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Name: About history and variety of wines from Chablis, Burgundy, France

Philippines Wine Shop Clark Wine Center is pleased to share with you articles, news and information about wine, wine events, wine tasting and other topics related to wine and the appreciation of wine.

Burgundy: History & Variety

Perhaps more than any other wine-producing region of France there is ancient viticultural history here. At least it feels that way when you stand amongst the vines. Naturally other regions have their own history, their own connections to the Roman Empire (Ausone and Figeac in St Emilion being two particularly good examples), their abbeys and monasteries, ancient guardians of the vine. But here in Burgundy the history seems just that little bit richer. Viticulture was certainly already established when the region was under Roman dominion, perhaps two millennia ago. No doubt other regions can match this history, but few have such wonderful records, and such determined expansion, led by the numerous monasteries that sprang up after the 6th century. As these religious institutions grew in power and influence, their land-holdings grew to match, largely as the result of generous benefactions from wealthy land-owners no doubt looking to seek favour in the afterlife. By the 12th century Burgundy was covered with vines, and the wines produced were achieving widespread fame.

In later times the wines first came to the attention of the Dukes of Burgundy, rich and extremely powerful noblemen, and then they also became known to the king, in particular the Roi-Soleil or Sun-King, Louis XIV, perhaps best known for his grand palace at Versailles. With such prestigious endorsements it is not surprising that international trade developed, and large négociant houses sprang up in Nuits and Beaune to take appropriate advantage. It was perhaps a golden era for the region, but with the Revolution at the end of the 18th century all this came to an end. Vineyards belonging to both the nobility and the church were seized and broken up, and with the arrival of the Napoleonic laws of inheritance – under which estates can not be inherited by one heir alone, but must be divided between all rightful offspring – this microscopic parcellation of once extensive domaines would be further exacerbated.

With subsequent trade in these tiny parcels, sometimes consisting of just one or two rows of vines, the groundwork for the modern-day confusion that is Burgundy was firmly laid. Today, any individual producer may bottle many different wines from different vineyards and appellations, some of which will doubtlessly be better than others, and any particular vineyard may have many different owners making their own version of the wine. There are many such examples, but the famed grand cru vineyard of Montrachet, which straddles the villages of Chassagne-Montrachet and Puligny-Montrachet in the Côte de Beaune, or further north the grand cru Clos de Vougeot, which has more than 80 separate proprietors, are good examples. The image below provides a further illustration. Here we are looking south/south-west over the grands crus of Chapelle-Chambertin and Griotte-Chambertin in the foreground, and Clos de Bèze and Chambertin beyond that (the smoke originates from burning vine-cuttings within these latter grands crus); in the foreground one vigneron has ploughed between the half-dozen rows he owns, leaving those of his neighbours either side undisturbed. No doubt a task quickly completed, it may have been just one of many plots in his ownership, all dotted along the Côte d’Or, that he set about ploughing that day.

Although the vineyard was now in the hands of the people, rather than empire, church or nobility, the 19th century saw continued expansion in trade, and more and more foreign markets were opened up. As with other regions of France, however, the latter years of this century saw the arrival of phylloxera, changing irrevocably the shape of the Burgundian vineyard. Having arrived in the Gard in 1863, it moved northwards through the Rhône Valley in the ensuing years, eventually reaching Villié-Morgon in 1874 and then Meursault in 1878. The solution, as has been written elsewhere countless times, was to graft the precious Vitis vinifera species Chardonnay and Pinot Noir onto resistant American rootstock, and a new planting program was underway as early as 1886. But the vineyards had contracted to a mere fraction of what they were before, and this is largely the Burgundy that we know today, a vineyard forever changed, and forever changing.

Variety: the Vines of Burgundy

At first glance the issue of which grape varieties are to be found in Burgundy seems a simple one. As I have indicated above there are two important varieties here; the white wines are largely made from Chardonnay, the red wines from Pinot Noir. There are only minor exceptions to the rule for white, notably a few hectares of Aligoté here and there, some Sauvignon Blanc planted around St Bris (and now entitled to its own appellation), the white Pinot vines (Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris) and curiosities such as white mutants of Pinot Noir. There is a larger and more significant exception to the red rule, in that considerable areas of the region are planted to Gamay, but it is largely a well defined exception, with most of these vines confined to the Beaujolais region.

First glances can, however, be deceptive, particularly where Pinot Noir is concerned. This variety has long been known to be prone to mutation, and in years gone by vignerons would have had in their care vineyards containing a myriad of different vines each with slight genetic differences. These managers would propagate new plants by taking cuttings from their established vineyards, obviously taking the material from those vines with favourable characteristics, thus ensuring for the future the genetic strength and diversity possessed by the vineyard. With the modern requirement for grafted vinestock, however, this job falls to dedicated nurserymen rather than vineyard workers, and thus visual selection of healthy plants on an ad hoc basis has been replaced by a more industrial clonal selection, with many thousands of plants being produced from certified disease- and virus-free stock. As a result today there is a remarkable catalogue of clones that a vineyard manager must consider when choosing new plants.

