Chambolle-Musigny (pt. 1)

There is now a special place in my heart for Chambolle-Musigny, one of the small Burgundy wine producing towns just south of Dijon. (Full disclosure: Prior to this trip, I only knew Chambolle-Musigny was somewhere in Burgundy. Almost all the information written down here was gleaned on this very trip).

The road from Dijon to Beaune (and beyond) is dotted with small towns like Chambolle-Musigny, which make up the majority of the high-end producers of the region – Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-Saint-Denis, Vosne-Romanee, Aloxe-Carton, etc. The wine producing region stretches lengthwise south between the lowlands nearer the national highway (regular Burgundy regional appellation), up the side of the valley (usually getting a village appellation like Chambolle-Musigny), interspersed with specific plots dating to the middle ages, which have just the right slope and soil characteristics (Clos Vougeot, Romanee-Conti, etc) – these are sub-divided into Premiere Crus (about 100 or so in the entire region?) and the “highest” quality Grand Cru (about 50?). Of course, the quality is not just about appellation. Nearer the tops of the ridges, the slope is too steep and the appellation drops usually to the village if not regional level.

(A pretty decent map of the area we covered.)

It’s hot out today (mid-June) – about 25-29 C, and it will be hot and muggy all day. Both Gregoire (from WineCamp) and myself are in shorts and shirts (at his recommendation). Our first stop was at a Premiere Cru chateau that was a distant cousin of Gregoire’s. The owner was not there, but his wife was, and she gave us a brief tour.

She told Gregoire that because of the renovations they had made in the winemaking process, they’ve had to raise their prices from one vintage to the next to recoup their costs – from 19 Euros to 70 Euros a bottle. Even Gregoire was a little taken aback – they always had a top of the line series, but also always a solid 20-odd Euro wine. No more – and the wife was very confident that people would pay for it. And seeing Burgundy prices in the U.S. I don’t doubt her.

After the brief tour of the cellar, Gregoire and I went out to look at the vineyard, and he pointed out the best part of the slope – it was less steep than I would have expected (being trained in the Rhône “steeper is better” philosophy). We jumped back in the car, and off to our next stop, his favorite ridge. He drove me up and parked on the side of the road – we were on a slope, above a plot of land called Les Bonnes Mares, which is shared by several vineyards and produces a Premier Cru. This system of divvying up parcels of vines within a named plot of land is very common – according to Gregoire, although the system of splitting the land among all male inheritors is not a legal requirement, it’s a very old tradition.

Typically, all the parcel owners meet to discuss how they shall equally deal with growing challenges, so that for example, one person doesn’t decide to do some more drastic pest reduction (like spray) within the same parcel of land that everyone else is sharing (and thus affect the overall quality of that plot). In fact, so many of the well known parcels of land are split up that the few named (and well known) parcels of land that are entirely owned by one owner were referred to – at least by Gregoire – as “monopolies.” This comment seemed to me to belie the deeply-held belief that what mostly defines the wine is the land itself; the “owners” are just stewards….

The view from the slope also allowed us to see some of the more famous parcels of land in this area – Les Amoureuses and Romanee-Conti (both monopolies) and Clos Vougeot – a 60 hectare area that is shared by 80 owners – all surrounded by a brick wall that dates back to the time when the monks were originally growing grapes here. (A picture of the Clos Vougeot castle here. My annotated photo from the ridge – above – here. Closer annotate shots here.)

Then we were off to the village of Chambolle-Musigny. We popped into a “Cave à Degustation” where he used to work, and talked shop with the woman who currently works there. I perused the wines – most I’d never heard of – and listened in on the conversation. Apparently everyone is selling out of the 2005s. And no one is buying the 2004s, because it was bookended by two fantastic years.

As we left, Gregoire picked up a bottle of Aligoté. Bourgogne Aligoté is actually a type of grape, originally an easy-to-grow grape that was used mostly to grow the winemaker’s personal drinking white. It is very sharp and acidic – which is probably why it lent itself to being mixed with Creme de Cassis, an original Dijon specialty (I always thought kirs came from the south). Apparently, Gregoire’s grandfather worked as adjunct to the Dijon Mayor Kir himself, who is said to have invented the drink.

We packed our aligoté and headed up to the spot where Gregoire originally wanted to hold WineCamp, had he not decided a home-grown version was better. Up above the regular Burgundy village appellation, if you head back even one ridge beyond the first, is Hautes Cotes de Nuit, that produces a lighter version of Burgundy red. Up here is where Gregoire’s friend Veronique Roumier has an acre or so of Hautes Cotes grapes, and also a small cleared plot of land with a cabin, right at the edge of where the forest meets the vineyards. We popped open the aligoté, and I fell in love. It’s an amazing little space, up in the ridge overlooking the Cotes de Nuits valley. The aligoté we had “straight” and though it was a little astringent when we started, it was a very nice wine that mellowed after a few minutes.


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