Kris à Genève

A Canadian living in Switzerland

A week in Burgundy

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In the European summer of 2014, the weather in July collapsed under crippling performance anxiety. As early as March, the sun began shining consistently, raising expectations for a long, hot summer. But when it was July’s turn, the hot weather retreated with a whimper and was replaced by a persistent cloud and rain that resembled October more than July.

In the last week of this autumnal July, my Mom arrived for a visit. Here is a photo from one of the month’s rare sunny days, with Juniper inspecting our visitor:

Juniper with her Papa and Mamie

Juniper with her Papa and Mamie

Shortly after Mom’s arrival, we travelled to Burgundy for a week’s vacation. We rented a well restored vintner’s house in Pommard, a village along the Route des Grands Crus, a wine tour route that links all but one of Burgundy’s most famous wine areas.

It rained steadily for the first three days of our stay, during which we stayed close to the house. To combat cabin fever, we walked through the network of paths that stitch together the many small vineyards surrounding Pommard.

Pommard in the rain

We adults would return from our walks saturated with rain, but Juniper remained relatively dry under the canopy of her backpack. In fact, she has always enjoyed being outside in stormy conditions, so was quite happy during our rainy walks in Burgundy.

Juniper enjoying a walk in the rain

Juniper enjoying a rainy walk among the vineyards

During those first rainy days, we admired Pommard’s hundreds of tiny vineyards during our daytime walks, and then, in the evening, we sampled their wines. This sensory sequence – visual during the day, followed by taste in the evening – emphasised for us the significant differences between wines that are grown a few hundred metres from each other. Indeed, Burgundy wines are one of the most specific examples of terroir, a rich, rich French concept for agricultural land that incorporates its physical characteristics – soil, topography and climate – with the crops and techniques cultivated by humans, to explain the distinctions of a particular parcel’s produce.

The concept of terroir is elaborate in Burgundy, where, on the surface, there is little to distinguish among the vineyards and their wine. The parcels are often tiny, indistinguishable from their neighbours and they all produce wine from single grape varietals: mainly chardonnay for white and pinot noir for red. Yet, with an average production of only a few hundred cases each per year, Burgundy vintners produce wines with markedly different aromas, flavours, texture and longevity, neighbour from neighbour. This small-scale differentiation contrasts with the Bordeaux region, for example, where the average vintner produces 15,000 cases of wine per year and can differentiate their products by blending several different grapes.

Concept aside, terroir also has its bureaucratic side, manifested in land title and codified in the French appellation system, which restricts the naming of agricultural products to a specific geography. Perhaps the most famous example is sparkling white wine: if it is produced in five designated districts of the Champagne region, it is champagne. Produced anywhere else in the world, it is a bottle of bubbly at half the price.

The titling of Burgundy’s vineyards evolved from the French Revolution, before which the Catholic Church controlled many of the region’s vineyards. After the Revolution, the state divided and sold these holdings to private owners. A few years later, legal reforms during Napoleon’s rule required that, when parents died, their holdings be divided equally among their children. Over the next hundred years, Burgundy’s vineyards were split and split again among heirs. When the wine industry adopted the appellation system in the 1930s, the fragmentation of Burgundy’s vineyards was codified in the region’s many appellations. Today the Burgundy region has approximately 3,200 vineyards, with an average area of less than eight hectares each, who label their wines from among the 500+ appellations under the Burgundy umbrella.

Different from other regions, vintners in Burgundy attached their appellations to specific parcels, which they call climats, as opposed to attaching them to an owner, estate or château, as they do in Bordeaux. The following map illustrates the parcel-by-parcel specificity of Burgundy’s appellations. It depicts the many named vineyard parcels around the towns of Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vosne-Romanée and Vougeot. Many of the parcels are one hectare or smaller.

Map of Vosne-Romanée wine estates

Map of Vosne-Romanée wine estates

On the map, the parcels that traditionally grow grapes for red wines are coloured in shades of pink. The darkest pink indicates those designated as a grand cru, the highest grade, which applies to approximately 1% of the total volume produced in Burgundy and can sell for many thousands of euros per bottle. The next grade is premier cru, depicted in medium pink and representing approximately 10% of Burgundy wines.

Each of the parcels growing these two premium grades – grand and premier cru – has its own appellation under the Burgundy umbrella. The following photo shows the label of a 1975 bottle of La Tâche: this appellation is restricted to a parcel, shown in the middle of the above map, which is no bigger than a half a hectare:

Label of a bottle of  La Tâche, 1975

Label of a bottle of La Tâche, 1975

The third grade is village, in light pink on the map and representing 37% of Burgundy wines. Bottles of village are sometimes labelled by individual parcel, but are also blended among parcels to make, for example, a “Vosne-Romanée Village,” as on the following label:

Label of a bottle of  Vosne-Romanée Village, 2004

Label of a bottle of Vosne-Romanée Village, 2004

The remaining 51% of Burgundy’s red wine production are blended into wines labelled with generic regional names. From the plots depicted on the above map, these names could include Côte de Nuits (the subregion) or simply Burgundy.

