Bourgogne is synonymous with wine, manifest of the “Old World” qualities and methodologies that have set the global standard for winemakers. In the face of such prestige, a new wave of the region’s producers is forging an exciting new chapter, unwilling to simply coast on name alone. Instead, they look to marry their fresh perspectives with the famous Bourgogne terroir to help ensure that this storied area continues to provide quality local experiences that will delight all the senses for generations to come.
An ancient tradition
Hundreds of millions of years ago, what was once a great lagoon began evolving into the ribbons of limestone and marl which today, in central-eastern France, define Bourgogne’s distinctive subsoil. Varying widely from village to village, the minerals and microorganisms define the distinct characteristics of each appellation, of which there are an impressive 84, each with its own story to tell.
Bourgogne’s proud winemaking tradition dates at least to the second century AD. By the Middle Ages, Cistercian monks were already discerning levels of quality between plots, eventually leading to the national Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC, or “controlled designation of origin”) established in 1936, setting precedent for the regional wine classification that has helped delineate quality among Bourgogne vineyards ever since.
Though Grand Crus are among the most valuable wines on earth, they represent but one percent of the region’s output. Nearly half falls into the “Village Premier Cru” or “Village” categorizations, but the majority, “Régionale” AOCs, rarely get the recognition they deserve. These producers of Régionale wines afford oenophiles the opportunity to wander a bit from the typical path to discover the faces and flavors behind some of these underappreciated vineyards.
Rediscovering what was lost in Auxerre
We begin the Auxerre area, some two hours south of Paris. Once among the most prestigious wine regions in the country, Auxerre was hit hard by invasive aphids in the “Great French Wine Blight” and by the 19th century the tiny, vine-sucking insects had effectively wiped out every vineyard in the village. Despite this temporary service interruption, Bourgogne Côtes d’Auxerre would rebound. Bordering on those of the world-famous Chablis, the plots boast an elite-yet-overlooked terroir that first attracted Edouard Lepesme.
Having spent some years working on the cusp of the wine industry, Lepesme officially began his hands-on journey into organic viticulture in 2010 by training in Bourgogne and afield. After four years, Domaine d’Edouard was born. Originally planted in the 1960s, the 35-acre winery was a vanguard of organic methods, and Lepesme was eager to keep that tradition going.
Today, his winery grows the region’s most common grapes, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but also maintains a sprinkling of others, including César, a red grape grown almost exclusively in this part of Bourgogne. Whether a classic varietal or experimenting with single-plot wines, Lepesme always uses native yeasts and predominantly neutral barreling in a vast portfolio which he describes as “fresh” and “fruity.” These descriptors apply even to his Crémants de Bourgogne, a distinctively crisp sparkling wine hailing predominantly from this region and using, in Eduoard’s case, an equal blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes.
With his still whites, Lepesme recommends trying gougère, a local specialty made with cheese and choux pastry. Alongside his reds, you can’t pass on Époisses, a pungent, creamy cow’s cheese made exclusively in the area. Among the array of restaurants in the historic center of Auxerre serving such delights, for those looking to splurge, Lepesme recommends the minimalist, inventive L’Asperule. For a more casual bistro lunch, he suggests L’Accroche, or for a riverside dinner with live music, Cantina.
Between meals, a visit to the 9th-century Abbey of Saint-Germain is a can’t-miss, featuring some of the oldest frescoes in the country, while visitors to the Caves Bailly-LaPierre can taste a range of Crémant de Bourgogne from an underground quarry. Those traveling in summer also have the chance to explore the region by way of the Garçon La Note festival, which programs free concerts performed en plein air every night.
Back to the future in Hautes Côtes de Nuits
Heading southeast toward Dijon, most itineraries would call for a stop in the Côte d’Or along the Route des Grands Crus to taste some of the world’s most illustrious–and expensive–red wines. A fabulous complement to it (or to dodge the cost and congestion all together), the hills of Hautes Côtes de Nuits offer a more intimate, exceptional experience.
At Domaine de Montmain’s 74 terraced acres, Mathieu Piécourt enjoys a particular perspective over the valley below. From an impossibly young age, Piécourt defied the odds by working his way up from intern to owner. Now a “grizzled” thirty-two years old, Piécourt embraces his outsider status, producing a sort of wine out of time, bold in its embrace of tradition.
“Our wines haven’t changed in fifty years. [Our approach] is not new, but no one works like us today because they’ve changed their philosophy,” Piécourt says, referring especially to the recent drive toward younger, natural-style wines. Which isn’t to say that Montmain’s wines are anything but natural. Embracing the winery’s altitude, spaces between rows allow for the free flow of wind, reducing problematic moisture on the plants and, in turn, liberating the grower from a reliance on pesticides.
Planning to be officially organic by 2026 and biodynamic thereafter, Piécourt focuses on climate change and says that were he starting anew, he might plant only Gamay, given its ability to thrive in warmer temperatures. “When I tell that to people, they say, ‘you are crazy,’ because the fame of Bourgogne is all about Pinot Noir.” Piécourt is more than happy to break the rules, however. “Especially at my age, I have time to change the strategy if I’m wrong.”
