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The French wine region of Burgundy is home to the world-famous grapes Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

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Where Is Burgundy?

Burgundy (known as Bourgogne in French) is located in eastern France, between Paris in the north and Lyon in the south. The region is largely made up of the hills and valleys to the west of the Saône River. Limestone in the soil contributes to the minerality of Burgundy wines, while the vineyards' hillside locations provide protection from wind and freezing while maximizing soil drainage and exposure to sunshine.

Burgundy is divided into unique climats, or geographic areas with specific terroir. Any climat surrounded by walls is known as a clos.

A Brief History of Winemaking in Burgundy

Burgundy has a long and varied history that goes back at least to the height of the Roman empire, but that can be split into six major events:

  • Early first century: Winemaking likely occurred in the Burgundy region before the area was conquered by the Romans in 51 BC, but the earliest evidence of winemaking is the remains of a single vineyard dating to the first century near the region now known as Gevrey-Chambertin.
  • Benedictine monks: In the medieval period, Burgundy became a major wine producer due to its concentration of monasteries and monks. The first were the Benedictines of Cluny, who founded their abbey in Mâconnais in 910. By the mid-thirteenth century, they owned vineyards around the region, including plots that would become the grand cru vineyards of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, La Tâche, and Pommard.
  • Cistercian monks: The Cistercians, a monastic order founded in 1098 at Cîteaux, east of Nuits-St-Georges, produced the first Chablis wines and had vineyards around Vougeot, Pommard, and beyond. The Cistercians also developed the first crus according to differences in terroir.
  • Dukes of Burgundy: In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Burgundy wines became a status symbol among the Valois dukes, who campaigned against the use of fertilizer and the planting of high-yield Gamay grapes, which competed with Pinot Noir.
  • Modernity: In the seventeenth century, as the Christian church lost its influence, monasteries sold vineyards to the wealthy ruling class in Dijon. Road improvements during the eighteenth century helped establish the first négociant (wine merchant) houses, some of which still exist today. After the French Revolution, vineyards were split into smaller parcels, with the vast majority of wines sold through the négociant houses.
  • Present day: After World War I, winemakers began selling their product through cooperatives and domaine bottling. In 2011, over half of Burgundy wine was still sold by 250 négociant houses, though, with a little over a quarter sold by 3,800 individual domaines and 16 percent sold by cooperatives. Today Burgundy is home to the smallest vineyard parcels in the world, with some growers cultivating just one row of grapes.
James Suckling Teaches Wine Appreciation