Losing track of time in Burgundy…


“What day is it?” asked Pooh. 

“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.

“My favorite day,” said Pooh.” 

 A.A. Milne


I love this quote. I have lost all sense of time and day here in Burgundy. I was shocked to learn today was Friday. I wake, I go, I eat, I sleep. And each day feels like my favorite.


Coming off another long day, my body is aching from contorting it every which way to drag hoses, wash bins, maneuver pallet jacks, dig out large vats of fermented whole clusters to go to press (which then of course must be cleaned). I have never felt so strong and so weak in all my life. So young and so old. I am sometimes amazed that I keep getting out of bed each day and endure another. My old self was more of a wuss.


But the truth is… once I start, I cannot stop. It’s fortifying. Primal almost. Using your body to the fullest, grunting, wincing, pushing, pulling, getting filthy, bruised, bedraggled. Then…turning on a hose, and washing it all down the drain. Not the wine of course. But, the mess you made to achieve beauty.


Before this harvest, I knew I had mental fortitude, but physically it has been a while since I genuinely pushed myself to any great lengths– beyond that which I could visualize. Nearly 9 years has passed since I ran a marathon, and that may have been the last time I surprised myself. Talking with the two other female interns here at Dujac, we shared how empowering (and liberating) it is to be part of the winemaking process. We don’t bother shaving or sprucing up. We just get up and do everything the guys are doing. There are no limits. And we are all learning that we are every bit as capable– with even the tasks that seems impossible at first. But we keep at it, learn the techniques and move on to the next job.


There is never a lack of things to do. The learning curve is steep, and I have come to respond almost involuntarily, as I scan the room and look for something to wash, someone to help, a hose that needs rolling up, chalkboards needing updates, a tank that needs a foot stomp (I can’t say my feet have ever been so wonderfully exfoliated). We begin each day tasting through each vat, and listening carefully as Jacques, Jeremy and Alec discuss what they need (remontage, pigeage, pressing). It’s at this moment one cannot deny that it is more than science. This is art.


We take a break at lunch to refuel, connect with one another and sip wines that are not considered ‘lunch wines’ in my world. The Seysses family has been beyond generous in edifying our experience with twice daily blinds at lunch and dinner. Yesterday , we had a 4 wine vertical of Clos Saint-Denis, since we were pressing it that afternoon: 2006 (quite fresh, forward cherry notes, beginning tertiary dimension), 2003 (you can taste/feel the warmth of this vintage), 2004 (quite elegant and pretty right now, more herbaceous but well balanced fruit) and 1999 (really high acidity met with round, ample fruit). Today, we were pressing Clos de la Roche, so we were fortunate to venture into another vintage comparison: 2011 (wow- this wine from Dujac was in such a charming place; it may have been my favorite today), 2008 (just beginning to show its age, there was still quite a bit of forward fruit and intensity), 1999 (really round, chewy tannins, generous fruit, higher acidity like the Clos Saint-Denis from 99).


I couldn’t be more thankful for the people I have met through this experience– not the least of which my fellow interns. Each brings with her/him such different experiences and unique perspectives. Two are from the southern hemisphere: Cooper Davis-Draper from Australia…but kind of Canadian–it’s complicated) and Willie Trew from New Zealand. This isn’t Willie’s first rodeo in Burgundy. With a couple harvests at DeMontille under his belt, he has been a great leader here. As for Cooper, he has worked a few harvests around the world as well and has proven to be incredibly patient and helpful with newbies like myself. Marie Charlemagne is a total badass who makes wine up in Champagne for her family’s domaine. She’s a total boss. And then there is Alex Karosis, a somm at Legacy Records in New York. Her insights, talented palate and experience tasting so many baller wines for her work has been an incredible add to our table conversation. And, of course, our actual chef! Tom Stafford came here from Napa to prepare our meals. Asking him the menu ahead of time is what keeps me motivated through the day.


