Mike and I aren’t usually for organized travel tours but, with our friend and winemaker Ethan at the helm, we decided to give it a shot. Ethan had been studying wine in Burgundy, France for the past few years and became so passionate, so knowledgeable about oenology and the region that he decided to start William Ethan Experiential Art: An educational and culinary adventure through the vineyards, cuviers, cellars, and towns of the Côte d’Or and beyond. When we heard about this tour, we signed up on the spot.
Together with our good friends Matt and Hillary, we based our five-day adventure in the cliffside town of Bouilland and specifically in this unbelievable 15th-century farmhouse.
The house had every bit of romanticized French-country charm and did not disappoint with antiques, winemaking relics, and a nice touch of contemporary details.
Food is an integral part of the wine experience, so Ethan spared no expense and got a personal chef. Jean-Luc was an unbelievably talented cook and a total pleasure to be around. We’d hang out with him in this to-die-for kitchen having aperitifs as he prepared dinner (anything from beef bourguignon to moules marinieres).
For lunch, we’d usually have a picnic overlooking something breathtaking. Here we are above the Haute Côte, gazing out to a sea of vineyards, while eating jambon blanc and camembert sandwiches and sipping Beaujolais.
Burgundy is gorgeous year-round but during the fall, it’s abuzz with beauty. We arrived in the final moments of harvest and saw everything from the labor in the fields to the closing celebration in the streets.
The workers still pick grapes by hand but also typically have these wacky-looking tractors in tow. The height and width of the space between the tires is made to perfectly maneuver over and between vines without knocking a leaf! They help tend to the soil while their bins give workers a place to store the fruit.
Adorable little houses called cabouttes appear in the depths of every vineyard. Historically, they were used as a place for workers to take lunch or find warmth. We rode our bikes to this spot for the dreamiest picnic.
While biking from vineyard to vineyard, Ethan ran into a friend outside Domain de Montille. His buddy was running around like a mad scientist trying to get all the grape fermentation underway, but still found time for an impromptu cuvier tour. Massive oak barrels filled the room, all with chalk-written notes keeping track of the temperature, sugar and alcohol levels. Here, I got to take a peak into the pit of pinot noir grapes.
Rows of wine barrels await bottling at the Domaine Boyer Martenot, where I bought the said-to-be amazing 2007 Mersault-Charmes Premier Cru. Now I just need to wait ten years before it matures to perfection…We’ll see if I can hold out.
Newfound Wine Knowledge
The better the land, the better the wine.
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are basically the only two types of grapes grown in Burgundy (Gamay and Aligoté are grown where the soil isn’t so rich in limestone).
More than any winemaking region in the world, wine in Burgundy is all about the land. A wine’s caliber is defined by the quality of the exact patch of soil the grapes came from. A vineyard is sometimes limited to a few rows of grapes because that mix of soil, pitch of land, and sun it receives may be so perfect that adding more rows could taint the wine.
The reason why Burgundian wine labels are so complex is that you need the name of the region, estate, plot, bottling location, and winemaker to identify the wine (cute names like Red Truck or Seven Deadly Zins don’t cut it). Those who truly understand the wines of this region, know the location of the grapes and the skill of the winemaker on an intimate level.
Check out part II of our French wine tour through the charming towns of Burgundy