Episode 1: Entering the Rabbit Hole

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BURGUNDY'S CÔTE D'OR

FULL TRANSCRIPT (PARTS I AND II)

This transcription was created thanks to: Megan MacCuish, Esa Eslami, Julia Wiggin, and Samantha Bauer

S1E1:  Entering The Rabbit Hole Parts 1 and 2

 

PART I: 

 

Brenna (Narration): Hi, this is Brenna Quigley, your personal geologist and terroir guide. Join me on a road trip through the geologic history of your favorite wine regions around the world. This is Roadside Terroir.

 

Season 2: Burgundy’s Côte d’Or is made possible by our season 2 partners: Becky Wasserman and Company, La Paulee, and Acker Wines.

 

We’re determined to keep this content free and accessible for everyone. We are still actively fundraising for this season and future seasons of the show. To learn more about sponsorship opportunities please get in touch by emailing us at [contact@roadsideterroir.com]. 

 

If you’d like to support our show personally, please consider becoming an Insider or donating to become a Season 2 Patron. Insiders and Patrons have access to lots of cool stuff including extra photos, illustrations, and extended interviews with all of our guests. To learn more, check out our website roadsideterroir.com and don’t forget to follow us on instagram.

 

Please, don’t drink and drive...and remember to keep your eyes on the road. This episode contains explicit language.

 

This is Part 1 of our 2-part first episode for this season. Make sure to come back next week to listen to part 2.

 

Part 1: Train into Beaune

 

**Train sounds**

 

1. Introduction

 

Brenna (Narration): After traveling for nearly 24 hours, I’m finally boarding the train in Paris that will take me back to Burgundy for the first time in almost two years–this monumental region means so much to me personally, and to so many others around the world…the wine, the rocks, and the people all make me feel both at home and inspired…and I’m filled with excitement… and anticipation…

 

All of this is true, but what I’m really wondering right now is: what on earth was I thinking???

 

People write encyclopedias about Burgundy. People spend their entire lives here, families have spent generations trying to understand this place. And I don’t even speak French. Who am I to be telling this story? I’m still discovering this region, along with everyone else I know. 

 

I could sit here and worry about this forever…but I’m already on my way, and you’re along for the ride…

 

Burgundy is itself a journey of exploration. And this is the story of my experience…now our experience…It won’t be perfect, and it won’t replace any of the invaluable texts already written on the region… 

 

Instead, we’re going to immerse ourselves in the place. We’ll learn from exploring, (spending time) with the people who live and breathe Burgundy everyday. There will be stumbles (sometimes literally)…but I do love it there, and I can’t wait to share this place with you…

 

I first came to Burgundy in 2016. At the time, I didn’t know much about wine, and definitely didn’t understand what this place meant to people. But I knew, somehow, that it was significant to be here. I knew the wines were serious, and were to be taken seriously, and I knew they were very expensive. So, when I first arrived, I was surprised by how… underwhelmed I was.

 

I expected to be blown away by…something…I guess maybe I expected something grand, or for the landscape to be dramatic/distinct and forceful/intense…I expected clarity…and instead…I was abruptly confronted with…subtlety …

 

I didn’t get it… but I liked it. And the more I tried to understand, the more there was TO understand. 

 

As we continued exploring different sites and tasting the wines I was mesmerized by the nuance and the detail of the terroirs, but was of little use in helping to explain what was going on. 

 

On this first trip, my soon-to-be-dear-friend Paul Wasserman recognized the strange look of confusion and wonder on my face–basically the look of someone who had just entered the rabbit hole, and he invited me back to learn more. For decades his mother, Becky Wasserman, had been opening her doors to Burgundy lovers from around the world, creating a home for people who loved this place as much as she did. Within just a few weeks, I returned and met Becky. At the time, I didn’t fully understand how significant she was to the region as a whole, but it was clear that I was incredibly lucky to experience a bit of this world she had created….and from that moment on, I was hooked.

 

1.2 Significance of Burgundy

 

Musical transition…

 

Brenna (Narration Continues): In order to prepare for this season, I wanted to understand what makes this region so significant, so I asked as many people as I could if they could explain it. It feels like something you’re just supposed to know, like a simple question that should have a simple answer. But as we’ll soon learn, nothing about Burgundy is simple…
 

Here are just a few of the responses I heard… all from people that we’ll hear more from this season:

 

[Montage of Voices:] 

Paul Wasserman: Burgundy made ppl people angry

Brenna: There’s this innate prestige…

Raj Parr: There was a time when I completely refused to pour a Bourgogne by the glass

Christina Rasmussen: fascinating

Brenna: It's not just me, it is held up on a pedestal right?

Nina West: Yeah! 100%

Paul Wasserman: The tattoo says “Grand Cru…its Logic, the rapper

Jasper Morris: Certainly the first 20 years of my career it was quite difficult to sell Burgundy

Raj Parr: for 20 years, it’ not worth it

Nina West: You can really start to take it apart, piece by piece…

 

Brenna (Narration Continues): Burgundy is all about the confusion…the detail, the nuance, the mystery…and only VERY recently has it become a sign of wealth or prestige, Choosing an expensive bottle of Burg on a wine list is likely to be more a signal of good taste, or of obscure knowledge rather than just a show of wealth…and, even worse, ordering the wrong bottle of Burgundy–ie any wrong combination of: producer, vineyard, and vintage, might actually end up making you look more foolish than knowledgeable…which, might explain some of the frustration…

 

But the one thing we DO know is that in Burgundy, place is everything.

 

[Montage of voices:]

Christina Rasmussen: I think it's something that's almost innate, and very simple…when you taste one producer and two vineyards that sit next to one another, that’s what terroir is, and what always draws us back.

Jasper Morris: And I went round all the regions in France, and this is the one that captivated me

Paul Wasserman: It’s place, and transparency

Jasper Morris: I found the fascination of the younger growers of getting to understand the vineyards they were working with and trying to make the best possible wine, was not replicated in any other region at all

Paul Wasserman: Burgundy is just a place where it has been championed the most, and where it's the most apparent, but also where it's the most revelatory

Jasper Morris: It was only here in Burgundy that people were taking me out into vineyards, showing me the differences in soil between one place and another, talking about how they make the individual wines, and just getting much more enthusiastic about the process of what they were doing than any commercial opportunities…

Christina Rasmussen: You realize it's so fragmented, so you might meet two producers that make the same parcel…which makes it really fun

Nina: That’s where you can get into the minutia

Paul Wasserman: Whatever you wanna call it, whether its place or terroir or climat or lieu dit or single vineyard, it's actually been the overriding obsession of everyone that makes, sells, or drinks Burgundy, and it's actually been that way for several centuries…

 

Brenna (Narration Continues): Something I heard over and over again, is thatBurgundy is where you can clearly understand the impact and the uniqueness of a little piece of our planet…It is, by many accounts, the birthplace of terroir…

 

Over the course of this season we are going to explore what it means to be able to taste a sense of place by covering every corner of the CdO…we will dive into an ancient body of knowledge and winemaking tradition…and see how it has been challenged by a changing world 

 

Each episode of this season will focus on a specific leg of our journey–from one village to the next, back into the hills of the hautes côtes, into the kitchens of our friends and favorite restaurants, and deep into the cellars of our winemaking heroes…

 

1.3 Geologic History of the Paris Basin

 

But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves…our train is just starting to make its way out of the station, and we have a long ride ahead of us…

 

In order to contemplate the significance of our destination, the Côte d’Or…we first have to understand the basics. And in Burgundy, just the basics can be so complex, that understanding them will make you a bit of an expert…

 

Besides the architecture, I don’t remember seeing many rocks in Paris. 

 

The romantic, sparkling city sits right in the middle of what geologists refer to as the Paris Basin. The Paris Basin is essentially a big bowl of limestone, tilted gently towards the northwest, spilling out into the English Channel via the Seine River…The concentric layers of the Paris Basin limestone extend across north central France. These layers unite wine regions such as Saumur, Touraine, and Sancerre of the Loire Valley in the west with Champagne in the northeast, and Burgundy along the fractured outer edge of the basin to the southeast.

 

I’m taking the slow train from Paris today, which leaves from the station in Bercy, and hugs the banks of the Seine. There is a faster TGV train, but I prefer the pace of this one, and the time it gives me to reflect and prepare for my arrival into Burgundy. I think about this as we rattle along over hundreds of kilometers of ancient limestone.

 

The city of Paris sits in the core of the Paris Basin, on the youngest layers of sedimentary deposits. The layers get sequentially older towards the edges of the basin, like a set of nested bowls stacked one inside of the other. The rim of each bowl arcs across the country, tracing the same moment in geologic time. 

 

The train picks up speed as we leave the final traces of urban sprawl behind us and enter into the foggy, mythical French countryside. Quiet, quaint clusters of buildings are nestled between expansive fields which extend up gentle slopes capped with patches of dark green forests.

 

Everyone loves to point out that all of this was once at the bottom of the ocean. And it’s true. 