Language fails when trying to articulate the energy felt during harvest. There is a sense of communion from the moment we wake up and begin tackling the day’s tasks on through the final meal together and even afterward when we retreat to our ‘annex’, play music, chat, dance, laugh, share night caps or cups of chamomile on our ‘sober’ nights, which have come to basically mean we don’t drink outside of lunch and dinner, but beer doesn’t count.


On that topic… Who knew it would take my coming to Burgundy– the mecca of fine wine– to finally get this Wisconsin-born gal to drink some beer? But that’s what it took. Beer is kind of a thing in the wine industry. Whether after a long day of trade tastings, competitions or super hot mid-summer bbq’s, it seems that’s what wine drinkers crave. I never understood this.  Each and every occasion I heard crown caps cracked, I would pass and gross others out by having more wine, cocktails or water. But there is one other occasion that lures our kind to those suds… making wine all day. Somehow, some way, there is just something about pure exhaustion that makes a grainy, light, crisp, lemony mediocre Kronenbourg taste really fricken amazing. Just one. That’s all.


Huddled under the covers, as I listen to rain fall outside, I am eagerly anticipating the Boeuf Bourguignon on the menu tonight. I dug out 2 vats today (one of which was 70hL tank of whole fermented clusters), cleaned a press, gave some tanks remontage that needed it and generally assisted with a half dozen other tasks. I am so hungry. And so happy. It is a gift to have an opportunity to use my body fully, to nourish it, to commune with others day after day, sleep and get up with the sun.

euro scribbles: so this is burgundy, part 1.

french wine, French Wine Travel, Wine Travel

Despite the fact that I had completely messed up our first appointment with Mugnier in Chambolle-Musigny and therefore had to cancel due to an unfortunate incident in Macon, I was not down for long. As I entered the Cote d’Or (like ‘coat door’) region of Burgundy that late morning, I felt a shift. We wound our way through the circular city of Beaune and pulled up to an inviting hotel: Hotel de Remparts. Through the courtyard we climbed the stairs to our room. I was in heaven, for I had a separate bedroom AND bathroom– unheard of around 100 euros a night for 3 folks.

I couldn’t linger long, though. We had a stacked schedule to keep, so off we went to Gevrey-Chambertin to visit with Burguet— a name that just sounds like natural born Burghound. We meet with our guide, Danielle Hammon, from Becky Wasserman Selections, to translate when necessary. She herself was an aspiring winemaker doing some training in Dijon. At first, this visit had us chasing around a very focused young man, Jean-Luc Burguet, as he took his thief and tasted us on several wines from the 2011 vintage–one that was more challenging than the high acid, classics of 2010, but nonetheless churned out some high quality reds if grapes were in skilled hands like those of Jean-Luc.

My favorite was, well, Mes Favorites, made of 70 year old vines on their property in Gevrey-Chambertin. Still in the barrel, it manages to present the most delicate reds fruits, floral petals and structure that ensured that it had all the makings of a fine wine to come.

Once he took us on a tour through the wines from his domaine as well as those in which he sources grapes from neighboring villages, he kicks back, slows down and just chats with us a bit. He is clearly an energetic guy who is only too happy to walk with his brother in the footsteps his dad started. As we sip on his Clos de Beze, I am distracted by its pronounced moldy presentation. Only then, in my stupidity, do I realize I am 2 inches from some of the largest, fluffiest, puffballs of mold that cover these old cellars. Yikes! I take a few steps, sniff again, and within the layers of cherry and cinnamon realize it would be a sin to drink this again in less than 8 years. Same goes for his Vosne-Romanee 1er cru, a wine whose youthful wit shouted at my tongue to get it back in the barrel! Alas, I will have to discover who this mouthy little toddler might become in a decade.

We eat at a little brasserie in the village of Gevrey, as we have no time to try the famous Chez Guy before our next rendezvous. It was the perfect place for an afternoon bite. They specialized in tartines with lovely homegrown salad, if you fancy a lighter lunch.

