Before the new year, I attended a seminar on the Village Appellations of Burgundy, with Anne Parent (pictured above), who is of the 12th generation in a family of winemakers at Bourgognes Parent, as the speaker. The point of the talk and taste was to introduce Burgundy’s Village wines as affordable, yet satisfying, options in lieu of the more exclusive Premier and Grand Crus. Living with Champagne taste on a beer budget, I appreciated the focus–for as much as I hope to die with a glass of epiphanic Burgundy in hand, I don’t imagine purchasing that bottle any time soon…
With only 3% of France’s vineyards, Burgundy is the most exported French AOC, with 48% of its 200 million bottles being exported to 150 countries. Of these wines, 50% are from the Appellation Bourgogne, and 36.8% are from the Village or Communal Appellations. In Burgundy, there are a total of 100 AOCs (out of France’s 477), 44 of which are Communal. A step above Appellation Bourgogne, these Village Appellations have area restrictions, and within these Appellations you’ll find climats and Premier Crus.
Climats, says Parent, are “delimited geographic areas benefitting from specific natural and identified conditions.” There are more than 600 climats in Burgundy, each of which can change within a meter or two. Climats are “the DNA of Burgundy,” adds Parent. And, because of the French Revolution (in 1791), when the vineyards of the nobility or Church were split and sold off, followed by the Napoleonic Code (requiring that one’s inheritance be divided amongst all offspring), one climat may have many owners, each with only a row or two to cultivate.
The philosophy of Burgundy, says Parent, is that “we’re not owner of the land…our role is to protect, preserve, and transmit.” And so, it’s only natural that most wines are sustainable and that many are biodynamic or organically produced–to protect the terroir, which has yielded wines and been shaped for 2000 years. Defined as expressions of “geography, geology, pedology, plants, and climate”, in addition to the winemaker’s hand, terroir often inspires the names of climats–traits of history, soil, or location.
Currently, Burgundy is applying to UNESCO to preserve their heritage and climats, but they’ll have to stand on line. Champagne has applied to UNESCO first, and so Burgundy will have to follow.