 

Around 200 million years ago, the supercontinent, Pangaea, began to break up and rift apart. At this time, earth’s climate was considerably warmer than it is today, meaning there were no glaciers at the poles and sea level was much higher. As the new continents drifted apart, they were flooded with warm, salty seawater. These shallow seas were the perfect environment for the formation of limestone coral reefs. Over time, sea level continued to rise and fall. New species emerged, and others went extinct. Depositional environments and conditions changed gradually, and slightly different geologic materials were deposited, one on top of the next, methodically recording the events of the earth, millions of years before the beginning of time. 

 

As the train careens through the countryside, and our souls metamorphose from city-slickers to country mice, our path takes us deeper and deeper in geologic time. First, we dive into the Cretaceous chalks of only about 70 million years ago that wind their way up to Champagne. Next, we will enter into Upper Jurassic layers, with names like Kimmeridgian and Portlandian, that have become so synonymous to the terroirs of Chablis that we often forget they are simply geologic ages. Finally, we will make our way into the layers of the Middle Jurassic, approximately 170 million years old, and home to some of the greatest vineyards on the planet.

 

An astute student of geology might have noticed that according to the Law of Original Horizontality, which literally and simply states that sediments are initially deposited in flat layers, one on top of another, you would expect that these older layers would be buried hundreds of kilometers below the young (Eocene) deposits found in the center of the basin, and you would be right. The Jurassic aged limestones were originally buried by the younger deposits and seemingly lost to the surface of the earth forever. 

 

But, around 65 million years ago, Africa, which had been slowly migrating northwards for millions of years, finally crashed into Europe, forming both the Alps and the Pyrenees Mountains, and sending ripple effects through both tectonic plates. Faults splintered across the crust, and the edges of the Paris Basin were pushed up from the south and east, exposing the ancient rings of limestone from below. 

 

This tectonic event accelerated the process of climatic cooling, and the seas drained from the basin. Today, the Paris Basin sits well above sea level, and several rivers carve into the layers of limestone as they make their way towards the ocean.

 

As the train nears Dijon, the topography begins to build ever so slightly. The gentle cuestas get a bit steeper and broken up, and you might even catch a glimpse of some white, limestone cliffs in the distance.

 

Today, these ancient limestone rocks are exposed to a very different world. They weather and break down in the presence of air, water, and microbial life to form soil. They interact with a modern, and changing climate, as well as the new forms of life that inhabit the surface, including us…

 

1.4 Human History

 

In comparison to the geology, the human history of the Côte d’Or seems to happen in the blink of an eye. Just a mere 2000 or so years of interactions between us, the land, and the vine. But of course, we aren’t rocks, and 2000 years of history and tradition in the world of wine is truly exceptional…and not an easy thing to summarize quickly.

 

Jasper Morris: Right, how far back do you want to go?

Brenna: Well, as far back as you want…

 

Luckily, we have some help. This is Jasper Morris, author of Inside Burgundy, the most up to date and comprehensive book on the region. He’s a Master of Wine with a background in History from Oxford. In 2018, he became one of the most respected Burgundy reviewers on the scene, as well. But we try not to hold it against him.

 

Jasper Morris: We know now that there was an odd bit of lifestyle block of wine planted by individual Romans, but it's still very muddy when the vineyards really first came here... 

 

Although some people think vine cultivation in Burgundy might go as far back as the Celts, it is generally believed that the Romans were the first to bring vines to the area. They conquered the Gauls right around 52 BC, and brought with them vines, grapes, and wine drinking traditions inspired by the ancient Greeks. In 2008, the oldest physical proof of a vineyard in the Côte d’Or was found in Gevrey Chambertin, which dates back to the 1st century AD.

 

Jasper Morris: So, they're planting everywhere, probably mostly in the plane because it’s easier on flat land…

 

The Romans were famously enthralled with wine, and all levels of society were known to drink it. Many had their own vineyards, and would even use fine wines for medicinal purposes.

 

Anthony Hanson points out in his book simply titled, Burgundy, that there is written evidence of the region’s renown throughout the Roman Empire as far back as 312 AD.

 

At the start of the 5th century, the Western Roman Empire fell, and was invaded by Germanic tribes from the North.

 

Jasper Morris: The arrival of the Bourgondes, the tribe, which isn’t particularly relevant… 

 

The Bourgondes (Bur-gohn-deehs), or maybe Bor-gonds, I’m not really sure, were the first of the Germanic tribes to inhabit the Côte d’Or. They aren’t particularly relevant to this story, other than that they gave their name to the region. During this time, many Roman traditions were erased, but wine and grape growing were not among them. Jasper goes on to suggest that it appears the Bourgondes made a point to maintain both the physical presence of the vineyards and their coveted status. 

 

Along with most of Europe at this moment, the Bourgondes were Christian. And wine, of course, is inherently linked to Christianity. It is portrayed as an example of Christ’s miracles and plays a central role in the eucharist, or holy communion.

 

The Franks came after the Bourgondes, and the famed Dukes of Burgundy after that. At this point, Burgundy was huge – it stretched all the way up to the Netherlands. It wasn’t yet a part of the growing kingdom of France, but was instead its own Duchy, the slightly unfortunate term used for a big group of Dukes.

 

Jasper Morris: Obviously, the church has a major role to play in that…

 

Around the beginning of the 7th century, we see the first examples of vineyards gifted to the church by the nobility. One of the very first was the Abbeye de Bèze in 640 AD – if you’re a drinker of Grand Crus, your ears probably just perked up.

 

Jasper Morris: And people tend to say “weren’t the monks clever, they discovered all the grand crus,” but they planted loads of different things. And it's only the ones which were good, which of which have survived.

 

The Monks are the poster boys of the legend of Burgundy. As the story goes, the monks were the first to identify the greatness of the individual vineyards. Over the centuries, they tended to the vines, made the wine, and carefully began to understand the nuances between one plot to the next. Some reports go as far as saying that the Monks actually tasted the soil in order to determine which sites were the greatest.

 

Jasper Morris: This is happening during the middle ages. There's no sort of really specific time, but even by the 13th, 14th centuries, we're getting a slight feel of this. 

 

Brenna: So this is sort of happening, and the talk is always of the Cistercian monks, which I noticed you don't use that term. Is there a reason? 

 

Jasper Morris: Well, it isn't just Cistercian. It just so happens that this region is predominantly Cistercian, but not uniquely so.

 

The dukes and the monks worked together to establish the reputation of Burgundian wine throughout Europe. In his book, Anthony Hansen points out that Burgundian wine was poured at the coronations for both Charles the VI in 1321 and Phillipe the VI in 1328.

 

Jasper Morris: I think one of the interesting questions is, we’re in an area which has lots of stone, limestone is absolutely crucial. And that also means, in certain vineyards, when you plow your soil, what do you do with all the bits of stones which are cluttering the place up? And the answer is, you build stone walls which differentiate between one vineyard and another. And even where the roads are built, it’s normally the case that the change in terroir, and perhaps even as straightforwardly as the geology underneath, follows the lines where the roads are put and where the walls are put.

 

Looking out the train window, you can see the patchwork of the slope. Many of these patches are delineated by these stone walls. Jasper is pointing out that as these walls were built, they naturally began to designate unique terroirs. These distinct pieces of the slope separated themselves out by the quality, consistency, and distinctive personalities of the wines they produced.

 

For hundreds of years, the vineyards of Burgundy were owned by either the church or the nobility, but with an increasingly involved bourgeoisie.

 

Jasper Morris: Things were just slowly becoming a bit more intense. The church is losing its grip, the church plus aristocracy. So you're beginning to get more of the sort of the upper bourgeoisie, first of all, managing it and then then taking over. And then, dramatically, you have the French revolution, where the vineyards get bought up and sold.

 

Immediately following the French Revolution, vineyards were classified as national goods and sold off primarily to the upper middle class themselves. 

 

Jasper Morris: The things that Napoleon did…it’s an incredible legacy…of course it makes everything metric, it gives us the communes, which we didn’t have before, or not in the same way… It gives us a huge bureaucratic organization.

 

One major piece of this Bureaucracy was the Code Napoleon. This dictated that inheritance would no longer solely go to the first born son, but would now be split up equally amongst all living sons. Sadly, it would be a long time before daughters were considered worthy of inheritance. And so, with each successive generation, the already miniscule, precious and prized vineyards of the Côte d’Or, tucked within their monastic, ancient walls, were broken up into tinier and tinier pieces…

 

This explains how the names of these famed vineyards precede their ownership…Vineyards such as… the Clos de Bèze, Montrachet, Genevrières, and the Clos Saint Jacques, exist as historic entities. If you’re lucky enough to own a few rows in the Clos des Bèze, you wouldn’t dream of calling it anything other than Clos des Bèze.

 

The uniquely Burgundian term climat describes this idea of historic, individual terroirs. To the vineyards, the changing ownership of each plot and parcel is just a blip in a history that extends for thousands of years.

 

Jasper Morris: We have a proportion of names which are due to religious owners, a proportion of names due to secular owners, and then others for all sorts of different things. 

