Burgundy wine



Burgundy (Bourgogne in French) is the name given to certain wines made in the Burgundy region of France.

Red Burgundy wines are usually made with the Pinot Noir grape, and white Burgundy wines are usually made with Chardonnay grapes, as dictated by the AOC. Geographically, the wine region starts just south of Dijon and runs southward to just short of the city of Lyon. The area of Chablis stands on its own to the northwest of Dijon, about as close to Paris as it is to the heart of Burgundy. The main wine regions in Burgundy proper (those that are entitled to the AOC Bourgogne designation) are the Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune — which collectively are known as the Côte d'Or — and further south the Côte Chalonnaise. Also viticulturally part of Burgundy are Beaujolais, Chablis, and Mâcon, and they show some similarity. However, a wine from one of these regions would rarely be referred to as a "Burgundy."

Burgundy is in some ways the most terroir-oriented region on the planet; immense attention is paid to the area of origin, and in which of the region's 400 types of soil a wine's grapes are grown. It has a carefully demarcated quality hierarchy: the grand crus are at the top, followed by premier crus, then village, and finally generic Bourgogne. Bourgogne is where grapes other than Chardonnay and Pinot Noir begin to be introduced, allowing pinot blanc and Pinot Gris, two Pinot Noir mutations that were traditionally grown and now are in decline in the area. Other Burgundy AOCs that are not as often seen are Bourgogne Passetoutgrains (which can contain up to two thirds Gamay (the grape of Beaujolais) in addition to Pinot Noir), Bourgogne Aligoté (which is primarily made with the Aligoté grape), and Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire. The latter is the lowest AOC, and Grand definitely refers to the size of the area eligible to produce it, not its quality. There are certain regions that are allowed to put other grapes in miscellaneous AOCs, but for the most part these rules hold. These regulations are even confusing to the majority of French adults, according to research (Franson).

From about the year 900 up to the French Revolution, the vineyards of Burgundy were owned by the Church. After the revolution, the vineyards were broken up and sold to the workers who had tended them. The Napoleonic inheritance laws resulted in the continued subdivision of the most precious vineyard holdings, so that some growers hold only a row or two of vines. This led to the emergence of négociants who aggregate the produce of many growers to produce a single wine. It has also led to a profusion of increasingly small family-owned wineries, exemplified by the dozen plus "Gros" family domaines.


Burgundy wine has experienced much change over the past seventy-five years. Economic depression during the 1930s was followed by the devastation caused by World War II. After the War, “the vignerons returned home to their unkempt vineyards. The soils and vines had suffered and were sorely in need of nurturing. The growers began to fertilize, bringing their vineyards back to health. Those who could afford it added potassium, a silver-white metallic chemical element that contributes to vigorous growth. By the mid-1950s, the soils were balanced, yields were reasonably low and the vineyards produced some of the most stunning wines this century.

“Understandably, the farmers had no inclination to fix what wasn't broken. So for the next 30 years, they followed the advice of renowned viticultural experts, who advised them to keep spraying their vineyards with chemical fertilizers, including potassium. While a certain amount of potassium is natural in the soil and good for healthy growth, too much is bad because it leads to low acidity levels, which adversely affect the quality of the wine.

“As the concentration of chemicals in the soil increased, so did the yields. In the past 30 years, yields have risen by two-thirds in the appellations contrôlées vineyards of the Côte d'Or, from 29 hectoliters per hectare (yearly average from 1951 to 1960) to almost 48 hectoliters per hectare (1982-91), according to a study by the Institut National des Appellations d'Origine. And with higher yields came wines of less flavor and concentration.

“The Burgundians pushed their vineyards. They fertilized them, sprayed them and replanted them with high-yield clones to increase crop levels. Like overfishing that can leave a lake practically sterile, overworking the soil sapped it of its natural balance. Soils that had contributed to Burgundy's reputation for a millennium became depleted by overdependence on chemicals and other modern techniques in just 30 years”

Fortunately, “The period between 1985 and 1995 was a turning point in Burgundy. During this time many Burgundian domaines renewed efforts in the vineyards and gradually set a new course in winemaking. All this led to deeper, more complex wines”  Today, the Burgundy wine industry is reaping the rewards of those impressive efforts.

It's been pointed out that "There are no shortcuts to understanding the region of Burgundy.... If you want to become a Burgundy expert, be prepared to memorize 1,000 names, take a course in French pronunciation and expect to get lost in a maze of appellations (officially delineated wine zones). In addition, get ready to part with a good chunk of change—Burgundy wines are expensive. It is like buying designer wine, you pay for the name. And the smaller the appellation within burgundy, the rarer the wine and the higher the cost