When people talk about visiting France, they often talk of Paris and of the wine. And while we’re waiting to visit Paris until our French is a little bit better, we’ve been exploring some of the other areas of France that are closer to us. We recently took a trip to the Burgundy Wine Region of France. Burgundy, or Bourgogne in French, is about two hours south of Paris and an hour north of Lyon. Many of the vineyards in Burgundy are quite old; some were planted by monks as early as the 12th century!
Burgundy is a short two and a half hour drive from Geneva, so we were able to make a day trip of visiting the area. We started in the southern part of the Cote d’Or, known as Cote de Beaune in the town of Pommard.
Pommard is a tiny town surrounded mostly by vineyards. We stopped at Chateau de Pommard, which is one of the top wineries in the Burgundy region. Luckily, they had a free parking lot for our car, so we parked and headed into reception. The tour was only 21 Euros a person and included the vineyards, the wine cellar, and a tasting. We were also able to visit the ancient kitchen, and the chateau’s original wine-press. Since we had 45 minutes until the next English tour began, we decided to visit the old kitchen and wine-press. As we were exploring the estate, we found two original Salvador Dali bronze statues in the courtyard. The statues are called “Saint Georges Terrassant Le Dragon” and “La Licorne.” There was also a modern art gallery, but it was too modern for our tastes.
We learned a lot about wine making on our tour. Our tour guide told us that Chateau de Pommard is unique in Burgundy for many reasons. It has one of only eight monopolies on a vineyard in all of Burgundy. Typically, many wine makers own a stake in a particular vineyard and a monopoly on a single vineyard is very rare, but Chateau de Pommard has one. Additionally, Chateau de Pommard has one of the largest vineyards in Burgundy. These two facts are mainly because the vineyard was originally under the control of the French King up until the French Revolution.
Our guide also explained that there is a rating system for vineyards based on how good the “terroir” is. In Burgundy, the classification is given to the vineyard regardless of the producer. In order of “worst” to “best” they are: regional, village, premier cru, and grand cru. Our guide explained that the thing about the rating system is that it’s all about the soil and the terroir and not about the wine that is produced. So, sometimes a grand cru wine can be worse than a regional wine- it all depends on the blend of grapes and the conditions. Unfortunately, there’s no magic way to know you’re getting a good wine just by the rating of the vineyard- you have to try different kinds.
Our guide at Chateau de Pommard also took us into the wine cellar and explained how things were stored. There were oak barrels of wine and also bottles stored in the cellar. After the cellar, he took us to a tasting room where we got to try the wine. While I’d been to a vineyard before, I’d never been to one of this quality. All the wines were excellent and far better than anything I’d ever tasted before. We tried one of their whites and several reds, including the red they make from a blend of their grand cru and premier cru grapes called Chateau de Pommard.
Our guide explained that a couple of years back, a bottle of the Chateau de Pommard wine was only worth around 60 Euros in France, but elsewhere, it was selling for $500! So, the owner decided that was crazy and that the Chateau de Pommard wine (not the rest of their wine, just this one kind) would no longer be sold to distributors and you had to come visit the winery to purchase a bottle. It seems crazy to me that wine could be that expensive, but we were lucky enough to taste it and I can see why it was so in demand as it was one of the best wines I’ve had!
After our visit to Chateau de Pommard, we headed elsewhere in the Burgundy region. We went to Chateau de la Rochepot, which is a 13th century castle that was later renovated and restored. I had been dying to visit a real castle since we arrived in Switzerland and this was supposed to be one of the prettiest in Burgundy. So, we headed to the castle. I was excited to the see the drawbridge and moat which was no longer filled with water. However, once we got inside, I realized it was pretty small and we could only visit 3 rooms. You could see more rooms if you went on the tour, but it was only in French. While the garden in the inner courtyard was beautiful, I was disappointed because it was so small and un-exciting. If we had known, we would have skipped it and just waited to see a “real” castle like Neuschwanstein in Germany (which is what Cinderella’s castle at Disneyland is modeled after).
