When did you discover your passion for wine?
I was a wine lover from the moment my British grandmother snuck me a glass of Champagne at a family dinner. Although I was conspicuously young, I knew that it was a first of many great things to come--never had I tasted something so alive and ineffable. When I was a bit older, a very good friend was kind enough to share a precious birthday gift with me: a bottle of 1967 Margaux. It was then that I knew nothing else digestible could improve so much with 40 years age.
What are your key highlights of the Burgundy wine region?
Burgundy has soul. The heartland of Gaul is a wealth of culinary and viticultural traditions that stretch back before written records. The legends that put France in the forefront of wine consciousness are real, and in Burgundy you can reach out and touch them at places like Clos de Vougeot, Beaune's famous hospice, and Chateau de la Rochepot.
When are the best times to visit Burgundy?
Burgundy truly comes alive with St-Vincent Day signaling the start of spring and summer festivities. The BIVB host a different village festival most every weekend during the warmer months, the crown jewel of which may be the Fête de Chablis (The 4th Sunday of October), an event you may find yourself talking about for the rest of you life, as you will surely be able to taste from a hundred Premier and Grand Cru wines from the great producers in an environment filled with roasting andouillette sausage and music.
Do you have a personal favourite winery in the region and if so why?
I would have to say that Bernard Hudelot's Chateau Villars-Fontaine is among the most memorable and unique experiences in all of Burgundy. The vaulting cellars are a sight to behold and their graceful Chardonnays - many over a fort-year old--are a bold statement for Burgundy. Hudelot himself is a tenured professor of viticulture and oenology from the University of Burgundy, and his oenologist Antonie Laisney is a truly gracious host. The best visit I've ever had, however, was Domaine des Lambrays. If you speak French and have a true passion for Burgundy, Managing Director Thierry Brouin will give you an unforgettable experience.
What is a traditional local wine and food pairing dish?
The food and wine of Burgundy are made for each other. A glass of Premier Cru Chablis with a fine unpasteurized goat cheese like Macon--or a steaming bowl of Coq au Vin or Boeuf Bourguignonne with a fragrant Nuits-Saint-Georges--it just makes perfect sense.
Finally, what would be your top tips for the keen wine traveller?
My top travel tip would be for visitors to get out of the tourist gates of Beaune and to really experience the Burgundy landscapes and people. There are plenty of reasons the city of Beaune receives tenfold more tourists than it ever will have residents, but the villages and historical monuments of the greater region make a great starting point to something more experiential.
Larger wineries in the region have had time to adapt to oeno-tourism trends, but many smaller properties are ready to welcome visitors by appointment and share a sense of place for those searching out true stories. Discovering Burgundy has been something of a quest for me, tasting from barrels in cellars, noticing the differences in the bakeries, butcher shops and cheese makers of each village, and exploring the UNESCO heritage sights from Auxerre to Macon.
And a thing of importance to know: Burgundy is deep France and can be a shock for daytrippers from Paris; after all, even most Parisians I've met confess to never having visited the region. To sum it up as best as I can, it's a land of proud history, polite manners and long lunches. An open mind and a patient demeanor will go a lot farther than an itinerary filled to the brim; so think like the locals and plan your important visits to take an afternoon rather than an hour and some change, because once you get a feel for the Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays and folk of Burgundy, no other wines or people will ever feel the same.