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Vineyards in Burgundy

A Burgundy vineyard. Photo by Philip Larson. License: Creative Commons SA 2.0 Generic.

The Pinot Noir grape, although thriving in areas such as New Zealand, Oregon, and more recently California, traces its roots to and has its greatest expression in the historic French wine region of Burgundy (called Bourgogne in the French language), particularly the world-famous Côte de Nuits. In addition, Chardonnay, while grown all over the world and made excellently from other places, reaches its peaks in Burgundy's Côte de Beaune regions and Chablis.

Unlike Bordeaux blends, which use a significant amount of other grapes, the Burgundy wine is given purity and generalized by the use of only these two grapes for red and white wines: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, respectively. Quality standards are also kept high by arguably the most rigorous appellation system in the world, which includes over 600 ways to label a wine! The result of this most stringent of labeling systems has led to Burgundy's establishment as one of the most qualitatively oriented areas in the world, but this has the side effect of confusing the consumer beyond belief. In fact, Burgundy's classification system is often considered the most complicated in the world.

Qualitative standards have included keeping yields, and therefore overall production, very low. As a result, the expense of the wines is, in general, greater than that of any other wine region in the world. Tiny vineyards such as Romanée-Conti produce red wines that can cost over $10,000 new. The white Burgundy is less expensive, but only a few exclusive producers in California approach it in price. For Burgundy's numerous wealthy fans, no price is too much to pay for this most elegant of wines. In fact, Burgundy's wines are often favored because of their rarity and expense, thus making wealthy people the prominent consumers of Burgundy wine. This has led to an impression among the general wine world that Burgundy is "snob wine." Only jealousy, though, is the root of this nickname, and jealousy is reasonable when you consider the unique quality of these wines.


Wine in Burgundy is likely to have gotten its start in the B.C.s, but wine itself was then in its infancy then and the area did not establish itself until much later. Since it was an inland region, shipping by boat was impossible, and until the 1300s Burgundy wine remained obscure. During this 14th century, in the time of the Avignon Papacy, wealthy figures in the church and monarchy found Burgundy amazingly elegant and nicknamed it "the wine of kings." The kings made sure to institute rules guaranteeing the quality for themselves and their descendants, many of which are still in place today.

During the 1800s French wine in general became more popular in other places, but only slowly did Burgundy begin shipping its wine to rich consumers all across the world. The outrageously complicated classification system of Burgundy was gradually built, only further confused by the institution of numerous AOCs in the 1930s. Nowadays, there are 105 Burgundy AOCs, not counting the hundreds of Premiers Crus. This appellation system has defeated its purpose by becoming too confusing and convoluted, meaning many great Burgundy villages have become unreliable.

A major turning point for Burgundy was the Judgement of Paris in 1976, the famous contest in which California Chardonnay made by Chateau Montelena triumphed over luxurious white Burgundies. This dealt a heavy blow to Burgundy wine, which up until then had been considered unrivaled. But the more volatile free-market system of California caused a "bubble" in American wines, after which a return to the classic Burgundies has been initiated. Nonetheless, it has been proven that simply having a sprawling appellation system isn't enough to keep quality high, and the old-fashioned wines of Burgundy may be left behind as the wine world trends toward cheaper, simpler wine.

Climate and Viticulture

One of the things that makes Burgundy wine so distinctive and legendary is the amazing number of diverse microclimates within it. Both the soil of Burgundy and the other minutiae of the particular appellation make a huge difference in the quality—and price—of the wine. This is why the government has taken such care to protect the appellation system from misuse. The general term for these varying factors is terroir, a word that in fact originated in Burgundy and is more important there than anywhere else.

As a result, we will describe the climate and viticulture in detail, such as the soil types, wind areas, and other important factors. Please go to a more detailed page to see our climate descriptions for those pages.

Grape Varieties

As mentioned earlier, the two main grapes for red and white wines in Burgundy are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, respectively. The finicky Pinot Noir, when made correctly, can produce a wine of outstanding depth and subtlety, but yet without the weakness of either being overpowering or unapproachable. Chardonnay can lead to buttery, outrageously rich wines of outstanding depth and character.

The grape of Beaujolais, Gamay, is rare in Burgundy but is seen there occasionally. Aligoté is the main white grape in the supporting cast; its light, rounder character is most often found in Bourgogne Aligoté AOC.

Major Producers

Burgundy wine is classified by subregion, not by producer. In fact, to take a look at an example label, one sees that the producer is almost an afterthought. The reason for this is that the wine produced is so strictly controlled that Grand Cru wine is—at least supposedly—given a guarantee of quality by the French government that supersedes any claims made by producers.

Therefore, producers in Burgundy are much less important than they are anywhere else in the world. Another distinguishing factor of Burgundy is that many producers do not even grow or bottle the wine that they sell. Instead, they gather a selection of wines from the growers and take on the responsibility of marketing and selling these wines. The large houses are called négociants, and often have "holdings" all over Burgundy. Several prime examples include:

You will be seeing the names of these producers many times on Burgundy's subpages.

Of course, there are a number of smaller producers that are considered "status symbols". The most famous of these is the legendary Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, which still stands head and shoulders above the rest with its prices and quality. Although the producer has holdings scattered all over Burgundy, all but one in the Côte de Nuits, the majority of those are concentrated around the village of Vosne-Romanée. The flagship offering is the Romanée-Conti, which is in a stratosphere of luxury and commands five-figure!

More producers are covered in-depth on more specific pages.


Regions in Burgundy play a more important part than they do in probably anywhere else in the world. If you intend to knowledgeably purchase Bordeaux wine, or wine from California, or wine from the great majority of the world's areas, one can judge based on what producers are reputable and let the region be second. Not so Burgundy. Burgundy's appellation system is so strictly controlled that the wine producer is virtually an afterthought, as evidenced by looking on nearly any label from a famous Burgundy village. Usually, the region's name takes up most of the label, while the producer's name is printed in small letters.

Burgundy has five important levels of classification, listed from most important to least:

The regions of Burgundy are extremely complex, and yet they are understandable if simply listed out in a straightforward format. Let us construct a logical list of the AOCs of Burgundy, and how the consumer may come to understand them. Click on any of the underlined links to go to the specific pages.

Vineyards in Burgundy 2

More vineyards in Burgundy. This photo is in the public domain.