It’s safe to say, I’m no expert on wine by any means. In fact, I hesitate to open my mouth and say even one word on the subject. But years ago, knowing nothing about wine, we chose Burgundy for our first trip to France based on a pastoral scene in a guidebook that just called to us. Little did we know of the complex world of wine that we were about to stumble upon.
Our first trip to Burgundy revolved around everything but wine. We thought the four-euro bottle of wine we purchased from the village épicerie was something. We thought the glass of wine we ordered at the café was something. We had no idea what was all around us right at our fingertips. Yet, we wondered, ‘What are all these signs for caveau, dégustation, and vente de vins located every two feet throughout the region?’ So innocent. But not for long.
I began to do a little research about Burgundy wine before our second trip to the region. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I discovered, unbeknownst to me, that there were Grands Crus, Premiers Crus, village wines, and wines of Bourgogne. I learned how to understand a French wine label. With newfound excitement, I was armed and ready to return.
No longer did I simply order un verre de vin rouge, but I asked to see the wine list. I was excited to try a Grand Cru, a Premier Cru, a village wine. I enjoyed comparing a Pommard to a Volnay to a Savigny-lès-Beaune and a Saint Romain to a Saint Aubin to a Meursault. I was discovering this fascinating, intricate world of Burgundian wine!
Being that we don’t speak much French, especially back then, we pondered should we now take it a step further and go into a cave for dégustation? Nervous and intimidated, we go for it and have our first tasting at Domaine Maurice Gavignet in Nuits-Saint-Georges. Another day, we rang the bell at the caveau of Michel Rebourgeon in Pommard and had a tasting.
Now that monsters have been created, do we dare take it even a step further and ring the bell of a private stone house in Pernand-Vergelesses and ask to taste the family wine? Scared and reluctant, we press the bell. An older French woman, perhaps about 80 years old, answers the door and grants our request. She escorts us down some stone steps into the family cellar where we try her wine. We purchase a few bottles and return on bicycle the next day with one of the bottles for a picnic. An older French gentleman comes up to us and gives us a thumbs up when he looks at what we are drinking on the side of a stone wall. Who knows, maybe he was the winemaker!
To top it all off, would you believe that we were actually invited by an English expat neighbor who had a friend who worked at the Rebourgeon winemaking facility in Pommard to go on a tour to see the process of making wine? Do you think I was smart enough to document that? No! But I remember we tried the wine for that year’s vintage, which was still undrinkable at the time. The wine was passed around from the workers to us in a communal wine glass. I figured the alcohol would kill any germs and decided just to live like the French for a moment and be free.
I still haven’t learned too much about wine but that it is a fascinating, complex art. Wine is alive. It is a piece of the land, the terroir. It truly is a gift.