This first week of class has been full of wines galore! Going from the vineyards and grapes themselves to the final products and aging cellars of some of the most exquisite wines in France, it has been an incredible journey. Besides our class days in Cluny, we venture out to discover the other wonders within the rich Burgundy area. One of our first trips was to a small family vineyard and winery owned by the Perraud’s, one of the owners of the Cellier Abbayé, or Abbey Cellar, in Cluny. This family business follows the wine making all the way from the baby grape wines all the way to the bottling of the finished product. We were given a tour of their vineyard as well as their processing factory. This year, due to the rain and cold weather in the spring, the flowering of the grapes has been delayed, which may result in a smaller and later crop. We learned about the specificity and detail required to care for these plants, ensuring the best quality in the harvest. We were also able to try a couple of the wines!
Another one of our excursions took us to a local agricultural high school called the Lycée de Devayé. Unlike the many other boarding schools in France, this high school is one of about 25 schools in France that specializes in the making of wine and cheese. Students at this school can choose to study the making and marketing of Burgundy wines and goat cheeses. We were able to walk around and even meet the 200 goats that reside there, producing milk daily for their small cheese production. They also grow their own wines and make unique wines in their cellars. Oh, how amazing would it be to go to a school like that!
By far our most prestigious wine visit has been to the headquarters of Bouchard Père et Fils in Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy. This “negociant” company works to buy wines from around the area and matures them until they are ready to sell. It’s located in a historical chateau, or castle, that used to protect the city of Beaune. We were given a VIP tour of the massively extensive cellars under the castle as well as a tasting of some Premier Cru wines, the second highest level of wines in France. One of the bottles we tried would normally cell for 50-60 euros. But even us students, who had but days of experience under our belts, could tell the difference in the refinement of the taste compared to more common village wines. Just a peek at the rows and rows of wines, some aging since the 1800’s when Jefferson was in France, drinking French wine, is enough to leave you speechless at the centrality of wine to the French culture. There’s still so much to learn about wine, and I think this course serves as a first taste of the immensely rich experience of wine in France.