 

Brenna: And so it would be at that time that reputations started getting tied to areas? 

 

Jasper Morris: Whether reputations did, I think that may come a bit later, but you would still have names because people would say “well I’m going off to this field today” and so you’ve got to have some sort of name for it. So you’ll name it for whoever owns it or for any other particular characteristic of it…

 

Brenna: So when are the first signs of there being a quality reputation tied to places and names? 

 

Jasper Morris: To villages, that builds steadily across the centuries. Single vineyards, there are just a small number of them that you can detect even by the 18th century. You get steadily more examples of it, and it’s really the 19th century where it becomes a significant item.

 

In the 19th century, specifically in 1855, a man named Dr. Jules Lavalle published the first comprehensive classification of vineyards in the Côte d’Or. Lavalle was a naturalist and doctor in Dijon, manager of the botanical gardens, a member of the geological society of France, and basically the first official Burgundy geek in history. The publication was incredibly detailed, with a map, pictures, and descriptions of the wines from the greatest vineyards, which he called têtes de cuvées. The classification highlighted the relationship between the great vineyards and their historic names, and it remains relevant and influential today.

 

1.5 Arrival into the Côte d’Or

 

Brenna (Narration Continues): This final stretch of the ride between Dijon and Beaune is my favorite. A few minutes outside the city and the vineyards begin. The term Cote d’Or literally translates to golden slope, and when you catch it at the right moment, the long, narrow, east facing slope beams with reflected sunlight.  

 

The train tracks parallel the slope, which is continuous except for the staggered narrow valleys, or combes, that cut back into it. Tucked beneath these valleys and atop their respective alluvial fans are the villages–each famous in their own right, and some more famous than their neighbors–we quickly cruise past Gevrey Chambertin, Morey St Denis, Chambolle Musigny, Vosne Romanee, and Nuits St Georges– each of these villages had originally just one name, Gevrey, Morey, Chambolle etc, and was only later granted the ability to add the hyphenated second bit – referencing each villages most famed vineyard.

 

Burgundy lovers are as familiar with these names and designations as they are with the names of their own family members–but just in case you aren’t quite there yet, let me attempt to quickly break it down:

 

Burgundy is the region, in terms of both history and wine. As a wine region it includes the satellite regions of Chablis and the Grand Auxerrois to the north, the Côte Chalonnaise and the Maconnais to the south, and even Beaujolais to the south of that –but those are conversations for another day. Our focus for this season is specifically on the Côte d’Or – the famed core of Burgundy, so famous in fact that it is sometimes mistakenly assumed to comprise the entire region.

 

The Côte d’Or is technically a department within the region of Burgundy, and is essentially one semi-continuous cuesta, with hard cap rocks at the top of the slope covered in forests and a long, gradual concave slope stretching out into the valley. This classic Burgundian slope profile is steeper towards the top, with shallow to negligible topsoil that becomes deeper with accumulated clay towards the bottom. The Saône river parallels the slope at its base, and while the present day banks of the river are at least 15 kilometers (or nearly 9 to 10 miles) away, the silty sediments from past floods begin to take over from the limestone slopewash as the slope flattens out completely at the bottom.

 

The Côte d’Or is then split up into two main halves–the northern half is the Côte de Nuits, and the southern the Côte de Beaune. The vineyards beyond the crest of this slope are called the Hautes Côtes, or the high slopes, and the flat plains at the bottom of the slope are classified as generic Bourgogne wines. 

 

The Côte de Nuits is famous for producing what many believe to be the best examples of Pinot Noir in the world. The Côte de Beaune is similarly famous for producing the best examples of Chardonnay, but also  produces a significant amount of truly exceptional Pinot Noir as well.

 

The main vineyards along the slope are designated first according to their village, and then to their hierarchy. Good vineyards expressive of their village are designated as Village, great vineyards as Premier Cru, and the most exceptional vineyards as Grand Cru. We’ll get into the details and the politics of this later, but for now you can just remember the hierarchy of Bourgogne, Village, Premier Cru, and Grand Cru – and remember that it is closely tied to price.

 

Let me know when you’re starting to feel confused. It’s the first sign that you’re beginning to understand Burgundy.

 

Luckily, Our train is pulling into the station in the beautiful, medieval, walled city of Beaune, and it’s just about time for lunch

 

2.1 Beaune Centre

 

Brenna (Narration Continues): The train arrives into Beaune just as the sun begins to stretch out from the clouds. 

 

I am met at the train station by Paul Wasserman. Paul was my first guide through Burgundy, he grew up here and has been tasting grand cru Burgundy since he was a little kid, literally. He is one of the few people who can call themselves a true insider in Burgundy, while also understanding the context of the region from the outside. With only minimal complaining, he’s agreed to give us the insider’s tour.

 

[Upbeat percussion music]

 

We load up the car, grab my rental car, and find a parking spot just outside the old stone wall that marks the historic center of the city. Just beyond the wall is a modern, paved, one way road that makes a complete loop along the outer edge of the wall, kind of like a racetrack.

 

Paul Wasserman:  And now we reach one of the larger streets in Beaune, the Boulevard Peripherique, basically a circular boulevard that runs around Beaune, hugging the second fortifications of Beaune. These were built starting in the 14th Century.

 

Brenna (Narration Continues): Locals know how to take the side streets to navigate the maze around the loop, but I still find myself driving the full five minute loop back around the circle whenever I miss a turn.

 

We make a quick detour after we park, to wander around some of the little cobblestone streets within the city center, and to grab a coffee and see some sights on our way to lunch.

 

Paul Wasserman: Moving on. Beaune is a small city, so everything is within walking distance, especially the better restaurants. We can walk everywhere and most of it is medieval and the layout of the streets hasn’t changed since I think the 13th century. So it is full of little crooked little medieval houses, streets that are super narrow, it’s scary to drive on. But it’s really really cute! 

 

Brenna (Narration Continues): The nice thing about Beaune is that most of the streets seem to loop back on themselves. Sometimes, when I’m not sure where I’m going, I just keep walking and eventually stumble upon something I recognize that will lead me back to the city's centerpiece – the Hospice de Beaune.

 

Paul Wasserman: Beaune’s Crown Jewel, the Hospice de Beaune. It was founded in 1443 by Chancelor Nicolas Rolin and his wife, Guigone de Salin, basically as a refuge and a hospital for the poor. Absolutely beautiful 15th century French gothic architecture. Since the 1800s, it has been in part funded by the famous yearly wine auction of the Hospice. 

 

Brenna (Narration Continues): The Auction was established in 1859 and is considered to be the oldest charity wine auction in the world. Every November, people come from all over the world to celebrate with the region. There are tastings, lunches, parties, and parades. It is a huge deal for Beaune, and also sets the price for the price for Burgundy for the following year.

 

[Sounds of the Beaune Farmer’s Market…bustle, people speaking in French…]

 

It’s Saturday in Beaune, which means the weekly farmer’s market is in full swing. Dozens of vendors set up shop right in front of the beautiful Hospice. Each station is overflowing with fresh, seasonal produce–baskets of chanterelles, obscure varieties of tomatoes, freshly sliced charcuterie…the sight of it, plus the sounds of the local chatter amongst the ringing bells of the hospice is something out of a fairytale.

 

This little place is where world-famous winemakers come to meet up with friends, keep up with colleagues, and pick up their groceries for the week. Our move is to hang out in front of the Saint Romain coffee stand. We taste through some of the owner Matt’s freshest roasts, and wait to see who we might run into…

 

The French take their groceries very seriously, so even though the market’s small, everyone has their own favorite spots to get this or that–but it's always very specific. You have to get the tomatoes from loubet over here, but the mushrooms from the spot across the way. Don’t get meat from this guy, he’s a jerk, get it over there, but you have to get here early if you want the chicken. Pastries from here, croissants from there, baguettes from here…and on and on. You could spend years just learning the ins and outs of the market –and deeply enjoy every minute of it.

 

[More sounds of the market: bells, espresso machine…]

 

There is always a sense of, I guess, relaxed excitement at the market, and I think it's because everyone is on a few different missions at once. They’re here to socialize, but they also have a job to do in order to pick up everything they need before the market closes. You see, when you’re this deep in the French countryside, everything is closed on Sundays.

 

This time tomorrow, the streets will be silent. Almost every shop and grocery store will be closed, and nobody will be working. Instead, Burgundians relax with their families, get together with friends for long Sunday lunches, and they don’t look at their emails. 

 

Sundays are just about as sacred to the French as lunchtime.

 

[More conversation at the market]

 

Paul Wasserman: It’s super cute with all the vegetable and fruit stalls on the outside and in that corner is one my favorite restaurants in Beaune… more montaged musings of Paul’s comments about the market.

 

Brenna (Narration Continues): As we walk through the streets on our way to lunch, Paul continues to point out all of his favorite spots…but I can’t help but be drawn to the stones that line the walls of the oldest buildings. They’re always limestone, and almost always from right here. We’ll see when we get to the vineyards that there is clear evidence of ancient quarries amongst some of the most famous vineyards of the Côte d’Or.

