The Magical Vineyards of Beaune, Burgundy
On my first night in Beaune, Burgundy I fell in love. I wasn’t expecting or looking for it, it just happened. Just like that. The waitress placed the plate of cheese on our table and I felt my stomach turn. I’d eaten my bodyweight in cheese the previous week during my barge trip and I truly believed I’d tasted every cheese known not only to Burgundy, but to man himself. As it turned out, I had not.
I confess, I am weak and have no discipline when it comes to food. How could I resist smothering my warm bread in what looked like the world’s creamiest cheese?
I was hooked with my first bite and from that moment on it became known to my little group as The Creamy Goodness.
I discovered the creator of The Creamy Goodness, Alain Hess, who has his very own fromagerie (cheese shop) in the centre of the beautiful town of Beaune. Tucked in amongst Beaune’s curving cobbled streets, Hess, stocks over sixty types of cheese, some of which are exclusive to the shop itself, such as a cream cheese rolled in ash, bizarre, but delicious. I sniffed out my Brillat-Savarin which the assistant informed me, one eye-brow raised, was made with 90% cream. I wasn’t phased. It was delicious and I ordered two to take-away.
Cheese in hand, I explored the streets of Beaune, its small, historic centre warm and charming, the architecture a mish-mash of centuries. Shops, restaurants and cafes bustled with the chatter of customers and the sounds of giggling children floated from the multi-coloured carousel in the town square.
When in Beaune, you can’t help but stumble upon the glistening Hôtel-Dieu (Hospices de Beaune), a once charitable 15th century almhouse with an intriguing history and stunning Gothic architecture. Dripping in gold and crowned with a multi-coloured tiled roof, Hôtel-Dieu is the pearl in Beaune’s crown.
The cellars of the hospices are opened in November and Christies auctioneers descend upon the town, all business, to auction off some of the hospices finest brew. This is a wine lovers festival.
Although, Beaune is always abuzz with wine lovers. The locals are truly passionate about their wines. They tell me how complex the wine-making process is and I only truly begin to understand what they mean when I spend my first morning, belly full of creamy goodness, at the Burgundy Wine School. Our teacher speaks with a strong French accent and talks about wine in the same way that an art professor talks of Monart or Renoir. With respect and love.
“Burgundy is a mosaic of plots and each plot is different from the next,” he explains, “but there is only one grape in Burgundy, Pinot Noir.”
I am part of a small group and we all have the same confused look as our teacher delves into the appellations, minerals and varying contributing factors that make Burgundy wines so complex. We believe him. This is why he did a Masters in wine. We, however, only have a few hours to learn the basics. Enough to equip us on our expedition of the region’s vineyards.
We learn to swirl and to spit, sniff and to stare and soon we pick wine lingo that will prove useful over the next few days. We may be novices, but we soon sound like knowledgable ones. Sort of.
Beaune is in the heart of some of Burgundy’s finest vineyards – Pommard, Nuits-Saint Georges and Meursault. We are lucky enough to taste the delights of the vineyards and explore the musty cellars, carpeted with wooden casks releasing a pungent smell of alcohol. We stand awed at the towering Salvador Dali statues in the courtyard of the impressive Château de Pommard, furrow our way through the labyrinth of caves of Maison Joseph Drouhin and taste some of the finest wines in a 15th century church.
Our wonderful guide, Stevie Bobes, fills us in on the region’s food and wine, taking us to the best restaurants. Saving the best for last, our final night is spent in the most charming chambres d’hôtes – La Source des Fees. The 16th century stone house is adorned with wooden beams and floors, bright bedrooms, a piano in the drawing room, contemporary decor and a tranquil garden where you can sit listening to the sound of the brook and croaking toads.
That night we feast on a meal prepared by a local girl, using local produce and sip the owners’ very own wine. I sleep like a log.
We ate like kings, we tasted the best wines, but mostly we came to appreciate all Burgundy has to offer. Rolling hills, vineyards, crumbling castles, regal Chateaux and a deeply rooted tradition of wine-making. The people of the region are proud and passionate about their land and all it produces and they have every right to be.
My trip was kindly arranged as part of the Discover the Origin programme.
For info on places to stay and visit, tour guides see here