Vacation Diaries, Burgundy, It's so Damn Small!

As a former student of Art History who once toyed with the idea of teaching that subject, a never-ending sense of thrill comes with my first, or umpteenth encounter with a beloved artwork. Standing before a Rembrandt self portrait, Van Eyck's Man in a Red Turban, or the deeply spiritual Rothko room at the Tate Modern — all of which were seen on our travels — never fails to take my breath away. 

Jan Van Eyck, Man in a Red Turban, 1  4  33

Jan Van Eyck, Man in a Red Turban, 1433

Even if, as passionate amateurs, we've read about and studied fine reproductions of a favorite work of art, nothing compares to experiencing such beauty and genius "face-to-face,” while realizing that the artists who created these works, be it years or centuries before, at one point stood pretty much exactly where we, the viewer, are at the moment when experiencing them.

For me, driving through the villages and walking the vineyards of the Côte d'Or elicited a similar electric thrill. As much as one can glean from drinking these wines, studying maps, and reading about the vineyards and vignerons, nothing compares to being there, and tasting with the men and women who work the lands, who make the wines. 

Plus, it's so damn small, far more so than it appears on maps. The entire Côte d'Or is only 30 miles long and roughly 1.2 miles wide, but contains something like 1200 different named vineyards. Moreover, the "sweet spot” for growing the finest wines is a remarkably narrow swath snaking the length of the slope.

Mark Rothko, paintings commissioned for but withdrawn from the Four Seasons, NYC, 1958 - 1959

Mark Rothko, paintings commissioned for but withdrawn from the Four Seasons, NYC, 1958 - 1959

While driving, blink twice and you'll have moved past Chambolle-Musigny into Vosne-Romanée. Drive the back roads of Vosne and see a closely-knit pattern of modest homes that are the domaines of such esteemed names as Anne Gros, Michel Gros, Mongeard-Mugneret, and Sylvain Cathiard. Look up from the village edge to the facing slope that was kissed by God — La Romanée, Romanée Saint-Vivant, La Romanée Conti, La Tache, Richebourg — it's all right there, and a remarkably brief walk from bottom to top. 

Descend into the cellars, they’re small too, and though prices for these wines are necessarily high one begins to wonder why they aren’t higher still, given the small yields and fragmented vineyard ownership.

For example, at the fine Chassagne Domaine of Jean-Noël Gagnard the delightful Caroline Lestimé, Gagnard’s daughter — he was spotted walking down the street sporting a traditional French casquette — drew a sample 2013 Bâtard-Montrachet from one of the two-and-a-half barrels produced that vintage. That’s about 62 cases of wine. Small indeed.