After Chateau de la Rochepot, we headed to our last stop in Burgundy: Chateau de Savigny-les-Beaune. This was perhaps one of the strangest and most interesting places I’ve ever been. It is a very large property with a river that used to feed the moat and lots of vineyards. It also has a wine cellar and restaurant where you can do a wine tasting. This was all pretty standard for Burgundy, the strange part was the museums on the property. They have a motorcycle museum, an Abarth racing car museum, a fighter plane museum, a farm tractor museum, a fire engine museum, and a model plane and car museum!
We bought our tickets and started the tour. You end up doing a loop around the property, starting with the Abarth racing car museum and some of the motorcycle museum. There were 30 Abarth prototypes and numerous photos and trophies. The motorcycles ranged from the 1930′s through the 1970′s.
After the motorcycles, we headed back outside and stopped in to see the tractors and some jet engines and cockpits. They had the cockpits (yes, just the cockpits) set up so you would walk up on platforms and look inside at the controls. They also had numerous engines and turbines you could get a close look at. After the tractors were the fighter jets. It was just a large field with around 80 fighter jets from all over the world, and a lot of MIGs and Dassaults.
Following the fighter jets, we stopped by the firetruck museum. They had several old firetrucks from all over France. Some were just wooden carts that would have been pulled by horses. Others were more modern. When we stepped out of the firetruck building, we found ourselves near the chateau again and headed inside.
We started with the ground floor and basement, but didn’t linger long because it smelled kind of like a skunk. So we decided to head upstairs and discovered the rest of the motorcycle collection. These bikes were in much better shape (and far less dusty) than the ones in the first building we stopped by. There were tons of bikes and even a few old motorcycle engines. When we’d finished with the motorcycles, we headed to the other wing and found the model cars and planes. This area was also pretty dusty, but we did see some vintage plane parts like wooden propellers and a parachute.
The model planes and cars were the end of the sights at the castle. We decided to skip the wine tasting since we’d just done that at Chateau de Pommard and it was already close to 6 pm. Instead, we headed back to our car and got back on the road. I’ve included a map below showing the stops we made on our day trip to Burgundy.
To see more photos from our trip, visit the original post on my personal blog.
We are a group of international women living in Geneva, Switzerland. If you would like to join the AIWC, please visit our website at http://www.aiwcgeneva.org/
Just happened across your blog and am enjoying it thus far! Welcome to Switzerland! My husband and I just moved here from Canada back at the end of April. I hope you are enjoying it here! But just so you know, there is a fantastic and very well known castle just outside of Montreux, called Le Chateau de Chillon. If you haven’t checked it out yet, I highly recommend it!
j & D moen said:
My wife and I will be visiting the Burgundy region and would like to buy a few bottles
for the rest of our trip. Not being familiar with French wines do you have any suggestions. The $500 bottle is totally out of the question.
Thank You for any and all assistance.
Grass Valley, CA
Jerry, I’m so glad you happened upon our blog about Burgundy. Caroline, who wrote this blog, has since moved away so she won’t be responding to your question.
If you would like to learn a bit more about Burgundy wines, the culture involved and how they grade the wines; I would suggest the Bourgogne Wine Board webpage http://www.bourgogne-wines.com/.
My father, a wine enjoyer, used to study up on various regions with the Wine Spectator (http://www.winespectator.com/wineratings) before visiting Europe. I have fabulous memories of travelling the Cote de Beaune area with him. One thing I would recommend is making your own picnic when it suits you. Not only do you learn about what the French eat at home, you save a bit of money to splurge at dinner. Good wines can be bought at a fair price at the supermarchés (large grocery stores such as Géant, some Auchan, le Clerc & B1, to name a few). You can also buy your cheeses, meats, bread and other luscious goodies there or at the local market. Just remember to pack your wine opener.
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