The Burgundy wine region

The last part of our month vacation was to head to wine country. We chose to go to Burgundy (French: Bourgogne) as it is only about a 3 hour drive away from Lausanne and the wine is known as some of the best in France.

Transportation:

Quite the day! We started early with a flight from Amsterdam back to Geneva, train to our apartment in Lausanne to re-pack and then got into our car to hit the road. We drove from Lausanne to Pommard, which took about 3-3.5 hours (hit a little snag of traffic at the Swiss/French border).

Accommodation:

We wanted to stay in the Bourgogne region for four nights at a small B&B on or near a vineyard. Our hotel was exactly that and exceeded expectations. Hotel Le Clos du Colombier is an old house on the edge of the village of Pommard, with vineyards for a back yard. The hotel had a pool, with poolside drink service (always a plus!), and a full service restaurant and spa (if you book ahead). The service from the staff was excellent, it is primarily run by a local family. We enjoyed our time in the hotel so much.

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The edge of our village of Pommard

View of the hotel from the backside, with a little bit of a view of the pool area. There was also a very nice garden area where we sat for dinner one night.

Having some wine at sunset our first night at the hotel on the side of the house.

View into the vineyards from the hotel. Fun fact: the vineyard is a “clos” which means it is surrounded by walls. This dates back to when the Church owned the vineyards and protected the vines with these walls. The walls remain today all over the region though in some they are more well maintained than others. The vineyard land plot is then named Clos du Colombier and the source of the hotel’s name.

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The view from our hotel room of the below pool, garden and the vineyards beyond. It was so nice!
Eats:

Our first night we brought some food with us from Switzerland and had a picnic at a table outside by the hotel. Our second night we went to an Italian spot in our village that was unremarkable but the only place open. Turns out this region of France has more limited opening hours than we expected! The third night we ate at the hotel. Not only was the food good, but it was very nice to be able to walk downstairs and sit at our own hotel for a delicious French meal.

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Our beef bourguignon at the hotel restaurant with a roasted tomato salad on the side. We were verrrry happy to be having this dish in the recipe’s region of origin!
Our last night in Pommard we went out for a more gourmet meal at a spot our hotel staff recommended, L’Agastache in the nearby village of Volnay. It was about a 20 minute walk through the vineyards from our hotel, which also added to the fun. Below are some of our dishes.

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Top left – a roasted cherry tomato dessert. Unexpected ingredients but amazing with vanilla icecream; Top right – appetizer of smoked fish on top of a bed of arugula, orange and grapefruit; Middle left – Veal main course; Middle right – dessert of chocolate icecream encased in ganache and a coconut sauce; Bottom left: Roasted fish main course; Bottom right – Grilled vegetable stack with goat cheese stuffing (I got home and immediately remade this dish for us I loved it so much!)

Activities:

We arrived in the evening on Monday August 15. We were ready to get some exercise after all our traveling, so we made a big plan for Tuesday. We woke up first thing and went for a run up into the vineyards.

Leaving our village of Pommard to run up into the hills of vineyards. It may not look like it from here, but these were challenging after not running much this past month and Andrew recovering from a foot injury. Went pretty high up on the hill and got a nice view.

On our run down the hill back into Pommard.
For the afternoon we had arranged with our hotel to rent bikes. We decided to follow a route from the Rick Steve’s guidebook (we like him, can you tell?) he recommended for driving or biking except for a section that went up into the hills. We figured we could handle it and still went by bike. So smart, we are! It turned out that without knowing it, these two inexperienced cyclists took ourselves on a 36 km (22 mile) ride. With full sun and around 90°F, it was a challenging time and took us about 5 hours. But, it was so nice as we were on a bike trail almost the whole time and got to see several adorable little villages, chateaus, old churches and even a castle as we rode through the vineyards. Here are some photos:

Andrew at the beginning of our ride

Riding through Volnay, the next village over from Pommard where we had dinner. I am not sure what the buildings were used for and the internet can’t seem to tell me, but we saw buildings similar to that on the left all over. They have about 1 ft deep pools and open on the side. I’m thinking they are resting places for horses, but if you know please tell me!

The old town hall in the village Mersault. It is a former 14th century fortress and the roof was built in the 19th century. The roof tiling style was very common in this region and according to our guide it was of Flemish origin (Belgium).

After a particularly long climb up this hill, we took refuge inside of this Cabotte, which is a stone hut set among the vineyards. They are intended to provide shelter from the weather or a store place for tools for wine growers and also a resting place for hot and sweaty cycling tourists. 

Approaching the village of La Rochepot, with the Chateau de La Rochepot towering above on the hillside. 

Andrew with the limestone cliffs off in the distance, which are characteristic of this region and a very defining factor in the “terroir” of the wine region. Terroir includes the soil, the topography and the climate. During our time in Burgundy it was impressed upon us how important the terroir is for defining the wines. 