 

Take a moment to run your hands over the rocks and look closely to see what you can discover. Tiny fossils of sea lilies,  little oysters, and evidence of ripples from the seafloor 100 million years ago. Consider where each rock came from, which vineyard, think of what it’s been through, and who would have brought it here.

 

[footsteps on cobblestones…]

 

With this in mind, we meander our way out of the city, beyond the wall, and across the racetrack…to arrive at one of my favorite restaurants in Beaune… La Dilettante.

 

2.2 Lunch - La Dilettante

 

[Sounds of lunch at La Dilettante]

 

Brenna (Narration Continues): La Dilettante is, in my opinion, perfectly charming. It's tiny and crowded and warm, and you’re always greeted with a smile. It’s owned by Lolo, who is French, and his wife, Rica, who is Japanese. Lolo is the former owner of one of my other favorite restaurants in Beaune, Caves Madeleine… The food at La Dilettante is simple and delicious–miso soup, croque madame, and an excellent selection of special charcuterie…if you can catch Lolo at the Saturday market, he always knows the best places to go for absolutely everything…

 

Paul Wasserman: He decided to do something more casual: a shorter menu more in the spirit of, you know, of the natural wine bars around France. There is a lot of natural wine which does attract a lot of the younger crowds, but there's also quite a few classics. He sources his produce extremely well. Caves Madeleine does, and that's something that stayed here, and even though a lot of the charcuterie or cheese with Caves Madeleine is probably the best sourced food in Beaune. It’s lovely, great wine. It’s fun…

 

Brenna (Narration Continues): The ambiance here is friendly and casual but they also have a seriously deep wine cellar. The wine list goes from classic and profound all the way to the outer fringes of the natural wine world, and Lolo is passionate about it all. This is one of those places where you can’t help but peek around the nearby tables to see what everyone else is drinking…

 

[Sounds of lunch in La Dilettante]

 

Paul Wasserman: There’s a really nice community in Beaune. It's a minorly competitive community which given how sought after the wines are, is actually pretty wonderful. There’s no fist fights in the restaurants, you know it feels good. You go out and you see people drinking other people’s wines all the time, and drinking blind, and…

 

[The last sounds of lunch fade into the background]

 

2.3 History of the Negociants in Beaune

 

Brenna (Narration Continues): After lunch, we continue our tour of Beaune with another significant piece of Burgundy’s history–the winding underground cellars of Maison Joseph Drouhin. Drouhin is one of the major Negociants of the Côte d’Or…most of whom are based right here in Beaune. I asked Paul to explain the history of the negociants a bit, and big surprise, it's complicated…

 

Paul Wasserman: You have to go back a bit in history before the negociants appeared… so the organization of trades into corporations goes back to the roman times, but in France it goes back to the 13th century.

 

Brenna (Narration Continues): Okay…I’m going to spare us another deep dive into history and see if we can jump ahead a bit.

 

[Sounds of a cassette tape fast-forward]

 

Paul Wasserman: …but towards the end of the 16 hundreds, there appears a new profession called the commissionaires “Les Commissioner” - and they were acting on behalf of the buyers as opposed to the sellers, and very quickly they're buying wine, and not just wine, but also vineyards, and that's the birth of the negociants.

 

Brenna (Narration Continues): …Let’s pause here for a second… I want to point out that the term negociant is a bit tricky: technically a negociant is someone who purchases grapes or even finished wine, and then sells it under their own label, and this is typically how most of these big houses got started. However, today, most of the big negociants in the Côte d’Or are also the largest landowners in the region…

 

Paul Wasserman: And the first negociant house was Champ Pete. It was founded in 1720. Very quickly after that in 1731 was Bouchard - but the invention of the glass bottle is just around that time, so basically there really is no opportunity for direct sales except through the trade. And the negociant becomes the merchant for Burgundy, and this lasted for a very long time. 

 

Brenna (Narration Continues): This is a key point. Initially it wasn’t possible for individual domaines to bottle, market, sell, export, etc etc their own wines. So the negociants played a huge role in supporting the wine industry and the region. And because they were merchants, they also encouraged the reputation of the quality of Burgundian wine around the world…

 

Paul Wasserman: The overall quality was impressive to brilliant. Some in the 60s, 70s, 80s didn't fare as well....and that's when the reputation really started to crumble, especially with all these domaine bottled wines that were starting to pop up.

 

Brenna (Narration Continues): A few significant domaines started bottling their own wines in 1934, but were slowed down a bit by WWII. Following the war, they began to do so again, and others followed…

 

Paul Wasserman: We saw very talented domaines, you know, Jayer for example, but tons of others: Lafarge, De Montille, Bachelet, Burguet, ...Bize had been bottling wine for a long time and those were extraordinary. Dujac, Pousse d’Or, Angèle… The availability of top notch domaine bottled Burgundies certainly put things into perspective, but it's also a general period of lesser wine, not just in Burgundy with the negociants, but in France at large.

 

Paul Wasserman: I think it was the first signs of chemical farming… 

 

Brenna (Narration Continues): This was a necessary shift in the structure of the wine industry in Burgundy. Several big negociants had to move aside in order to make room for the ambitious domaines who were ready to do their own thing…

 

Paul Wasserman: So it's not a bad word...it was a bad word, and it shouldn't have been a bad word. A bunch of them remained highly qualitative.

 

Brenna (Narration Continues): A few of the remaining, very well respected negociants on the CdO include Bouchard, Jadot, Faiveley, and of course Drouhin, where we have just arrived…

 

2.4 Drouhin

 

[the sound of the walking and the keys]

 

Laurène Boss: Now we are present in 120 countries, which is… huge. And it’s the same number of appellations. So, yeah, it’s a lot of work every Monday when we taste the wines. 

 

[Laurène and Brenna both laugh]

 

Brenna: You taste through the wines every Monday?

 

Laurène Boss: Every Monday we, yeah, every two weeks the red and the other week the white because it’s too, too many! 

 

[Laurène laughs]

 

Brenna (Narration): Our host at Drouhin is Laurene Boss–the first of the 5th generation of Drouhins to join the family business.

 

Laurène Boss: It started with my great great grandfather Joseph in 1880. He started a little negociant buying grapes and wines from different regions in France. His son took over–Maurice–in 1918, and he's the one who started buying vineyards. And then his son, Robert, my grandfather, took over in 1957. Phillipe, the eldest, you know him, who is taking care of the vineyards both in France and Oregon. My mom, who is the winemaker, same, both in France and Oregon. Then Laurent, I don’t know if you know, he’s in the US. And Frederick, the last one, he’s the CEO. So I’m the eldest of the 5th generation. [Laurène laughs] A little pressure. And we wait for the others, but they’re young, so.

 

[walking down the stairs of the cellar]

 

Brenna (Narration): Walking through the cellars of a Grand Negociant in Beaune feels like stepping back in time. All together, the cellars extend for miles in an underground maze just beneath the city.

 

[Laurene leading a tour of the cellars]

 

Laurène Boss: So this is the cellar, linked to what we saw upstairs. So from the 12th, 13th century. [Cellar cart and worker noises] Oh yeah, they’re working in the cellar. 

 

[Laurène and Brenna both laugh]

 

Brenna: Is that above or…

 

Laurène Boss: Oh, that’s not for us… And then we’re going down and we’re going to the 15th century… It’s funny to see because the first part of the cellar is from the 12th century and it’s very high, and here it’s much lower… This second part was used by the dukes of Burgundy and the kings of France.

 

Brenna (Narration): The Drouhin cellars even contain the rare remnants of the original Roman fortifications, which are some of the oldest pieces of history in the city.

 

Laurène Boss: This is from maybe the 4th century. It’s the walls of the city in Beaune. The shape of the wall, it’s like fishbones… and here is where Maurice, during the war, built a wall, a fake one. And that’s how they saved a few bottles during the war, in the occupation.

 

Brenna (Narration): Their story also takes us into the next chapter of the history of Burgundy– which started off bad, and got worse… From the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century, the vineyards suffered from disease, including, of course, phylloxera–the louse that almost wiped all European vineyards completely off the map. This, combined with a major financial crisis, and then two world wars left all of France, (including the vineyards) in a state of disrepair.

 

Laurène Boss: So Maurice, my great grandfather, was in the resistance, he went to jail because of that for 3 or 6 months. The second time, he was a really good friend with a German soldier, because he saved his life during the first war. So during the second war, this soldier, the German one, said “Oh Maurice, you have to leave, they’re coming for you. And this time it won’t be jail, it’s going to be… quick. You really have to escape and leave because your life is in danger.” 

 

Laurène Boss: He knew the cellars like his pocket and he thought “Hmm, maybe there’s one door, they won’t be behind it?”–it’s coming out in front of the office, in the middle of the two buildings. And he went to the Hospice de Beaune, at that time he was the vice president. So they knew him and they said “Yeah, of course you’re welcome.” And then they hid him in a very small room and he stayed there for 3 months. They were bringing him food and water and the Mother Superior, from the Hospice de Beauce, was going to church at the same time as Maurice’s wife to keep the exchange between Maurice and his wife because it was from June to September. So, before harvest, so you had to keep taking care of the vineyards in the cellars. 

