Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Beaune… Rhymes with Home

Beaune rhymes with home...

OK, well maybe not that much, but in my mind it does, and that’s all that counts.

Troglodytes on the Loire

I took the sloooooooooooooow train from Angers to Beaune, a leisurely 6 hour ride on a TER (ironically that stands for Train Express Regional, which, I suppose if you weren’t going from one side of the country to the other, it might qualify as). One interesting thing about following the Loire upstream was passing by its renowned chalk cliffs and hillsides, into which intrepid folks had dug charming homes and wineries. I once stayed in one of these so-called “troglodyte” places, in a B&B outside Azay-le-Rideau. My room was an old kitchen complete with bread oven, dug right into the living rock. Super cool.

Streets suffused with history

I arrived in Beaune at 9:30pm and started walking into town. I couldn’t help but grinning immediately: it had been 4.5 years since I’d last been here, and I was happier than a schoolboy on Christmas morning. I didn’t care that it was freezing, I didn’t care that my laptop bag kept falling off my suitcase on the uneven cobblestones, I didn’t care that it was pitch black and there was no one out: I was home.

Place Monge

There’s something about Beaune and Burgundy for me. The first time I visited, I felt like I was coming home, as if I actually belonged here. Maybe in a past life, I was a Burgundian Duke or winemaker (more likely a peasant, but hey, I’d have lived in Burgundy!). To me, this is IT. This is the vinous Holy Land. I do love other wine regions, but my soul belongs here. I don’t know how or why, that’s just the way it is. Your money may vary.

Hey, nice house!

And that, however, is the key word: money. To enjoy these wines, money is what you need these days. Wines from the area have shot up in price as their popularity has increased, which sucks for those of us on a budget. And it certainly doesn’t help that the better ones are made in tiny quantities. Of course, they’re much cheaper at the source, so I took advantage of that… But I was here for work, not play, or at least not that much play.

Love these guys

I was here to meet some new winemakers and visit some old friends at better-known domaines like Dujac, Jadot, and Evening Land/Lafond. Whitney Woodham, a friend from NYC who’s the GM for Evening Land, generously drove me around, and as we passed from one legendary medieval village to another I couldn’t keep the grin off my face. The sun shone on naked vines carpeting the eastern side of the valley as we wandered, and I leaned forward hungrily, trying to drink in all the sights in case I didn’t come back for a while.

Whitney poses in front of the Evening Land offices

My tastings went pretty well, I am happy to report, though there’s a lot of work left to be done, as usual. Pricing is relatively stratospheric, especially to someone used to dealing with much lower price points. With the economy improving and my network of customers asking for better wines, I want a Burgundy. So we’ll see. Keeping fingers, toes, ears, eyes and tongue crossed…

Jadot's chai

I should add that the 2010 reds/whites at the places I tasted were very nice, with pure fruit and exceptional structure, reminding me of slightly warmer, more balanced 2008s. Now that’s a vintage I’m really enjoying for its pure red fruit and bright acidity. As for the 2011s, well, it’s a tough call as they haven’t even gone through malo yet, but there was excellent potential in the ones I tried. Of course, with Burgundy, there's always one rule year in, year out: producer, producer, producer.

Oooooooooh sooooo good

My four days in Beaune flew by in a flash. There were several wonderful dinners with some lovely wines, new acquaintances were made, old friendships were rekindled, and despite the freakishly cold weather (5°F one morning, you read that right) the sun was bright, the sky was blue, and there was a spring in my step. I boarded the slow TER back to Angers with more than a tinge of regret. I promise I’ll be back, Beaune, and sooner than 4.5 years. That, I promise you.

Au revoir ma Belle Bourgogne!
PS: Pictures of Burgundy can be found HERE.

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