On Wednesday, I had arranged for us to take a guided wine tour with Burgundy Discovery on their Hidden Secrets wine tour. It was us, one other couple and the tour guide who was British. The tour took us to three small production wineries and out to lunch. With the tour guide to teach us about Burgundy wines and also to translate, we had tours and tastings directly with the wine grower/taster (who usually spoke only French). This was so unique in comparison to our typical California wine tasting as we were not served by a tasting room server but with the person who grows the grapes and makes the wine! At one point we even went into the fields with the wine maker to look at the vines and talk about the process. We had such a good time learning about the wines of Bourgogne in a very personal atmosphere and of course loved being taxied around to different areas while sipping on wine in France!

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Our first tasting at Domaine Marcillet in Fussey. The winemaker answered all of our many questions and talked some about the business. It was interesting to note that she sells almost entirely to individuals like us (tourists), locals and … restaurants in NYC.

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Our second tasting at Domaine Dujardin in Monthélie. Note the black ceilings, which are a product of a mushroom/fungus which feeds on the fumes of wine as it breathes out through the oak barrels. Ulrich also made a point that his barrels are French, not American 😉
The winemaker/grower, Ulrich is in the red shirt. At this vineyard, we walked through his wine making process, which is Bio (Euro version of organic). We did the wine tasting in his vaulted cellars, which date back to the 12th and 14th centuries. Ulrich was an incredibly smiley guy, and really stole our hearts (and money – his wine was really good) as we learned that his first career was as a teacher of the mentally disabled. Now, he employs people with disabilities in his wine making business in order to provide work opportunities to people who otherwise may be unemployed.

Ulrich let us do a tasting of a pinot noir directly from the barrel! Here he is using the syringe to take it out for us. 

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View from the Domaine Dujardin winemaker’s tasting room. So bucolic!

We stopped in the vineyards to talk about the vines and grapes with the winemaker/grower of our third vineyard, Domaine de la Coupette. I couldn’t resist this photo with the puffy clouds, blue skies and the old stone farmhouse on the right.

A cool little exhibit by the very nice winemaker of Domaine de la Coupette. It demonstrates the difference in the soil of the different vineyards where they source their grapes. This is to also impress upon you how much the terroir of each vineyard is different and therefore influences the flavor of the wine. We definitely learned that this is true as we tasted almost entirely pinot noir and chardonnay during our time in Bourgogne and yet there were distinct differences in taste in all.

The gate to the Chevaliers-Montrachet vineyard, which is a very well-known and valuable chardonnay vineyard in the region. The gate is nice as well 🙂

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We ended up buying a bit of wine from our wine tour (31 bottles…). The wine was absolutely delicious, but we also did this because the wine was SUCH a better deal than what we pay in Switzerland and also much better variety of village and premier cru than what we find in our stores. We plan on saving some for special occasions and otherwise, we’ll just have to go back some day when we run out!
On Thursday the weather was a bit cooler and cloudier, with rain in the forecast. So, we made plans to explore the nearby town of Beaune. We did a little bit of a self-guided walking tour, that included the L’Hôtel-Dieu Hospices Civils de Beaune. This is an old hospital that is now a museum. It was really interesting to go through, and learn a little about old medical practices and see the 15th century architecture. Nowadays, the hospital had moved to a more modern property. A neat fact is that the hospital owns a lot of vineyards, a lot donated from grateful patients. As such, there’s wine you can buy and they even have a huge auction every year to sell barrels of wine. The wine is highly sought after as they sell for prices ranging from 10k per barrel up to 60k! Not sure buying this is in our near future.

The courtyard of the Hospices, where you can see the style influenced by the Flemish Duchy of Burgundy

The hospital was funded to be built by a wealthy ruler in order to take care of the poor sick. This room is one for taking care of the poorest individuals. There were 30 beds lining the room. Apparently during bad times, they would stuff 3 people to a bed. With our current knowledge of how germs are spread, you can imagine our sadness at thinking how many people probably unnecessarily died because of their inability to prevent the spread of contagious diseases during those times until disinfection became an important practice.

Old ceramic containers for medicine. Mostly herbs and strange things I have never heard of. My how modern pharmaceuticals have advanced!

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Walking around the town of Beaune

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This region is also the home of mustard as we are less than an hour’s drive from Dijon. We did some mustard tasting (and buying) at La Moutarderie Fallot, pictured here.
Our time in the Burgundy region was everything we hoped for and more. It was relaxing, the food was delicious, the wine was excellent, and our hotel was an oasis amid the vineyards. We enjoyed getting to be in France where we could exercise our French (which was completely unused during the previous weeks of travel). I can’t say enough how much I enjoyed our time in Burgundy in the little village of Pommard. I highly recommend you visit some time!

Now, according to our original itinerary, the plan had been for us to continue on down to the city of Lyon for the weekend before coming back to Switzerland for work. Lyon is known as a gastronomic epicenter with tons of Michelin star restaurants. After our  cruise and knowing our time in Burgundy would be full of fine wine and food, we decided to post pone our trip to Lyon and to head back to Switzerland. Our hotel was kind enough to give us a credit as we have full intention of going in the future. This should allow us time to recuperate our taste buds and be fully prepared for the food experience of Lyon in the near future!

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