 

[Laurène and Brenna both laugh] 

 

Laurène Boss: So they were writing letters and other smart ways of communicating. And that’s how they kept the Maison Joseph Drouhin staying alive. So, thanks to the Hospice. To thank the Hospice for saving his life, he gave almost half of the estate he had at the time. When you do a donation it’s when you die that it’s given. So in 1960 he died and they got a few vineyards–Beaune premier cru, many different Beaune premier cru. And so they do a Cuvée Maurice Drouhin during the auction and we try to buy it every year, the whole cuvée but sometimes people.. they know it’s very good, so they buy it sometimes. So that’s why we have Cuvée Maurice in this cellar, it means history so, it’s nice to see.

 

[Lauren and Brenna walking continue walking through the cellar]

 

Laurène Boss: So this is the Freedom door. The door that Maurice went through and saved his life, going to the Hospice de Beaune.

 

Brenna (Narration): The Drouhin family is one of the most respected families in Burgundy for several reasons, even beyond their impressive historic relevance. The wines themselves have remained consistently excellent over time.

 

Daniel Johnnes: Drouhin is pretty remarkable because their history and again, how it's gone from generation to generation.

 

Brenna (Narration): This is Daniel Johness, famous former sommelier, and the Burgundy expert who founded the La Paulee festivals that bring together Burgundy producers with professionals and consumers every year in celebration of the region. 

 

Daniel Johnnes: In spite of buying grapes, in addition to owning some glorious appellations, they have the most remarkably consistent style of wines. Drouhin has been Drouhin. The wines are just beautifully perfumed and elegant, not always the deepest in color, very textural. I think it's a more sophisticated experience for the wine lover. They don’t slap you in the face, you have to get to know the wines a little bit before you really appreciate them.

 

Brenna (Narration): And even more impressive, they’re also particularly environmentally conscious. They started working with lightweight glass to reduce their carbon footprint, and have gone beyond organic farming into biodynamics. It's honestly hard to imagine biodynamic farming on this scale –how much work it must be to farm 80 hectares (or almost 200 acres) with this much care and attention…but, more on that later.

 

Laurène Boss: Thanks to Phillipe, we are already organic and biodynamic, thinking about nature and the environment. We recycle in the office, we think about what we use for boxes and glasses. We already have our bottles designed for us, they are a little bit lighter than the normal Burgundean bottles. If the big ones don’t act first, no one will follow. 

 

Brenna (Narration): Now that we’ve explored the human history of Beaune, we’re ready to get our boots on the ground and into some vineyards. Next week, in part 2 of this episode we will dig into the vineyards and varied terroirs of Beaune while uncovering the history of biodynamic farming in the Côte d’Or—stay tuned!

 

CREDITS

 

This episode is dedicated to the memory of Becky Wasserman-Hone and to her husband Russel Hone, who have shown the world the meaning of Burgundy one home-cooked meal at a time.

 

This episode is made possible by our Season 2 Sponsors: Becky Wasserman & Co, La Paulee, and Acker Wines.

 

Want to celebrate the release of Season 2 with us? We’ll be pouring at the La Paulee Grand Tastings in New York on March 12th and in Los Angeles on March 19th–see you there!

 

Roadside Terroir is hosted and produced by me, Brenna Quigley. Recording and sound engineering by Nick Canepa, and original music and sound design by Jeff Alvarez.

 

This season wouldn’t be possible without the support from all of you–thank you for listening, sharing, emailing, and supporting us however you can. Check out our website roadsideterroir.com to learn how you can stay in touch, and how to help support this season by becoming a Roadside Insider, or a Season 2 Patron. 

 

If you want to learn more about the history of Burgundy we highly recommend checking out some of the comprehensive reference books on the region by Jasper Morris, Anthony Hansen, Clives Cotes, and Matt Kramer.

 

Thank you to our guests: Jasper Morris, Paul Wasserman, Daniel Johnnes, Laurene Boss, David Croix, Jean Claude Rateau, and some extra cameos by Raj Parr, Christina Rasmussen, Abe Schoener, Nina West, and Daniel Callan.

 

Thank you to Jerusha Frost, Esa Eslami, Summer Staeb, Michael Sager, Julia Wiggin, Francoise Vannier, and everyone else who helped make this episode a reality.

 

END OF PART I

 

Episode 1: PART II

 

Brenna (Narration): Hi this is Brenna Quigley, your personal geologist and terroir guide, join me on a road trip through the geologic history of your favorite wine regions around the world.This is Roadside Terroir. 

 

Season 2: Burgundy’s Côte d’Or  is made possible by our season 2 partners: Becky Wasserman and Company, La Paulee, and Acker Wines 

 

We’re determined to keep this content free [and accessible] for everyone. 

We are still actively fundraising for this season and future seasons of the show. To learn more about sponsorship opportunities please get in touch by emailing us at [contact@roadsideterroir.com]. 

 

If you’d like to support our show personally, please consider becoming AN INSIDER or donating to become a Season 2 Patron. Insiders and Patrons have access to lots of cool stuff including extra photos, illustrations, and extended interviews with all of our guests. To learn more, check out our website roadsideterroir.com and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram.

 

Please, don’t drink and drive...and remember to keep your eyes on the road. 

 

This episode contains explicit language.

 

We would like to thank Hotel Le Central Beaune for helping to make this episode possible–make sure to check out this newly renovated boutique hotel located just steps away from the beautiful Hospice du Beaune next time you’re in town.

 

This is Part II of Episode 1 – We’re picking up right where we left off...on our way into the vineyards of Beaune…

 

3.1 Beaune Vineyards -David Croix

 

[Background talking and music]

 

David Croix: When you drive through Beaune you don't see the Vineyards. So people don’t see Beaune as a wine community; they see Beaune as the capital for wine in Burgundy, but they don’t see it as a place where you produce wine. Beaune unfortunately, now, is more known for the town itself, is known for the hospice. But not really known for its wines. 

 

Brenna (Narration): This is David Croix, of Domaine des Croix. We’ve piled into one of his vineyard vans and are headed out to visit the vineyards.

 

David is a young, energetic winemaker who has firmly planted his flag in the vineyards of Beaune. He points out that the perception of Beaune as a winemaking village has really struggled, and goes on to say that even in a world that can’t get enough Burgundy these days, the wines are still shockingly hard to sell.

 

David Croix: Back in the days the best sights of Beaune were really among the top vineyards, overall, in Burgundy. It has changed now because now everytime you ask someone, “Who makes Beaune wines?” They will tell you that probably they are the most difficult wines to sell, when they have a range of wines. So uh there are few domaines making Beaune wines based in Beaune, actually. I can barely name ten different ones. And half of them you will probably have never heard of before. There is a lack of grower identity in Beaune in a sense. 

 

Brenna (Narration): Before Domaine des Croix, David was the winemaker for the well respected negociant, Camille Giroud. Then, in 2005, David and a group of private investors purchased a Domaine called Domaine Duchet, which consisted of vineyard holdings primarily based in Beaune, as well as on the nearby hill of Corton.

 

David Croix: It was affordable ok but I also saw the potential of the way, the way the ppl who took over from, the way they were farming, the wines were very well taken care of, and I tasted the wines they were making, and I think there's great potential.  Ok its big ok there's a lot of diversity in terms of styles of wine you can make in Beaune, ok there are some Premier Crus at the bottom of the slope that maybe should be village, because people were generous, but overall potentially if the farming is right for me there is potential to make great wines in Beaune, even if they are not very famous…yet! 

 

Brenna (Narration): Part of the reason David believes Beaune has this reputation… is ironically tied to the reason Beaune became famous in the first place: The Negociants

 

Paul Wasserman: It's important to remind people sometimes, even though it is obvious, it's called the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuit, not the Côte de Volnay and the Côte de Vosne. So what happened?

