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Burgundy vs. The USA: A Human Perspective

burgundy_fields.jpgI expected to learn a lot on my first visit to Burgundy. After years of tasting the region's wines at every opportunity afforded to me in San Francisco and during my travels abroad, I looked forward to the education that comes only from driving unpaved roads, tramping with muddy boots in the vineyard, and the conversations to be had standing around in a cellar. My trip, arranged by the BIVB (Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne) to coincide with the 150th annual Hospices de Beaune wine auction, fulfilled these expectations and more, but also left me puzzled at how far behind their American counterparts Burgundy's appellations and vignerons appear to be in terms of collaboration.

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This is the beginning of an article I wrote that was published today on Jancis Robinson's Purple Pages, a very fine web site about everything wine. It includes a number of very pointed anecdotes about how Burgundians seem to be missing the boat when it comes to working together.

If you've never had a chance to check out Jancis' web site, I encourage you to do so, as it is one heck of a resource. Even just the electronic access to the Oxford Companion to Wine is worth the roughly $12 a month it will cost you to subscribe.

Continue reading "Burgundy vs. The USA: A Human Perspective" at JancisRobinson.Com or click here to sign up for a membership.

Comments (6)

Brian Monks wrote:
11.30.10 at 11:30 AM

Dear Alder,

Thanks for your message and for your recent posts regarding your visit to the Hospices this year. Next time you cross the pond, send me a note and we'll taste around the Loire and Calvados (if you like!)

An intriguing article about the collaboration tendancies of the Burgundians (too bad I'm not a JR PP subscriber). Anyway, I have an interesting perspective as an american living in france. I work (now) in economic development for the Brittany region, and everyday I see the dislike of collaborative work on a grand scale. It's perhaps why the "state" spends so much time and money(!) encouraging collaborative projects.

Anyway, your article caught my eye for a reason. Thanks for te post!


Mel Knox wrote:
11.30.10 at 3:30 PM

I think your view of Burgundy as a bunch of people who don't get along is a little exaggerqted. While you were there I managed to attend a series of parties in which everyone got along just fine.

When I last attended the Paulee de Meursault, everyone argued insofar as deciding what I was going to drink next!!

But you should remember that the Napa Valley of 1972 is a far different place than the one today. Back then you needed a map to find the wineries. Now you need one to avoid them.

Some owners won't let their staff attend Steamboat because they are afraid 'secrets' will get out.

Dave Lett used to say that getting winemakers to work together was like pitchforking snakes.

There is stil lots of friendship among winemakers in Burgundy, just as there is here. But in a 'mature' industry (meaning the pie isn't getting any bigger), people don't share so much.

I once went to Taittinger to look at a bottle wrapping machine. They wouldn't let me take a picture of it! In Bordeaux winemakers ar secretive about the number of egg whites used...wow, what a secret! In Burgundy winemakers will you just about anything, as long as the question is posed intelligently, on the basis that the answer that works for their terroir won't necessarily be the right one for you.


Alder Yarrow wrote:
11.30.10 at 3:57 PM


Thanks for the comments. I definitely don't mean to portray the Burgundians as folks who don't get along, but I did have some express some real frustration at the lack of willingness of their fellow Burgundians to work together. That's definitely different than friendship and social relations, of which I saw plenty of good examples on my trip there. And I found no Burgundian winemaker to be secretive in any way when I asked anything.

This is more about people seeming to not be able to overcome their own independent interests to collaborate on activities that are about the greater good, something which most of the Burgundians I spoke to said was frustratingly difficult for them.

And of course, while I don't think they compare favorably to the efforts I've seen in the US, it's not like everyone in the US has socialist tendencies.


Mel Knox wrote:
11.30.10 at 6:45 PM

When it comes to getting winemakers to work together on marketing programs, I am definitely reminded of Lett's law: it is easier to pitchfork snakes than to get winemakers to work together.

In Burgundy there are lots of marketing strategies. Only the negociants have much wine to sell. Ten domaines in Rully may have v different ideas.

Have you been to Bordeaux?? Very different reception. At one second growth property I visited the staff wouldn't let us look at their new stainless steel tanks but took pleasure in pointing out the lighting in the rare wine cellar.

There is a saying that in Bordeaux, everything is for sale but nothing is to taste. In Burgundy the opposite is often true. One time I was visited Roumier with Saintsbury's Dick Ward and some French highway engineers. One of the French fellows expressed an interest in buying something, only to be told it was all pre sold.

Mark wrote:
11.30.10 at 6:47 PM

Interesting stuff Alder to be sure. I think every region finds different ways to work together, frankly speaking I've been surprised at the lower level of collaboration in Napa when compared with some other areas, specifically Paso.

I don't know what that says for the future of winemaking and the continuing improvement in quality in those regions, but it's an interesting conversation.

Pablo wrote:
12.06.10 at 2:23 AM

I have not read your stuff but I read your answer to Mel.
I go twice in a year to the burgundy(since 1975) where I will met each time 5 to 6 different small winemaker. In my opinion the small guy do talk together, because you will see in each cellar some bottles from other winemakers. When we are there on a weekend where it is hot we could put our bottles from different winemakers in the cellar for one night of the last one where we had a appointment. Most small winemaker don't like the big guys in Beaune. By each of this guys we can taste most of his wines, because they know that we will buy each year some bottles from them. What they don't like are people which are coming and only tasting without buying anything

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