Burgundy’s vineyards are often described as a ‘mosaic’; look at the picture above and you’ll see why. Some strips of land ploughed and bare, others covered with grass. And it’s all due to French inheritance laws which dictate that land and property are divided between all of the children. So, the field may look like a single vineyard but it actually has many different owners, each farming a small part, each having their own ideas about the best way to farm. And, most importantly for wine lovers, each able to decide how the wines made from their particular strip of the vineyard should taste.
The result is that, when you’re buying Burgundy, you don’t only have to check which vineyard the wine comes from, but the grower, too; some are brilliant, others are good but might not make wine to your taste and then there’s a third group: those who know that anything with the name ‘Burgundy’ on the label will sell and don’t make too much effort.
So, if you’re visiting the region, as we did recently with Arblaster & Clarke Wine Tours (www.winetours.co.uk), it’s good to have an expert to guide you. Ours, Steven Spurrier, has spent his whole working life in the wine industry and his knowledge of and contacts in Burgundy are unrivalled so the tastings arranged for us were truly exceptional. We visited famous names like Drouhin (the Beaune Clos des Mouches Blanc 2001 was a highlight of our first evening) and Bouchard Aîné (their Corton 2000 is just reaching its peak) as well as some of the best smaller producers – those with interesting and different ideas. Take Frédéric Magnien, for example; he matures some of his wines in clay amphorae – for him, oak barrels mask the fruit. His wines certainly showed great purity of flavour, while Jacques Prieur uses horses rather than tractors to work his vineyards to avoid compacting the soil and restricting the spread of the roots.
Wherever we went, we tasted some fantastic wines – many from old reserve stock no longer on sale – but all reflecting the marvellous diversity of the mosaic of vineyards we saw on the ground.
One final thought: despite their differences, all the producers we visited had one thing in common. If you can work out what’s happening in the picture below (suggestions welcome!), you may know what I’m referring to. If not, I’ll tell you in my next Bristol Wine Blog.