Finally, we make our way to the next town down–Morey Saint Denis–to see one of my favorite producers: Domaine Dujac. Not only are they regarded the best in this sub-region, they truly are one of the best in all of Burgundy. To meet with Jeremy Seysses was an honor. My fiancee just had to join for this, so he broke away from the Tour’s rest day for a quick visit. What I like most about Jeremy is that he is a normal dude. He doesn’t pontificate, he doesn’t try and make you think anything, really. He just casually pours one phenomenal wine after the next and you decide for yourself. Meanwhile, he wants to hear all the Tour dirt. His father and whole family, really, are hugely into cycling. I knew it would be love at first sight when JV met Jeremy.

Meanwhile, us cork dorks fell into the complexities and subtle differences of each selection, all drawn from the 2010, acid-lover’s vintage. We shifted from Santenay to Chambolle-Musigny to Vosne-Romanee and Chaume-Chambertin. He had my heart with the Morey St. Denis, though. A very faint recollection of Rayas actually surfaced on my mind. When I brought this Chateauneuf up to Jonathan, he too was amazed at the uncanny similarity. Of course, it wasn’t as broad on the palate, nor rich and high in alcohol. But it was reminiscent of one of my favorites wines on earth for its elegance, fine grained texture and brambly, musky earthiness. Fabulous!

Second only to that was the Vosne-Romanee 1er Cru. In a purely objective, professional world, this may have been the most impressive one I tasted. But you can’t control nor explain love–and I just fell hard for the Morey. That said, this lovely little parcel sits near the famed La Tache. It bouquet eagerly pushes its way to the surface of the glass with a sexy song, hitting notes of candied cherries and some alpine herbal undertones. It had this way of saturating your tongue with richness whilst maintaining a lightness. You were certain to have imagined it all, really, until you take another sip. Like every teeny spec of your palate was sated. Quite incredible sensation, really. Returning to the rim, more feminine aromas of lavender and forest lichen develop. I remember where I am, and although it doesn’t shock me that they are amazing wines, still I am mystified that soil can have such variant, haunting and impressionable personalities.

We sat on the patio with his dad and wife Diana, we shared a 1998 Domaine Dujac Les Grunchers 1er Cru from Chambolle-Musigny, a stunning portrait of a vintage that wasn’t often painted with strokes of grandeur or longevity, in part for its harsh tannins. You could have fooled me. This red was a very elegant and understated–demure, if you will. It was not tannic or disjointed; not drying or weak. It was 14 years old, and it was not taking going to lie down and simply accept any crap about 84 point vintages from any critics, including ‘certain’ high-profiled ones.

As I look out on their property, I think about their life. He and his wife are both winemakers. They travel between Burgundy, Provence and Napa to care for their vines. Their other babies are their two children. They have their hands full, but they pull it off so well. To me, they represent something important in Burgundy: they are a breath of fresh air and innovative ideas in a region that is steeped in ancient culture and practices. While maintain traditional in some respects and embrace some modern practices in the winery, they don’t get lost in their own projects so much that they are detached with the world. They talk of news articles, cycling, business, economy, what have you. In fact, Jeremy even has a very active Twitter account, which makes his life in the vines accessible to anyone who wants to hear about his day to day. He embraces that interaction with the world and allows a new way to create a dialogue with the ever-intimidating Burgundy region.

Our day came to a close, and we headed back to our cute hotel to relax and collect our thoughts. Burgundy was possibly more complicated now to me than it was before. We went to these properties, but their barrels represented so many parcels, regions, terroirs and styles. In part, I am still so overwhelmed. In part, I am more attracted though to its complex particularities. On the whole, I’ve a feeling this relationship is only just beginning. Like any great love, it will take time to really have a handle on this thing called Burgundy.

But then again, I like a challenge.