As our team touches down after a week in Burgundy getting to grips with the 2019 vintage, Sophie Thorpe discusses why getting into the cellars, wineries and vineyards is so important – especially in Burgundy
Four days, 28 producers and over 300 wines tasted (with a few additional bottles enjoyed over dinner): it’s been a busy few days, travelling up and down the Côte d’Or tasting the 2019 vintage.
It’s a strange time to be travelling – and sending a team to Burgundy, with the burden of quarantine and potential risks, wasn’t taken lightly. We’d normally taste the vintage over three trips – in September, October and November: this year, we weren’t sure what would be possible.
For Bordeaux en primeur, we were able to taste samples in the UK. But for Burgundy, with the tiny volumes involved – especially in a vintage like 2019 where yields are down by up to 50% – such an endeavour simply isn’t possible for the vast majority of domaines. These producers just don’t have enough wine to send a bottle of each cuvée – of which there may only be
one barrel – to distributors around the world.
It might seem an indulgence to travel to Burgundy to taste fine wine. But tasting the vintage is about so much more than just the wines: it’s about being able to talk to producers, get into the vineyards and cellars, to really see what made the wines the way they are. It’s about us being informed, to be able to share with our colleagues and customers exactly what we think of the vintage – which wines we loved, which we didn’t, and, most importantly, why. It’s also about supporting our producers – doing what we can for these true artisans, many of whom are much more than business contacts, but have become friends. Some are fledgling wine projects that are already facing the challenges of small yields (as in both 2019 and 2020), as well as today’s economic uncertainty – and we want to, and must, champion these exciting projects, for they are people we believe are doing truly great things.
A small group from FINE+RARE visited the region in July, tasting a handful of the 2019s – but in an even more youthful stage, when the wines can be hard to read. Nevertheless, these early conversations with producers formed the foundation of our visit. It was clear, however, that we needed to taste – and talk – more. So we decided to send a group of six, that would be divided in two to fit into the often small cellars and wineries of the region’s various villages, and to cover as much ground as possible over four days.
The team outside Domaine Hudelot-Noëllat
Of course, things were a little bit different this year. Each of our groups had a mini-van so that they could socially distance at all times, wearing masks as we dashed up and down the D974. Wherever possible, we wore masks, as did the vignerons we visited. Bottles of hand sanitiser had appeared in the corners of barrel rooms, or at the doors of wineries. While their smiles might have been covered, each one welcomed us warmly – offering an amazing amount of time and wisdom with us as they shared precious samples of their 2019s, guiding us through their range and the vintage. The region as a whole was quiet. As one producer explained, normally he would have four or five visits a day at this time of year; with Covid, he’s only doing that number a week. As a result, winemakers seemed particularly happy to see us, and were – fortunately for us – able to share even more of their time than normal.
Tasting was, this year, a joy – the ripeness of the vintage, combined with its acidity, makes even these youthful samples effortless to taste. The wines are superb – and we’ll be publishing our full thoughts on the vintage in due course. We hope to go back to taste even more, if we can, although it seems increasingly unlikely.
I’m writing this from the Eurostar, returning to London just as it shifts to Tier 2, with socialising outside your household banned as of today. With lockdown looming (not to mention our 14-day quarantine), our dinners in Beaune became a final hurrah – as I’m sure others did in London this week, seizing the opportunity to break bread, open bottles, share them and talk about them. Let’s hope that when the 2019s are eventually uncorked, it will be
in a less turbulent world.
We’ll be publishing a full report on Burgundy 2019 in November, but keep an eye out for early thoughts in the coming weeks. Read all our Burgundy 2019 coverage here.