 

David Croix: It's not a question of quality of what's being produced…The big negociants who produce Beaune, like Bouchard, have almost 40 hectares of Beaune, almost 10% of the appellation …but when you taste Beaune it's not especially what comes first. Like they have Clos de Beze as well…

 

Brenna (Narration): David has become a true advocate for the wines of Beaune (even his IG handle is “drink beaune” and is completely committed to lifting up what he believes is an underappreciated region…

 

Daniel Johnnes: You have some producers like David Croix

 

Brenna (Narration): Here's Daniel Johnnes again…

 

Daniel Johnnes:  And, uh, kind of reminding people that these are great wines and that they're not just negociant. And I think it needs to have a leader like that and a locomotive like a David Croix to, um, to show that these are not just negociant wines and that they are grower wines also and they’re wines of great quality…

 

David Croix: Beaune is the 3rd largest commune in terms of vineyards, after Meursault and Gevrey, so it's a rather large appellation….what's important to note also is that it's mostly Premier Cru 75%, no Bourgogne, no generic, no GC and mostly Premier Cru, 42 different ones…and the village level vineyards are really located on the South of Beaune towards Pommard…so on the Northern side where we are going now its exclusively, almost exclusively Premier Cru…so its think it's quite unusual…

 

Brenna (Narration): David explains that his customers who come to taste at the domaine typically have two different perceptions of what they expect the wines from Beaune to taste like, which typically depends on which part of the village the wines come from…

 

David Croix: Some say “Oh, Beaune has just pretty wines”…and when they taste wines with a bit more structure they are surprised… and for me these are people who are used to taste wines from the  north side of Beaune…because that area especially that bottom part of the slope, tends to have that roundess easiness in the wines…whereas when you go south towards Pommard, in general, I find the wines to be a bit more serious when you go south, in general…so some people say Beaune wines are “a bit to tannic to my taste”…so since it is so …I hear those two different things…which are quite opposite.

 

[Bustle of a car interior]

Brenna (Narration): We’ve only been driving a couple of minutes,  and we’re already beyond the outer edges of the city and headed up the surprisingly steep slope of the Montagne de Beaune 

 

David Croix: Ah so here we are. [Describes the landscape in French]

 

Brenna (Narration): As David pointed out, the vineyards on this northern side of the appellation are often known for being soft, round, and pretty…this is primarily because of the significant alluvial fan that connects Beaune with the neighboring appellation Savigny les Beaune, which is also known for producing wines that are pretty and round.

 

We’re driving up a little vineyard road that makes a diagonal along the slope–to our right is the relatively flat vineyard Les Cents Vignes – a great example of that pretty alluvial style David is talking about, on our left as we continue up the slope is a vineyard called Les Bressandes

–its a pretty big, so the bottom portion of it can be known to produce some pleasant alluvial wines, but the upper portion is just the opposite…we drive up and around the vineyard, until we arrive at the very top edge of the slope…

 

[rustle of people  and equipment leaving the van]

 

David Croix: It’s high for Burgundy overall I think. It’s like 300 meters where we are. And you are 225 in the middle of Cents Vignes–That plays a role.

 

Brenna (Narration): Beaune Bressandes is one of David’s standout wines…the wines are unique and distinctive, just like the vineyard itself

 

Paul Wasserman: Have you ever found a word for “en de verre”

David Croix: (Chuckling with Paul) No, I just do this.

Paul Wasserman: (laughing) me either.

 

Brenna (Narration): David gestures with his hands to show that the slope is tilted unevenly to the north…the French term for this is en de verre.

 

David Croix: Yes, I almost killed myself in this vineyard, and ever since we decided to always plow with a horse.

 

Brenna (Narration): Once you notice the shape of this top corner of the slope, you’ll notice it every time you drive past these vineyards…

 

[ethereal music begins]

 

In addition to the aspect of the vineyard, the geology is distinctive too: this top portion is made up of something called grezes litees – which is a deposit of small, angular, white limestone gravels. They’re called “cryoclastic” gravels because the only way they can form is when hard limestone gets fractured and infiltrated by water. Then later,  the water freezes, expands, and causes the limestone to explode. The result is that you get very loose, light, gravelly soils that are extremely calcareous because of all of those fresh limestone edges…this is a harsh environment for the vines, which creates a distinctive texture in the wines…

 

David Croix: For me there's a better sense of minerality. There's something a little dryer on the tannins when you are up on the slope…there is a strong stony character on the slope…that I get every year, limestone finish…

 

Brenna (Narration): We’ll talk more about grezes litées with our friendly neighborhood geologist Françoise Vannier in the coming episodes…

 

Creative, bold and attuned …David is considering planting white grapes here, which is allowed within the AOC system for Beaune…

 

David Croix: This is a replacement… Oh, White Boar! 

Brenna: What, really?

David Croix: Yes, see? It's rather fresh!  

 

Brenna (Narration): Back in the van, we make our way back down the slope, this time driving down the southern boundary of Bressandes… On our right is Beaune’s most prized vineyard, Les Greves…Beaune Grèves is also a very large Premier Cru vineyard, with a true patchwork of producers of all sizes within it, this includes small producers like David, the incredibly revered Lafarge family, and …right in the center of Beaune Greves is Bouchard’s famed Vigne de l’Enfant Jesus — aptly nicknamed the “baby jesus wine” especially by professionals like myself who can’t speak french…

 

David Croix: When you look back in history, Beaune  was considered one of the top villages in the Côte...Greves was the same price as...Clos de Bèze, for example.

 

Brenna (Narration): According to Dr Lavalle Beaune, Greves was one of the highest classified wines at the time…and historically, it was often equated to some of the most prized Pinot Noir vineyards in the Cote de Nuit…

 

David makes wine from each of these very different vineyards: Les Cent Vignes, Bressandes, and Greves, which are all right next to each other, and when you taste through them, they perfectly display how different the wines of Beaune can be from one another…

 

[Uplifting ethereal music plays]


 

3.2 Biodynamic History with Jean Claude Rateau

 

At the bottom of the slope, sandwiched between the outer edges of the city and the massive slope of Beaune premier cru, lies a little slice of village vineyard, called Les Mariages, and within it,  a little secret garden…Clos des Mariages – the very first biodynamically farmed vineyard in the Côte d’Or.

 

[Walking into the vineyard…Paul and Jean Claude speak of the fruit trees in French]

 

Brenna (Narration): We’ve left David for now, and have met up with the under-the radar, epic-ally mustached, cult legend Jean Claude Rateau.

 

Jean Claude Rateau: Oui! Bonjour! Je suis Jean Claude Rateau, viticulteur à Beaune

 

Brenna (Narration): Jean Claude prefers to stick to French, so Paul will help to translate… Jean Claude is joined by his assistant winemaker Amel, who now leads the cellar and has continued to push the domaine in the ‘natural’ direction of more natural winemaking techniques to complement their way ahead of the curve farming.

 

[Paul and Jean Claude discuss in French]

 

Paul Wasserman: Apparently, Amel does everything

Amel Noir: My name is Amel Noir, I am 38 now…

Paul Wasserman: all of the winemaking

Amel Noir: I am working in the vineyard since 2003

Paul Wasserman: all of the technical direction, and he’s just joking that he doesn’t do anything anymore

Amel Noir: I’m making vinification since 5, 6 years, with Jean Claude Rateau

 

Brenna (Narration): Jean Claude tells us the story of how he first discovered biodynamics and how it started a ripple effect throughout the Côte d’Or.

 

Jean Claude speaks in French, while Paul translates…

 

Paul Wasserman (Translating): So he sees an article…he signed up for a botany class, he was 17 years old. He didn’t understand a thing, but he was fascinated. But he said, “that’s what I want to do”. And that’s where he saw that in fact biodynamics were very simple, and gave extraordinary results. SO when he took over officially in 1979 he was directly in biodynamics…

 

…Jean Claude continues…

 

And 4-5 years later all of the buddies, Emmanuel Giboulot,  Pascal Marchand from Clos des Epeneaux, Didier Montchovet, Dominique Derian, Thierry Guillot in Saint Romain…they were friends, and they were fascinated by it…shortly after Anne Claude Leflaive arrived on the scene and that’s what started the biodynamic movement in Burgundy..

 

We’ve mentioned biodynamics a few times so far in this episode, and as we have places to be we won’t get into the details right now, but promise to do a deeper dive in future episodes. Very quickly, biodynamics is a little bit like organic farming +++, it includes a sense of mystical philosophies that consider things like the phases of the moon, and views the vineyard as a complete ecosystem…like I said..more to come…

 

Paul Wasserman: (looking at the soil) 40 years of biodynamics…

 

…Paul and Jean Claude discuss the fresh, clean, smell of the soil

 

Brenna (Narration): Today, some of the greatest vineyards in Burgundy are farmed biodynamically, including the greatest vineyard of them all – Romanée Conti…and here is where it all began. Standing in this vineyard, is truly standing in a piece of history.

 

…Jean Claude Continues…

 

Paul Wasserman (translating): The first thing he saw was the plant completely changing…it’s harder to demonstrate but he thinks it was more aromatic wines from the very beginning…and much greater diversity in the grasses that grow…and because these were all great, visual signs, he never stopped. He just went deeper and deeper.