Here is a photo looking across some premier cru parcels near Beaune. Notice the transition from the dry, stony soil around the house to the rich, clumpy brown soil under the vines.

Vineyard near Beaune

Vineyard near Beaune

Next is a photo of an expressive vine of pinot noir, the red wine grape for which Burgundy is known. I shot this photo on a hillside above Pommard, in the premier cru La Vache parcel, by my reckoning.

The mighty pinot vine

A pinot noir vine in the La Vache vineyard, Pommard

Label of a bottle of La Vache

Label of a bottle of La Vache

Here is Eileen, blocking the view of a premier cru parcel near Volnay, perhaps Chanlin:

In the past, Burgundian vintners were short

In the past, Burgundian vintners were short

Label of a bottle of Chanlin

Label of a bottle of Chanlin

Here is a photo of the premier cru Clos de la Commaraine estate in Pommard – our rental house was situated to the right of this photo:

View over Clos de la Commaraine and Pommard

View over the Clos de la Commaraine estate and Pommard

Label of a bottle of Clos de la Commaraine

Label of a bottle of Clos de la Commaraine

As a last illustration of the specificity of the Burgundian appellation system, I photographed these grapes on the Les Jarollières parcel, south of Pommard. Look for them in a future vintage!

Grapes in the Les Jarollières vineyard, Pommard

Grapes in the Les Jarollières vineyard, Pommard

Label of a bottle of  Les Jarollières

Label of a bottle of Les Jarollières

Wine figures into the history of Burgundy, although not to the degree implied by its brand and the prices of some of its grand crus. The Duchy of Burgundy was once a near-sovereign state within the Kingdom of France. In the 15th century, the Dukes exercised considerable control over a series of weak French kings and grew fabulously wealthy. Grown ambitious, they attempted to sever their dependence on France, but failed, and the Duchy was swallowed by the French throne.

As I read about their wealth, I was tempted to imagine that the Dukes filled their treasury by exporting Burgundy wines. Indeed, in the 14th century, when the Catholic Popes took their 67-year sabbatical in Avignon, France, the pontiffs preferred Burgundy wines over Roman ones, which boosted the brand and sales of Burgundy reds. But overall, the Dukes of Burgundy amassed their fortune, not from Burgundy wine, but by marrying into the possession of wealthy merchant states in the Low Countries, in particular the city of Bruges.

One day when the sun shone during our vacation, we drove to see the fruits of Burgundy’s one-time wealth, in its capital city of Dijon. Many other regional capitals in France developed as administrative outposts of the political centre in Paris, with smaller, more subdued architecture and public spaces. Montpellier and Tours are attractive regional capitals, for example, but are not grand. By contrast, Dijon retains the ostentatious look and feel of the capital of the Duchy of Burgundy, with a sprawling palace, grand squares and wide boulevards.

Palais des Ducs de Bourgogne

Palais des Ducs de Bourgogne

The Palais des Ducs currently houses Dijon’s city hall and the city’s famous Musée des Beaux-Arts. I had looked forward to strolling through the museum, as I enjoy these converted-palace museums more for the rooms than for their collections. But we were forbidden from bringing our baby backpack into the museum, so I spent my visit carrying and cajoling a tired, squirmy Juniper. Here is a rare photo I shot during our visit, when Eileen took Juniper so that I could rest my back:

Musée des Beaux-Arts

Musée des Beaux-Arts, Dijon

Back outside the Palais des Ducs, with the sun heating the marble of the Place de la Libération, it was time for Juniper to strip and eat her goûter, and for Papa to rest his sweaty feet:

Time for goûter (and a rest)

Time for goûter (and a rest)

On another sunny day, we walked 3km from Pommard to Beaune, a small, wealthy city that is one of the world’s wine capitals. The wine tours all pass through Beaune, so the city felt quite touristy. This actually underlined the value of the Burgundy wine brand, as, despite the crowds of tourists, wine is Beaune’s primary industry.

Beaune had enough of a Disneyland feel that I was unmotivated to shoot photos. For example, the city’s central attraction is the Hospices de Beaune, a hospital and refuge for the poor, built in the 15th century. It has a number of attractive visual elements, including a distinctive Burgundian tiled roof and a ward of red velour beds for the patients. But I was unmotivated to shuffle through the crowds and compose an interesting photo, as illustrated by the cliché photo below, in which I even borrowed another family’s pose as foreground!

Hospices de Beaune

Hospices de Beaune

Nope, my camera was not drawn to Beaune itself, but rather to Juniper enjoying a full day out of the house after the rainy beginning to the week. Here is a photo of her babbling to me in the chapel of the Hospices de Beaune:

Choirgirl in the Hospices de Beaune chapel

Choir girl in the Hospices de Beaune chapel

It was a hot day in Beaune, so I enjoyed removing my shoes and relaxing on the grass. Not Juniper – she dragged herself off the grass and into the middle of a dusty path in the direct sun. There, she collected stones and made friends with passers-by.