For now, Domaine de Montmain offers seven wines from seven distinct plots, focusing largely on full-bodied Pinot Noirs and bold, citrusy Chardonnays while maintaining steady production of jammy Gamay and floral Aligoté. What unifies all these single-plot, small production wines is a drive toward drinkability that defines Piécourt’s ethos. Rather than marketing toward an exclusive club of wealthy Bourgogne insiders, he strives to produce high-quality wines for all types, meant to be tasted more than talked about.
Nevertheless, Piécourt is all too happy to break out his oldest bottles in the interest of educating visitors on how his wines differ with age, with vintages in the cellar dating to the 1980s. He recommends taking his reds with spicy food in particular, and hosts a variety of pop-ups onsite, featuring everything from tapas to Indian cuisine.
As a member of the France Passion network, Domaine de Montmain welcomes those traveling by RV to camp with them overnight. A three-minute drive from the winery brings visitors to La Karrière, a long-abandoned marble quarry that now hosts art installations, music festivals, and more. History lovers will also want to explore the 9th-century ruins of Saint-Vivant Vergy, once amongst the oldest and most ornate in the region, or to visit the walled town of Beaune, with its colorful Gothic Hôtel-Dieu and a maze of underground wine cellars.
Building bridges in the Côte Chalonnaise
Just over 30 miles south of Beaune, the subregion of Côte Chalonnaise has been making wine for more than a millennium and yet with no Grand Cru vineyards, it too remains overlooked. Here, in the tiny village of Moroges, Sandrine and Olivier Dovergne oversee the 20 hilly acres of Domaine de la Luolle.
Much like Lepesme and Piécourt, the Dovergne story begins far beyond their vines. Unfulfilled by their previous careers, the couple made a pact to live out their dreams: Olivier could sail around the Atlantic, but only if Sandrine could come along with an array of French wines, sharing a little piece of home with those they met along the way.
The pair were struck by wine’s power to unite people across such long distances and after spending time working their way up in respective roles in and around the wine industry, the couple began looking for a small vineyard. As luck would have it, by 2016, Domaine de La Luolle became available and the Dovergnes pounced.
“We were very impressed by the variety and diversity of wine possibilities [in Bourgogne] with only two main grapes,” Sandrine notes. In taking over Luolle, they inherited a 55-year tradition of organic winemaking, expressed with Côte Chalonnaise’s particularly clay-rich terroir.
The result? Mineral, slightly saline notes stand out on their “Les Daluz” Chardonnay, while the ruby-red “Les Oiseaux Rares” Pinot Noir presents aromas of baking spice and chocolate with a moderate finish, each aged in French oak. From their zero-dosage (meaning no additional sweet wine has been added) Extra Brut Crémants de Bourgogne—a noteworthy sparkling wine, given that the Côte Chalonnaise is second only to Auxerre in production of it—to their “Le Cloux” Coteaux Bourguignons, an appellation sourced from particularly hilly vines, the portfolio at Domaine de la Luolle reflects the essence of Bourgogne itself. Working with only two grapes, plus a small minority of Gamay and Aligoté, the couple manages to produce a range of wines that are profoundly varied and expressive.
Yet the Dovergnes aren’t content in stopping there. Seeking to reflect a love of nature they cultivated on the high seas, also manifest in the continued production of organic and biodynamic wines, they’ve created the appropriately-titled Vins de Derriere, an experimental micro-vineyard located behind their house featuring a variety of varietals better-suited for the warmer climates to come. Sandrine developed an immersive experience called the Ballade des Sens as well, where visitors can stroll among the vines to engage all the senses and sharpen their tools of perception.
Further afield in the Côte Chalonnaise, travelers can put their newfound skills to the test at number of restaurants specializing in local, seasonal fare, whether by sampling homemade foie gras in a picturesque medieval town at Table de Chapaize or by enjoying live music with your meal in nearby Givry at Le Salon de Grégoire.
Those looking to balance it all out with something active can make use of France’s first bikeable greenway. Just outside of Côte Chalonnaise, the greenway offers upwards of 40 miles of serene, car-free road stretching past Roman buildings and Benedictine abbeys. Plus, even more vineyards, like Domaine Ninot in Rully or Château de Garnerot in Mercurey, await once you’re done pedaling for the day.
One of the best ways to tour Bourgogne
All told, there are well over 1,000 wineries in Bourgogne to explore, each expressive of this incredibly complex terroir and the people who live here. Whether visitors want to take advantage of the many open-air festivals during the summer months, partake in the autumn harvest, or find tranquility in the months in between, Bourgogne offers an abundance of options.
To help narrow down some of these difficult decisions, the trade association Bourgogne Wine Board developed The Bourgogne Road Trip, a comprehensive video series that provides visual inspiration to make the most out of your trip. By going off the beaten path, meeting some of these dynamic young winemakers in person, and experiencing the whole range of what Bourgogne has on offer, visitors can taste not only the past, but the future as well.