What’s the big deal about Burgundy?


Yves Confuron “A true Burgundian is a person with red hands!”

The wine world is a fickle place. One minute Bordeaux is the favourite, heralded from London to New York and Hong Kong, lauded by wine critics and loved by wine investors. Bordeaux is richly fruity, double oaked and as showy as the owners’ – often banks – chateaux. But Burgundy the quiet cousin, a region of farmers making subtle and sophisticated wine, has pranced into the limelight – the world was captivated by the gorgeous 2009 vintage…and remains riveted.

It’s a bust to boom story…in the 1970s things were pretty dire in Burgundy..growers scraping a living by producing a large quantity of grapes to sell to the negociants (traditionally wine companies who buy grapes to make into wine). Quantity was more important than quality. Over productive vines sprayed with chemical fertiliser made for pretty thin and unattractive wines. Of course not everyone did this, but these were the wines most widely distributed. The finer wines of Burgundy made their way into cellars of a select in crowd of connoisseurs, at a time when the mainstream wine drinkers were embarking on a love affair with new world wines….fruity and affordable.

But a quiet revolution was afoot. Growers threw out chemical weedkillers and brought back the plough. Now the soil is lovingly cared for; new vines are bred for quality or are cuttings from the best vines. Domaines, vineyards where the wine is made and bottled, are focused on growing the finest grapes and on making wine which expresses a sense of origin, right down to the very sod.

In the winery a culture of non-intervention is a la mode. The best Burgundy, about which all the fuss is made, is an artisanal product, handcrafted and bang on trend with the desire for natural, sustainable produce and with slow food to boot…it takes 18 months to mature red Burgundy in barrel.

The affable Yves Confuron embodies this approach. He’s dismissive of fashion in all respects, yet now finds himself in vogue. Ironically, little has changed over seven generations at Domaine J Confuron-Cotétidot in the village of Vosne-Romanée. The family are warm hearted and weather beaten farmers, tirelessly caring for their vineyards since the reign of Louis X1V. Yves’s parents, now in their seventies, have handed over responsibility to their sons, but until recently seemed always busy helping out. His mother would be found hard at work the kitchen during harvest, making vast, hearty meals for more than forty pickers.

When the grapes come into the winery, you’ll find Yves deep into the night, treading grapes in the vat in the same way his grandfather trod them. The grapes go into the vat, stalks and all. This is the traditional way, which has become very fashionable of late, although at Domaine Confuron-Cotétidot they have been doing it this way for ever. As Yves points out, “it is not archaic. It gives fresher aromas.” The process in vat is lengthy, taking several weeks. “It’s like making bread,” says Yves, “in a short time you can make a simple bread. If you increase the time, you get more complexity.”

After the wine has fermented he presses the grapes using an traditional wooden press, rarely seen these days, which he prefers as it makes a cleaner wine to put in the barrels for ageing. This will need less tinkering with before bottling. This earthy authenticity is worlds apart from high tech wineries of California and the shiny, smart suits of Bordeaux and Italy.

But, of course the picturesque old-fashioned cellars of Burgundy are now squeaky clean…there’s no point bringing pristine grapes into a grubby cellar. They’ve learnt a thing or two in Burgundy from the high tech ways of the new world, but copying their sanitary approach, such a simple thing, has worked wonders to eliminate those off flavours which made the Old World, including Burgundy, unreliable.

So today’s Burgundy has the purity of fruit we expect from the New World, but with a whole lot more….and that goes back to the land…or as the Burgundians would say, the terroir. Next time, the English Nose will be mulling over terroir and inhaling a few thoughts from Christophe Roumier.


Yves Confuron takes time pressing his grapes with a traditional, wooden vertical press