 

Brenna (Narration): Jean Claude describes the terroir of Clos des Marriages as in the classic style of Beaune…the soils are alluvial with rounded cobbles and some heavier clay which gives that little bit of oomph on the palette…

 

Paul Wasserman (translating): …like semolina…like couscous…here there is about a foot of soil, and just on the other side of the football stadium there is 15cm and it dies of thirst every summer…

 

…Jean Claude continues…

 

Paul Wasserman (translating): so we’re on a sacred space, because a lot of the Celtic, Gallo-Roman sites are built on sacred spaces…it’s linked to water, so there’s a sacred source “leg” (meaning spring), the goddess of the source was Belene…which is where Beaune comes from…it was Belene, Belna, Beaune…there was Celtic ruins, a Gallo-Roman one, and there was a 5th Century Abby too, where they found skeletons of people who were 2 meters high…those were the Bourgondes, so the people who invaded Burgundy actually, and gave their name to Burgundy, the Burgundians…and we just passed the source, it’s right there…

40 years without going to the doctor…

Brenna: Maybe it helps the football team win, too? [laughs]

 

Brenna (Narration): As we get in the car and drive away, we pass by the sacred source, or natural spring, that Jean Claude was referring to…And I can’t help but feel a little bit more convinced of the supernatural…or at least the…spiritual side of things…than when we drove in…

 

Paul Wasserman: SO just where these trees are, um, that’s the source…it kind of looks like a little shrine actually.

Brenna: Yeah, it does! All these big old trees…

Paul Wasserman: Yeah and there’s a little, look to the right…I’ve picnic-ed here…to the left…basically we’re going back the way we came…

 

[sounds of driving in the car]

 

3.3 Clos des Mouches

 

Brenna (Narration): We’re now heading to the southern edge of the Beaune appellation which borders the neighboring village of Pommard–Remember, this is the side David told us was known for more structure and tannin. This will be our final vineyard stop in Beaune, and we’re joined again by …Laurene Boss from Maison Drouhin to visit one of their most iconic vineyards, and the first major land purchase of the Domaine…

 

Laurène Boss: 100 years ago actually, because we just celebrated the 100 years anniversary of the acquisition Clos des Mouches, the famous

 

Brenna (Narration): On the drive over, Laurene explains how Clos des Mouches first gained its stellar reputation thanks to a famous Parisian restaurant in the roaring 20s…

 

[jazzy, 20s music continues]

 

Laurène Boss: He was really good friends with the director of Maxime’s in Paris…in the 20s 30s were the crazy years in France, people were having a lot of fun, so drinking a lot of wine…this restaurant was the place to be and that’s how the Clos des Mouches became so famous–famous people were going to this place and drinking this white, amazing wine, and it’s starting to spread…

 

Brenna (Narration): Clos des Mouches is a very large, varied, and complex vineyard, and Drouhin owns almost all of it. Here we get our first taste of what will continue to be a theme throughout our exploration of the Côte d’Or–the idea that balance, and a sense of completeness can come together in a complex place to become greater than the sum of its parts…

 

Laurène Boss: It's a very nice view, with a little sun on the church in Beaune…you see they’re working with a horse. They cannot go with the tractor here, so it’s only horses. This is red, this is white, this is white, after that is red…

Brenna: So it’s a total patchwork…that’s so cool…

Laurène Boss: Exactly..so we re-plant whites where whites were…it's been 100 years but we are still learning why pinot noir here and why chardonnay there…the magic of the Clos des Mouches…you see it's going up there, then going down…

Brenna: It's like its own little…kind of isolated even though it’s in the middle of a sea of vines

Laurène Boss: La Montagne! It’s close, La Montagne is right behind…

 

The vineyard is complex on all sorts of levels: White grapes here and red grapes there…rows are planted this way and that, …it's also situated on a hill within the slope, which creates varied topography and aspects facing in all sorts of direction

 

Laurène Boss: And just behind this plot it’s Pommard, and then here it’s Beaune again…

 

Brenna (Narration):  The vineyard is also located right along the edge of the boundary between Beaune and Pommard…FV has done a detailed geologic study of the site and has confirmed that: believe it or not, its complicated. There are areas of shallow limestone, richer marls, and even some distinct patches of dolomitized limestone –which we’ll get into in our next episode where we look closely at the geology of Pommard–but again the thing to remember here is that even with all of this variation, or in fact because of it, this site produces something magical…

 

Laurène Boss: I think it’s the magic of the Clos des Mouches…if we started to make a cuvée from every plot it wouldn’t be so amazing, its the mystery…we’ve only known 1 or 2 generations of vines and it would take another 300 years maybe more to know, and you don’t plant for a year, you plant for 50, 70 years…

 

Philippe, Laurene’s uncle, manages the vineyards for the entire Drouhin estate, and was also the one who pushed the estate into first organic and then biodynamic farming…purely because he felt it was the best decision for the vineyards…they haven’t yet pursued certification, but being in the vineyards with Lauréne makes it clear that each portion of the vineyard is carefully cared for…and that the future of this massive and historic negociant is in good hands…

 

Laurène Boss: Do you know why it’s called the Clos des Mouches? That’s the mouches á miel – the honeybees–it was a good spot for them to live and do their job.

 

[sounds of walking through the vineyard]

 

3.4 Negociants and Micro-Negociants– Les Horées

 

I mentioned earlier that the term negociant is a bit tricky…and to be honest, I’m still sorting it out myself. Drouhin, is definitely a negociant–they purchase a good amount of fruit and/or wine in addition to the 80 hectares that they farm themselves. The image that comes to mind when you hear negociant fits here: you think big. Giant houses that make tons of wine, although in this case in a very thoughtful and responsible manner. 

 

However, as we alluded to earlier, the term negociant started to become a bit of a bad word when the quality of the wines dropped along with the integrity of some of these big houses in the 2nd half of the 20th Century.

 

Daniel Johnnes: You know it’s ironic also when I think about negociants, when you think about the small growers, today they’re all negociants, they all have the status of negociant–they can buy grapes when they have to. And the only way a young winemaker or producer in Burgundy can exist if they buy grapes.

 

Brenna (Narration): So in today’s world, many of these smaller growers are actually negociants themselves…and in a twist of irony that can only happen in the real world…the bad word of negociant has been turned on its head by a group of young, hungry outsiders who want to make wine in Burgundy…right now, we’re seeing the rise of the micro-negociant

 

Catharina Sadde: Yeah yeah, I’m obviously German, and I came to Burgundy for an internship the first time in 2010…

 

Brenna (Narration): This is Catharina Sadde, of Les Horées…one of the most recent overnight sensations in the world of Burgundian micro-negociants…after a long day in the vineyards, we’ve ended up back in Beaune, at Catharina’s new winery.

 

Catharina Sadde: I did everything, right from the beginning, it was cool. And during this time I met my husband, and that’s why I’m still here. So I really stayed for a private decision, and everything fell into place...

 

Brenna (Narration): Before wine, Catharina started out her career as a professional chef, and worked in a few fancy, Michelin starred restaurants in German, which eventually led her into the wine world…

 

Catharina Sadde: I was already pregnant with our twins and then I worked for the next 8 years for several domaine’s, sometimes I did 2-3 domaines per year, my husband came, my mother and her husband came to watch the children, so they spent more than half of the time with me in South Africa, but I was almost three months there…yeah, it was quite an organization!

Brenna (Narration): Her wines are like her–charming, fun and totally alive/vibrant…they are respectful of their place and of the history of Burgundy, while clearly also having their own refreshing identity. It isn’t easy as an outsider to work your way into the wine community of Burgundy

 

Catharina Sadde: I’m not making wine to see my name on the bottle, I wanted to find my place, but that’s the thing in Burgundy–it is all family owned, so there will be a son or daughter taking over. I wanted to find my place but after 8 years my husband was the first one to say “you’re ready now, do it”! And we had the possibility to buy our first plot. So I thought okay, it will be my little garden, I can go by bicycle, it is close to the house. But no, a couple of months later I said let’s do it with this and buying grapes as well.

 

Brenna (Narration): Catharina farms a few plots in addition to the grapes she purchases…and sometimes, because she is so passionate about the entire process she even requests the opportunity to help farm some of the parcels so she can do it the way she wants…basically as biodynamically as she can possibly manage…

 

Catharina Sadde: What I try to do is getting more and more collaboration, not just buying grapes, so I propose right from the first vintage on, that’s the easiest part, I propose I pick, so that they don’t have to think about it, because everyone is stressed during harvest. Then I go when I want, the advantage for me is I can choose the harvest date and the maturity levels…

 

Brenna (Narration): But this is a delicate balance…there are relationships to maintain here, and this extra work can actually be seen as a significant risk by the landowners. With the challenges of the past few vintages, it's a lot of weight on her shoulders…

 

Catharina Sadde: I hope they let me continue…it’s scary [laughs].

 

Brenna (Narration): Catharina’s winery is in Beaune, and she and her family also live right here…so it was no coincidence that her first plot was Beaune Prevolles…

 

Catharina Sadde: It's important for me to be close to Beaune. I’m super flexible and sometimes I decide instantly what I’m going to do, if I’m going to work in the vineyards, and which one, depending on the weather and the family organization…I could not drive to Marshannay, and it’s a shame, but maybe one day!

 

Brenna (Narration): I love that Catharina says this about Beaune, because it immediately makes me think of something Laurene said earlier about when her great-Grandfather Maurice decided to purchase land in the Clos des Mouches…

 

Laurène Boss: He had to find something where you could go back and forth with a horse in one day because there were no cars, so Beaune Premier Cru was his choice.

 

Brenna (Narration): There are so many links between people here, even when it seems like they are doing such very different things. 

