Pinot Noir in La Cote de Beaune: Burgundy’s Bouchard

The name Burgundy conjures up images of lush pinot noirs and chardonnays with expensive price tags, served to you with a French accent. It’s most wine lovers dream to visit the region and immerse yourself in pate, pinot and pastries. But the reality is that the Burgundy region, as famous as it is, is a working region, unassuming and harmonious with its surroundings. In short, it’s not Napa. A recent drive from Dijon to Beaune in the Cote D’Or showcased just how dissimilar the area is from its famous American counterpart. My destination was Bouchard Pere & Fils one of Burgundy’s top producers. Being my first time in Burgundy there was certainly gleeful excitement at driving the N75 highway past famed vineyards that race up mountain sides and cover the flatlands. That the area looks so postcard perfect with its cobblestone streets, rustic French architecture and cafes punctuating the place, only adds to its irresistible charm.

Arriving at the venerable winery I was greeted by Isabelle Philippe, the External Relations Manager who has been with Bouchard for 15 years. She graciously took me on a private tour of the wineries extensive cellars, exterior gardens and we ended with a tasting of seven pinot noirs and six chardonnays. Bouchard’s “museum” of old bottles is well known. “We have 3,000 bottles of old Burgundy from the 19th century,” Philippe says. Their oldest bottle dates from 1846 and was tasted just two years ago. They re-cork their older bottles every 20 to 25 years. And don’t think the dust covered bottles are available to taste, they aren’t. But as a visual cue to history, it’s hard not to be giddy about the thought.

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The original property itself was under the control of the nobility and the church. But after the French Revolution, when the country turned on its ear, Michel Bouchard seized upon the opportunity to invest in vineyards, purchasing his first in 1791. “When Bouchard began to buy land, the aim was not to be a giant, but to have the best representation of Burgundy,” Philippe told me. “We intervene as less as possible,” she said as it relates to the winemaking process. The surrounding hillsides cause Philippe to comment, “In terms of geology, there is more diversity here than anyplace in the world,” however Burgundy is known specifically for its clay and limestone soils. And since Bouchard uses 20 different premier cru vineyards in addition to their many others, they have nearly the whole of the Cote d’Or locked up in some way. The Château itself is no longer the workhorse facility. That honor has been given to a new winemaking facility, a pedestrian building just outside of Beaune where the real work is done. The Château however, still regal and graceful, beautifully landscaped and rich with history, is an ideal venue to sample wines, which have been made in this region since the 10th Century.

For more than 25 years, The California Wine Club founders Bruce and Pam Boring have explored all corners of California’s wine country to find award-winning, handcrafted wine to share with the world. Each month, the club features a different small family winery and hand selects two of their best wines for members.