If history and wine cannot be separated, then Burgundy is a prime example. The monks are the common denominator, who from the 6th century until the French Revolution were largely responsible for the development of the Burgundy viticulture that we know today. As of 2015, the vineyards and wineries of Burgundy and Champagne, mainly the climate and terroir, are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. What this means to the businesses in these regions of France is yet to be determined. Burgundy, in particular, is a conglomeration of small villages unable to accommodate hordes of tourists, but more exposure to the area’s history is no doubt going to highlight a tourist’s visit.
One of the best areas to explore Burgundy is in the heart of the world’s most expensive Romanée-Conti vineyard at the foot of the Combe de Lavaux: Gevrey-Chambertin. This wine village is a seven-minute train ride from Dijon, and among a few gites and hotels, the luxury inn, Les Deux Chévres, is but a short car ride to a five-star experience. For the couple who manage the 10-rooms within this inn, it is an all-encompassing life commitment.
Guests filter in and out for a night or two, seven days each week. For innkeepers/owners Paul and Jolanta Thomas, a schedule of rising at the crack of dawn and resting at midnight is common. As the precursor to running this inn, the couple endured a three-plus year renovation during some harsh winter months, roughing it with no windows or heat, and working with a crew that spoke a different language. The biggest challenge began within the start of renovations, when Paul had to exit the country to tend to his folding U.K. business. The stress took its toll on Jolanta, who continues to suffer from migraines and isn’t as relaxed as her husband or the guests to which he offers pours of wine with an open heart and obvious passion to be in Burgundy.
Les Deux Chévres is the story of two stubborn goats: Paul, a lawyer from the U.K., and Jolanta, a Polish woman determined to follow-through a challenging renovation. Its lure is its location in Burgundy, where some of the world’s best wine is available (a bottle of grand cru can cost 500 euros), and where Les Deux Chévres is a bike ride away from the grand cru vineyards and wineries.
Cobblestoned streets connect the grand carpet of vineyards viewed from the windows of this peaceful property. The only noises heard are the morning cock-a-doodle-doo’s and dinnertime clink of wine glasses as the village restaurants set outdoor patio tables. Although winters may be harsh, the area’s grapes thrive on the baking hot sun of summertime and its cool nights. In July, the grapes are pea-sized, but soon enough ready for harvest.
There are 10 guestrooms and a converted attic space a circular staircase away, where the aroma of fresh-cut wood is telltale of the new construction and the window view looks out to vineyards that roll up and down through Gevrey-Chambertin. Artist Joyce Delimata’s artwork of the vineyards are sold in the boutique shop in the reception area.
A day visit to Chateau Villars Fontaine Le Cos du Chateau, only 10 kilometers away, offers a flight of tastings, beginning with a 2010 Les Jiromees from Cote de Nuits, with a mushroom nose. Winemaker Bernard Hudelot is a legend in Burgundy, known for making wines that can last 30 years or more. The finest wine tasted is a 2012 Gevrey Chambertin Grand Vin De Bourgogne. This pinot noir is less fruit-forward than California pinot noir, as Burgundy is all about terroir. Tres bon. Another great sip is a 2013 Puligny-Montrachet Vielielles Vignes made from Chardonnay grapes in the area (did you know that 60-% of Burgundy’s overall production is white wine, most of which is Chardonnay?). A floral aroma dominates the subtlety of beeswax and offers a rich mouthfeel with mineral complexity and lingering finish. The 1994 tasting can only be described as awesome, and a 2006 offers layer of licorice and baking spices. Worth noting is that some Burgundy reds are aged 48 months in new French oak barrels, spending two years in one barrel before switching to a new one for another two years.
Dinner is best served down the road from Les Deux Chévres, at Chez Guy, beginning with a Cremant Bourgogne de Champagne and a plate of green olives and thumb-sized popovers. The chef’s amuse bouche is a beetroot mousse topped with pine nuts and eye of bread topped with celery cream and caviar. Oh, yes.
Back at the inn, there is information about an upcoming wine school for visitors who would like an introduction to Burgundy wine, and in particular the wines of Gevrey-Chambertin. With 600 hectares under vine, Gevrey is the largest and most important wine producing commune north of Beaune, boasting no fewer than nine Grand Cru wines to its name. Today, there are half-day courses available in the luxurious 19th-century salon of Les Deux Chévres. Wine instructors include Mark Fincham, the only English winemaker in Gevrey-Chambertin, and one of the few making wines biodynamically; Sandrine Lanaud, who has a degree in molecular biochemistry, yet devotes her life to the subject of winemaking in her native Burgundy; and other members of the team include Matthieu Aravantinos, chief taster for Les Deux Chévres, and consultant Tim Magnus, qualified WSET Level 4 – just below MW.
For an English-speaking tour guide, U.S. historian Kelly Kamborian is the best, and works with Les Deux Chévres to offer some of the best tours of Burgundy, including a photo stop at Romanée-Conti. Check out her video on The Story of Wine and Burgundy: www.theburgundyshop.com/historicaltours
The story of two goats
In 1694, the famous French writer and poet Jean de La Fontaine, wrote his final series of Fables, and one of them was about two goats. The story did not actually call for goats – it just needed two nimble and agile creatures with perfect balance and a head for heights. Can anyone think of a creature more apposite than a goat? Probably not, and nor can we. And this is where the problems start. Because de La Fontaine was writing about the unfortunate consequences of a refusal to compromise. Always topical! To illustrate the point, both of de La Fontaine’s protagonists were prepared to be crushed to death on the rocks below, or swept away in the raging torrent – rather than let the other animal cross the bridge first.
But this was only a Fable, you say – the goats were only used to convey the message that compromise is a better option. However de La Fontaine was the most famous poet and writer in France, and his works were published around the world. And so anyone reading the Fable, would come away thinking – what complete clots these goats must be. And so it has been ever since. In every country where the Fables have been published, there is a saying or expression associating our breed with stupidity or obduracy. We have been made into fools. For this reason, we have decided to respond.
We need to recognize Monsieur de La Fontaine’s tale for what it is – a poorly researched negationist fabrication! Strong words you say! – but we reply : how would you like to be held to ridicule for 300 years, and repeatedly put on a par with the mule in terms of cognitive functioning?
On behalf of myself Archimedes, my mate Tensy, our 674 million cousins (not to mention 1.4 billion of our Chinese friends in the Year of the Goat!) – we invite you to read the true story of The Two Goats at www.lesdeuxchevres.com
– Archimedes and Hortensia