne-Romanée, Chambolle-Musigny, Gevrey-Chambertin, etc.); perpendicular to these combes are large tills composed of the boulders and cobbles resulting from glacial erosion during the last glacial period. The presence of these tills increases the diversity of the soils, slopes and expositions of the Côte de Nuits.

The Côte de Beaune

The limestone and marl of the Côte de Beaune date from the Middle Jurassic and especially the Late Jurassic. These included the limestone formations of Chassagne, Pholadomya beeline marl (Bathonian), the rock of Corton and Ladoix (Callovian), the marls of Pernand and Saint-Romain (Oxfordian), and the limestone of Mantoux and the  Mountain of Beaune. Throughout the Côte de Beaune the juxtaposition of limestone and more or less siliceous marl encourages great white wines like Meursault and Montrachet to flourish in close proximity with subtle reds such as Volnay and Pommard. For example, on the hill of Corton, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay sit side by side on Callovian limestone and the marl of Pernand, respectively.

 

Extract from The Wines of Burgundy (Sylvain Pitiot and Jean-Charles Servant)

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Classification Levels of Burgundy Wines: The AOCs (Appellations d’Origine Contrôlée)

The AOCs system in Burgundy is a very specific one. Unique in the world. There are basicly 4 different levels of quality. From the lowest to the highest one:

 

  • Appellation Bourgogne  means the wine is from the whole region of Burgundy but we don’t know exactly where. It can be a blend of several fields in the region, classified in “Appellation Bourgogne”. On the label we can only see the name of the region.
  • Appellation Villages means the wine is from one or several plots classified in “Villages” in the region. On the label the name of a specific town is to be mentioned. (For instance: Gevrey Chambertin, Marsannay,…) Here we notice the classification gets more specific, so we go higher in terms of the quality.
  • Appellation 1er Cru means the wine is from one or several plots classified in “1er Cru” in the region. For this type of wines, the name of the town + “1er cru”, are ALWAYS to be seen on the label.
  • Appellation Grand Cru is the pride of Burgundy Wines. They are the rarest and generaly the best wines we produce in the region. The amount of the Grand Cru production is only 1.5 % of the TOTAL production of Burgundy.  
On the label of these wines, the name of the PLOT is the only location appearing. Even if a Grand Cru wine is always from a specific town, we do not mention it on the label. For instance in Chambolle Musigny, we produce TWO grands crus: Les Bonnes Mares andLe Musigny. Only the name of the plot is written followed by the words “Grand Cru”

In total, around 150 separate AOCs are used in Burgundy, including those of Chablis and Beaujolais.

 

 

The notion of Terroir

Geology

The soil is what makes the different characteristics of a wine, so the geology is the key opening the quality door. (Limestone is the most common stone to be found in the Burgundy soils). But the climate (what we can also call the vintage) is also very important for the quality of the grapes and the health of the vines.

Monks and monasteries of the Roman Catholic Church had a huge influence on the history of Burgundy wines.

The cistercians monks, founded in 1098, named after the town of Cîteaux created Burgundy largest wall-surrounded vineyard named the Clos de Vougeot in 1336. They were the first to notice that different vineyard plots gave very different wines. Thus, they laid the earliest basis giving access to this notion of Terroir.

Terroir is meant to explain the specific geography and climate of a certain place interacing with the plants genetics. Very important to know: a terroir does not exist without the human beings’ influence.

Vintage

It is the result of the climate specifities of a particular year. If we always mention the year of the harvest on the bottle, is to show the impact of the weather on the grapes quality, and then on the wine. Each vintage is unique.

 

La Côte“  (the slope)

The slope, on which we generally have the best plots, giving birth to the “Grands Crus” plays the role of a drainer when it rains in Burgundy. Indeed, there is never a surplus of water. All the rain is conducted to the Bourgogne plots (generaly located on flat and deep soils). The water is just here to provide quantity. Speaking of wines, quantity is always the opposite of quality.

To produce an axcellent wine, we have to produce a small quantity of it, that is why in the Grands Crus plots, we have a small amount of water, so a small amount of juice, and a high concentration. The rate between the skins and the juice is well balanced.

The higher we are on the classification ladder, the longer we can keep the wines (due to the concentration of them)

Human Beings 

The work of the human beings is also important too, because it gives some differences to the same appellations we can find in several wineries (one plot is very often divided into a lot of different “domaines” : winemakers’ estate. Each winemaker owns several ROWS, in several PLOTS, in several TOWNS.

That is why, even if Burgundy is a little region, way smaller than the one of Bordeaux for instance, a lot of diversity is to be discovered here).

Geology, Climate, Slope and water draining and human bengs are what explain this famous and more-real-than-ever notion of TERROIR.