 

Paul Wasserman: It gives a chance to a ton of people, and a ton of outsiders to make wine, and you can pretty much do what you want. So there’s a lot of freedom in the micro-negoc…

 

Brenna (Narration): This freedom exists for both the outsiders, who have no way of inheriting great vineyards…and also with the young Burgundians, who can do their own thing as they learn to find their way within their already established family business…

 

 

Brenna (Narration): The Wasserman company has always been known for supporting and promoting people first, with the strict belief that when you are working with the right people…passionate, caring, good people, the quality of the wines will always follow. So it's no surprise that they are choosing to work with many new young growers who work with some combination of farmed and purchased fruit. 

 

Paul Wasserman: Catharina Sadde at Les Horées, Vins Saison, Chantereves started as a micro-negociant then a negociant, Bastian Wolber at Les Tombay, Benjamin Gilbert who nobody knows about yet because his first vintage will be bottled I think in the spring. I mean the list just goes on and on…Charles Lachaux who we’ve mentioned, I’m not sure how much wine Benjamin Leroux had in the beginning, but he certainly started as a micro-negoc, even though he’s not anymore. 

 

Brenna (Narration): There are many others of course, Cassiopees, Vin Noe, Maison Harbour, Le Grappin….and many others that I don't know personally…and again, they’re all doing what they can—farming here, helping out there, buying from wherever they get the opportunity and doing their best to express the place and themselves all at the same time…

 

Brenna (Narration): The reality of Burgundy is that nothing here is black and white. The negociants are farming vineyards, and the domaine’s are buying grapes…But there is a repetition of themes as well…in Burgundy you are always pulled towards the land, so if you start out buying grapes you can’t help but have the desire to farm them yourself…and if you’re farming your own little plot in one place, you can’t help but be curious about the potential of the terroirs in another.

 

Brenna (Narration): The added flexibility and diversity of this style of working, and living, is certainly propelling Burgundy into the next phase of its history: a history in the making that will be dominated by the realities of a changing climate, a more diverse community, and a more global market for the wines.

 

3.5 Tasting Beaune Wines

 

[sounds of excited chatter in a restaurant]

 

Brenna (Narration): The best way to end a long day in Burgundy...is to find yourself a little restaurant with a big wine list, a couple of good, geek-y friends, and spend some time with the wines themselves…We often end up at the] little spot across from the Church called Maison du Colombier…where we order a few bottles, taste them, discuss them, drink them… and repeat…

 

Brenna (Narration): There are layers upon layers of soil, rock, history, and intent to discover in each bottle, and every pour…Not everything is going to make sense right away, but that’s why we’re here…and I guess that means we have more to taste…

 

David Croix: What should we taste next...should we do Greves, Bressandes…yeah let’s do that, let’s try to find the grezes litées character, if we can find it! So you see that sense of that certain darkness on the fruit, but you’ll see on the palette you get that grippy, stony finish. That to me is really a signature of Bressandes.

Brenna: It smells more, like you said, cool, and kind of forest-y

David Croix: Yes, there’s also something a bit more herbal, fresher in a sense…you know at first I was very disturbed about that finish, that grainy tannin, so I thought I’d pick later, maybe the tannins are underripe, then I realized it didn’t change anything except maybe make the fruit a little bit darker. So I said it's the terroir, that’s how I learned it’s coming from where the plant is growing…that’s how I figured that out.

 

Brenna (Narration): The Cote d’Or is the best place to taste wines from the same vineyard made by multiple different people…and the beauty here is that you get to decide what you want to focus on. You can focus on the character of the vineyard, and the threads that unite the producers within each site…or, you can choose to focus on the vignerons and see if you can taste what they are trying to tell you about themselves…

 

Catharina Sadde: Even if I open bottle, it can be quite changing. They are so alive! It changes all the time.

 

Jean Claude Rateau: in French about Clos des Mariages

Paul Wasserman (translating): Less spice, more dark fruit, black cherry, and I find that you also see the structure

Jean Claude Rateau: C’est Beaune classique –jolie village

 

Brenna (Narration): You can choose different things on different days, or both, or neither. You can choose to place your full attention on the person, or people, sitting in front of you, and let the wine be the music in the background. It's up to you…

 

Catharina Sadde: So Mon Poulain, Brenna, that’s the Passtougrain, that’s the label with the little hats. This year, 2020, its 50% gamay and 50% pinot

Paul Wasserman: The nose is already spectacular

Catharina Sadde: That’s everybody’s darling wine

Paul Wasserman: Even mine, if I could only have one wine…

 

Part 4: Closing

 

[clinking glasses and cheers-ing]

 

Brenna (Narration): I love exploring wines this way with friends..letting the conversation flow in and out of wine-speak, and letting the wines tell you what they have to say, when they want to say it.  Beaune is the historic centerpiece of the Côte d’Or and is a huge part of the reason Burgundy exists as it does today, and It’s the literal first stop for most visitors, including us. The vineyards here may not be as prized as they once were–at least compared to their famous neighbors, but with Beaune’s history, vibrant community, and the quality of its terroirs, it might just be Burgundy’s future…

 

Laurène Boss: The wines from Beaune are not very appreciated...but it’s a great value for money, because they’re more cheaper than Côte de Nuits village. This is Premier Cru, I think it's the same price as a Chambolle Musigny village. 

 

David Croix: There is no Grand Cru in Beaune, but potentially for me the wine with the most gracious balance for me is Beaune Greves...and potentially this is our little baby Grand Cru....I won't pretend we're getting Grand Cru in Beaune, but it's potentially the best terroir.

 

Daniel Johnnes: It’s shocking to be that it’s not better known, and it’s not in greater demand, and it doesn’t sell better.

 

Laurène Boss: I was talking with Clothilde Lafarge, and she told me, even her, they have Beaune Premier Cru Les Aigrots, and it's always harder to sell, but it tastes really nice

 

Catharina Sadde:  Beaune is not the first bottle you grab for in the restaurant, and that's a shame...so since I’m having my own Beaune plot I am tasting more Beaune, and I like Prevolles especially because its very pure expression of Burgundy pinot noir

 

Brenna: I love wines from Beaune..I love them

Laurène Boss: Thank you, no, me too! But I think it's just people don’t know about Beaune.

 

Catharina Sadde: But still everything is still kind of open for Beaune, which is great! 

 

Daniel Johnnes: I think the wines of Beaune are going to find a much larger following. They’re more affordable, people will discover how delicious they are, and they can age also.

 

Jean Claude Rateau: (in French) Un beau terroir de Beaune, c'est extraordinaire, Beaune…

 

Brenna (Narration): There is so much to experience here in Beaune, and throughout the Côte d’Or, and we’re just getting started.

 

Outro:

 

Are some soils destined to grow red grapes over white grapes?

 

In our next episode we'll take a deep dive into the geology of the Côte de Beaune with our hero, Francoise Vannier in search of the answer to this question. We’ll travel from Savigny les Beaune and the Hill of Corton, all the way down to Pommard and Volnay –make sure to hit subscribe so you’ll be along for the ride.

 

This episode is dedicated to the memory of Becky Wasserman-Hone and to her husband Russel Hone…who have showed the world the meaning of Burgundy, one home-cooked meal at a time.

 

This episode is made possible by our Season 2 Sponsors: Becky Wasserman & Co, La Paulee, and Acker Wines.

 

Want to celebrate the release of Season 2 with us? We’ll be pouring at the La Paulee Grand Tastings in New York on March 12th and in Los Angeles on March 19th – see you there!

 

CREDITS

 

Roadside Terroir is hosted and produced by me, Brenna Quigley. Recording and sound engineering by Nick Canepa, and original music and sound design by Jeff Alvarez.

 

This season wouldn’t be possible without the support from all of you–thank you for listening, sharing, emailing, and supporting us however you can. Check out our website roadsideterroir.com to learn how you can stay in touch, and how to help support this season by becoming a Roadside Insider, or a Season 2 Patron. 

 

If you want to learn more about the history of Burgundy we highly recommend checking out some of the comprehensive reference books on the region by Jasper Morris, Anthony Hansen, Clives Cotes, and Matt Kramer.

 

Thank you to our guests: Jasper Morris, Paul Wasserman, Daniel Johnnes, Laurene Boss, David Croix, Jean Claude Rateau, Catherina Sadde, and some extra cameos by Raj Parr, Christina Rasmussen, Abe Schoener, Nina West, and Daniel Callan.

 

Thank you to Jerusha Frost, Esa Eslami, Summer Staeb, Michael Sager, Julia Wiggin, Francoise Vannier, and everyone else who helped make this episode a reality.

 

 

Brenna: I like that you have to be committed, to like, be the Burgundy lover. 

Paul: And it’s almost like you need a guide or a guru…you need a great sommelier, a great wine merchant, you need the press or a reviewer…you need a geologist? You need..um..can you tell me what you’re trying to say?

Brenna: You need a fucking podcast!

Paul: Ooh! Stupid me! You need a great podcast, you, ah, sorry.