Juniper collecting stones in Beaune

Juniper collecting stones in Beaune

Juniper was especially animated in the sombre, hush-hush environment of Beaune’s cathedral, the Collégial Notre-Dame. She insisted on walking barefoot on the cathedral’s smooth stone floor. As she passed whispering, eyes-down adults, she chattered, laughed and yelped at top volume, her glee echoing throughout the building. Here is Juniper inspecting one of the chair-pews.

Juniper livening up the Collégial Notre-Dame de Beaune

Juniper livening up the Collégial Notre-Dame de Beaune

As new parents, Eileen and I have adjusted relatively well to a Juniper-friendly vacation routine. Prior to Juniper’s arrival, we would try to fill each vacation day with several activities, building our memories activity by activity. With Juniper, we schedule just one activity per day and our memories form from the range of reactions that new experiences provoke in her.

For example, we visited the holiday home of one of Eileen’s colleagues, in the village of Chazelle. Juniper was intrigued by their little dog Max and constantly reached for him. But, when we brought her close, Max’s enthusiasm and erratic movements frightened her. This resulted in a game of advance-retreat between Juniper and Max that continued throughout our visit.

Juniper fascinated but uneasy around a friendly dog

Juniper fascinated but uneasy around a friendly dog

During the same visit, we strolled around the village of Chazelle. At one point, Juniper met a horse, an animal she has rarely seen, and never up close. Despite the horse being much larger and less friendly than Max the dog, Juniper was unperturbed at being close to the horse and, in this photo, even looks a little bored:

Juniper meets a horse

Juniper meets a horse

During our Burgundy vacation, Juniper was constantly on the lookout for watery playgrounds. This summer she has enjoyed splashing and socialising in Geneva’s paddling pools. Now she seems also to be able to recognise watery fun from a distance. She demonstrated this at the end of our sweaty stroll in Chazelle, when I was walking Juniper back to our car. As we approached a bridge, she saw several children playing near the village sluice gate, 30 metres away. She changed direction and marched me down a rough dirt track, right into the stream, and sat down. Well actually, to her frustration, I insisted on removing her dress before sitting her in the stream. Here is Juniper, beckoning to the adults, who are still on the road, 30 metres away, laughing at her single-mindedness:

Stop, drop and splash

Stop, drop and splash

After watching the water falling through the sluice gate, Juniper wanted to inspect it up close. As she does in her splashing episodes, she received a face-full of water, recoiled, caught her breath and then began again.

Similarly, when we stopped to relax on the Place de la Libération in Dijon, a tired, cranky Juniper went directly for the fountains, where she happily practiced her self-drowning technique.

Cooling off in the square

Cooling off in the square

On the last day of our stay, we visited a new outdoor swimming complex in Montagny-lès-Beaune, called Beaune Beachside. We went on a hunch: Eileen and I had seen several signs along the road for baignade naturelle (“natural swimming pools”), as well as some parked cars gleaming in the distance. It was a great complex, with several different pools, a slide, a climbing wall, etc. But we chuckled at the European concept of “natural”: the complex comprised a number of man-made structures erected at one end of a man-made lagoon. The natural part seemed to be limited to them filtering the lagoon water before pumping it into the pools.

Natural or not, it was all the same to Juniper. Cue splashing and socialising.

SPLASH!

SPLASH!

Coquine

Coquine

Although we enjoyed our introduction to Burgundy, we all reflected that a week is not long enough for a holiday. By the time we had settled into a routine and waited out the rainy days, we had only a couple of days of exploring. For me, this is most evident in my photos from the trip. With two weeks or longer, I can be patient in my photography: scouting for images, observing how the light falls on them at different times of the day and shooting several sunrises and sunsets for a better chance in the fire-in-the-sky lottery. With only a week in Pommard, I photographed only one sunset, which yielded a couple of decent but unspectacular images. I would have enjoyed having more outings to find better angles and light.

Véloroute leaving Pommard

Véloroute leaving Pommard

Vineyards above Pommard

Vineyards above Pommard

From a family perspective as well, longer holidays seem more appealing. We want to raise Juniper to be a comfortable traveller, adaptable to new situations, routines and living conditions. She enjoyed her vacation in Burgundy, but I had the sense that she needed the first few days to accustom herself to her new home, different sleeping arrangements and a modified daily routine. Once she had adjusted to the new context, she was more open and confident to explore and flirt with strangers.

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Written by Kris Terauds

August 13, 2014 at 19:05

One Response

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  1. Kris….Great blog, very informative. Loved the stories as parents with Juniper. I very much appreciate you sending them to me. Cheer Stafford

    enviroemerg2

    August 13, 2014 at 20:33


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