Travels in Burgundy: Musée Du Vin and Hôtel Dieu
Burgundy is one of the most famous and historic wine regions in the world – so historic, that there has been a campaign underway since 2007 to designate a swath of Burgundian vineyards (or “climats”) as protected sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List. For red wines produced in Burgundy, Pinot Noir is king, and for white wines, Chardonnay reigns supreme. (Two other grape types – Gamay for red and Aligote for white – are permitted to be grown and used in wines from the region, but almost all of the high-quality wines produced in Burgundy are made from either Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.)
As I indicated in my pre-game post, I rented a studio apartment in Beaune through HomeAway for the entire week. Beaune is the figurative heart of Burgundy, and Place Monge (the location of my apartment at Les Telleuls le Monge) is in the geographic center of the old city of Beaune, so I was in the perfect home base for my Burgundian adventure. I decided to begin the week by visiting the Musée du Vin de Bourgogne (Museum of Burgundian Wine), just a few blocks from my apartment.
Tour of Musée Du Vin de Bourgogne
The museum provides extremely detailed exhibits on the many and varied aspects of wine production in Burgundy – soil types, climate, all the tools used over the years for farming, harvesting and vinification, barrels, and even exhibits about wine glassware and the evolution of the bottles used in Burgundy throughout the centuries. As a self-professed “wine geek,” I found the detail in the exhibits endlessly informative and fascinating, but I could tell from the way that some folks were zipping through them that there might be an overwhelming amount of minutiae for those who are a bit more casual in their wine interest and appreciation.
By far the best exhibit (and , for me, worth the price of admission alone) was in the center of the 2nd room of the museum: a three-dimensional relief map of Burgundy which had each vineyard parcel marked (with red thread for red grapes and green thread for white grapes) on the map. There are buttons along the bottom of the map for the most widely-known areas (for example, Puligny-Montrachet) which, when pressed, light up that area on the map to show you the soil profile and topography. I’ve been reading about and studying these names for years, so seeing them on this map (then later in the week, to drive through the areas themselves) was amazing and a little bit surreal, but also tremendously helpful in getting a better understanding of the wines.
Here’s a photo of the map:
Tour of Hôtel Dieu
My next museum visit in Beaune is to the Hôtel Dieu. Although the name implies that it might be a fancy overnight destination for tourists, in fact, it was for hundreds of years a hospice facility for the poor and destitute of Burgundy, and more commonly known by the name Hospices de Beaune. For those of us who work in wine, the Hospices has both historic and current links to the wine industry in Burgundy. Through donations and bequests over the years, the Hospices de Beaune is one of the largest owners of vineyard land in Burgundy. Additionally, the Hospices also sponsors one of the world’s largest and most famous wine auctions during the 3rd week of November each year (and now managed by Christie’s auction house), in which wine produced from the vineyards owned by the Hospices is auctioned off to raise money for the benefit of the continued operation of the museum and of the medical facilities that the Hospices de Beaune now operates. This annual auction is the “debutante ball” for each new vintage of Burgundian wine, and is a bellwether for prices worldwide for the upcoming year.
The Hôtel Dieu was a functioning facility until the 1960s, but is now solely a museum that has been beautifully restored to match its appearance in the heyday of its operation. The tiled roof is one of the most iconic images in Beaune and perhaps all of Burgundy:
These museum tours set the stage perfectly for the touring and tasting appointments that I had set for the rest of the week. Next post: the tour and tastings at Joseph Drouhin, Patriarche, and Bouchard Pere & Fils.