Some clones will produce higher yields but lower quality, and perhaps vice versa. Whole vineyards may be established using just a single clone, a marked contrast to the genetic diversity that would have existed two centuries ago (or indeed in the aged vineyard above, just outside the village of Aloxe-Corton). Some feel that this loss of variance as Burgundy has moved from vineyards full of genetically-varied plant material to those populated with clones of the same plant – even well-chosen clones – has had a negative impact on the quality and style of Burgundy’s wine. Whether or not this is true (it is certainly disputed) the correct selection of clones is certainly a vital decision when replanting. Even today some Burgundy vineyards are still populated with what are referred to by the locals as “Champagne clones”, ill-chosen vines that might meet the needs of the Champenois as viewed by the Burgundians – namely high yields and low quality – but obviously fall far short of the noble Burgundian aim of making the world’s greatest wines. The expense of uprooting and replacing such vines with better clones means it is not undertaken lightly, and without other good reason – such as the need to replace elderly or dead vines – but once the domaine in question is committed to replanting you can be sure that the selection of better clones will be foremost in the mind of the vineyard manager involved.

Mutation, Mutation, Mutation

This tendency to mutation explains the existence of other Pinot varieties including both Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc in the Burgundy vineyard, and further north in the vineyards of Champagne Pinot Meunier; all are mutants of Pinot Noir. That some mutations should be sufficiently different to be labelled as different varieties is only natural; two visually identical clones with only a slight difference in some nebulous and poorly defined characteristic such as the ripening of their fruits or their disease-resistance can easily be thought of as the same variety (the clones of Pinot Noir discussed above), but when the mutant vine yields white berries rather than red, as with Pinot Gris & Blanc, the difference seems that much more fundamental. Ergo, a new name.

This mutation can even happen on the vine, so that one branch of an otherwise red vine can, to the surprise of all, yield white fruit. A well-recorded example of this occurred in 1936, in the Nuits-St-Georges vineyards of Henri Gouges. Henri noted that some of the old Pinot Noir vines in Clos de Porrets were producing white grapes; taking cuttings and establishing them on suitable rootstocks, he planted the white vines in the nearby Les Perrières, and to this day the vines are still yielding a white wine. The vines are referred to by various names, including white Pinot Noir, Pinot Gouges or even Pinot Musigny. The first of these three seems particularly vague, and could be applied to any other white Pinot Noir mutations such as Blanc or Gris, but either of the latter two are very appropriate and it would be pleasing to see one formally adopted and ratified.

Although it is not essential to examine these other varieties or Sauvignon Blanc in any detail here, we must not forget to return to Gamay. This grape shares its name with a small village near Chassagne-Montrachet, and there is also a village named Chardonnay, in the Mâconnais; surely these place-names must reflect the origins of these varieties? Possibly, but I should state clearly that there is no direct evidence to support such a conclusion. Gamay is not widely planted in the Côte d’Or, where if vinified it is only eligible for the most basic blends, such as Crémant de Bourgogne or Passe-Tout-Grains. Its absence from this region of Burgundy is to some extent down to terroir – it is much better suited to the lighter soils of Beaujolais – although an edict issued by Philippe le Hardi in 1395 demanding the uprooting of Gamay from the ‘golden slope’ no doubt also played some part in its disappearance. As with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay there are a number of different clones available, some offering better quality than others.

Finally in this little guide, the curious whites. Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris I have already mentioned, but there is also Aligoté and even Melon de Bourgogne. A variety offering more acidity than Chardonnay, Aligoté’s home would appear to be around Bouzeron where the variety has appellation contrôlée status. As for Melon de Bourgogne, the variety best known for Muscadet, there are small plantings in Burgundy where it may qualify for the most generic blends.


Clark Wine Center was built in 2003 by Hong Kong-based Yats International Leisure Philippines to become the largest wine shop in Philippines supplying Asia’s wine lovers with fine vintage wines at attractive prices. Today, this wine shop in Clark Philippines offers over 2000 selections of fine wines from all major wine regions in the world. As a leading wine supplier in Philippines, Pampanga’s Clark Wine Center offers an incomparable breadth of vintages, wines from back vintages spanning over 50 years. Clark Wine Center is located in Pampanga Clark Freeport Zone adjacent to Angeles City, just 25 minutes from Subic and 45 minutes from Manila.

Wines from Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhone, Loire, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Alsace, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, South Africa, Chile and Argentina etc. are well represented in this Clark Wine Shop.

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