Two Words You Must Know in the Burgundy Lexicon

Gevrey-Chambertain. Photo J-M Schwartz

Last week, on March 26, 2014, the wine regions of Bourgogne (fka Burgundy) and Chablis joined the global coalition to defend wine appellation name on the label by signing the Joint Declaration to Protect Place Name & Origin. Other signatories include Napa Valley, Champagne, Chianti Classico, Jerez, Porto and Rioja. The purpose of the Declaration is to advocate the accurate labeling of wine based on the place of origin, not on the style, grapes or historic adoption of a classic wine region name for marketing reasons.

Photo by Craig Drollet
Photo by Craig Drollet

The official addition of the Burgundy to the global coalition under its French name Bourgogne marks a good time to educate U.S. consumers on two words they must know in the Burgundy lexicon: Bourgogne and Climat.

Bourgogne is Burgundy

Pernand-Vergelesses. Photo A. Hanami

The time is right to change the way we call Burgundy wines to its real name, Bourgogne. Note that I didn’t say “change the label” because the word Bourgogne already is, and always has been, on each bottle of Bourgogne wine.

The words “Grand Vin de Bourgogne” appear at the head of this label for the climat Les Argillieres. Photo A. Hanami

The words “Vin de Bourgogne” – or in the case of Village, Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines, “Grand Vin de Bourgogne” – must appear on the label in addition to the appellation name.

Another valid reason for calling Burgundy wines Bourgogne is simple consistency. Currently, Bourgogne is the only major French wine region that doesn’t go by its French name in foreign markets. That’s right – Bordeaux, Loire, Alsace, Rhone … all French.

The U.S. being the world’s largest wine market and one driven by Millennials who value authenticity and transparency, the time is right for change. The new generation is still learning about wine and have proven they are not bound by the conventions of other countries or generations. They are changing the way we communicate and look at the world at lightning speed, and I expect they will be the ones to lead this change too.

Climat is Terroir is Bourgogne

Mercurey. Photo courtesy Chateau de Chamirey

The term terroir is a French wine term describing the unique geology, geography and micro-climate of a vineyard, and it’s a term now used widely for vineyards around the world. The term climat however, is very unique to Bourgogne, being codified under French wine law since the 1930s for specific appellations regardless of hierarchy. The climats themselves often originate from the Middle Ages – such as Clos de Beze established in 640 A.D. – having retained their boundaries and descriptive names over the centuries.

The named climat not only refers to the physical environment of that plot of vines, it also embodies the unique history and role of man in the creation of that specific vineyard. There are over 670 climats in Bourgogne that are Grands Crus and Premiers Crus and over 1,200 climats if one includes named vineyards or lieux-dits.

At the base of the Rock of Solutre in Pouilly-Fuisse

Climats are so unique to Bourgogne that winegrowers have waged a 10+ year campaign to have the Climats de Bourgogne designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Such designation will affirm its Outstanding Universal Value as a cultural site based on two millennia of intricate human interaction with the environment that has been the source of the world’s most prestigious and distinctive wines. The dossier is currently in the hands of the World Heritage committee which is expected to vote on the application next June or July.

For more information on the wines of Bourgogne, visit the website www.bourgogne-wines.com.