By Chef Dad
When we originally mapped out our route through France, we had planned to spend a bit of time touring Dijon, but we never made it. Instead, we stopped in the beautiful little town of Beaune, right in the heart of the Burgundy wine region. We checked into an adorable little hotel, Hotel Le Home, where our host Mathilde greeted us with much enthusiasm and guidance for our visit. I’m glad for her advice, which helped us pack a lot of activity into a little more than one day in town.
We began our day with a visit to the famed Hospices de Beane, a hospital that opened in the mid-15th century and was still treating patients as recently as the 1980’s. The hospices were designed as a place to treat the poor, and served as something of a model for the hospitals that would come afterward.
The hospice tour came with an audio guide, and the kids’ audioguide was narrated by a fly and a snake. The fly, quite a morbid creature, described what it was like to drink the blood of patients who filled the barracks back in the early days of medicine. Blood-letting was also normal back in the day, and we got to see the drilling tools that were used to relieve pressure on the brain or to drain sores during the plague. The kids were enraptured!
The Hospices have been supported over the years by a charity wine auction, featuring wines from prestigious vineyards that have been acquired or donated to the Hospices over time. The Hospices produce some of the best wines in Burgundy, and the auction raises millions of euros to support the hospices and various other charities. This year’s auction was held two days after the Paris attacks and generated over $12 million, with a third of that going to support the victims of the attacks.
After the hospices, we headed out to Chateau de Pommard for tasting and a tour. The tour was fine, but the room we waited in for the tour was better and featured a monstrosity of a wine press.
It’s hard to get a feel for just how big that thing is, other than to say it’s easier to imagine some mythical giants like the Cyclops using it than actual humans. After that we wandered the grounds for a while, though it was a bit muddy for a walk in the vines.
There used to be a couple of Salvador Dali pieces in the courtyard, but the new owner didn’t much like them. And while I can understand that, it would have been fun to see them. Kristy and Miss A especially. They are both drawn to his work.
Also, I mentioned in a previous post that we’ve chosen a bottle of wine for Mr. N and Miss A to have when they’re old enough. Our tasting host’s grandpa has one-upped us though. On his grandchildrens’ 18th birthdays, our host and his brother were given the keys to 1800-bottle cellars. Seriously.
The wines were very good. Burgundy reds are made entirely from Pinot Noir grapes, so it’s easy to understand what you’re drinking and it’s a very distintive experience compared to Bordeaux and especially to Rioja. Compared to Bordeaux, there is a bit more emphasis on the winemaker, with a classification system based on region rather than vineyard. The most prestigious wines are single-vineyard, but many other wines draw from multiple vineyards from a single village or throughout the region. Winemakers have a larger presence in towns like Beaune, compared to Bordeaux producers that emphasize their Chateaux. Rioja, on the other hand, has a much more modern feel and makes much bolder wines compared to the gentle style of Burgundy.
After that we headed to Beaune’s town park, with a big lake and plenty of space to run around. The running around ended in some seriously muddy pants (totally worth it), so we had to quick change clothes before our next stop, the Edmond Fallot Moutarderie.
Fallot makes Dijon-style mustard in the last family-owned Moutarderie in Burgundy, so while we didn’t get to see Dijon the city, we will be bringing home some of the mustard (unless it’s gone before then).
We took the kids on a tour of the Moutarderie and museum, complete with mustard tasting at the end. I can’t possibly describe how spicy the mustards that we sampled were. We must have tried about 20 different flavors, most of which were very good and all of which packed a wallop. Surprisingly Miss A tried them all – even the really spicy ones. She appears to have a transitioning palate. And to no one’s surprise, Mr. N thought the spicier the better!
It was a fun tour, with a decent amount of science and history lessons built in for the kids. Plus I’m sure they liked having the opportunity to taste something at the end of the tour.
Next up was a visit to a wine shop in town. Lots of wine shops offer cellar tours, though we were there in the off season and it wasn’t too busy. For our cellar tour, we were given a traditional tasting cup that we carried around through our own self-guided tour of the cellar and tasted various wines that were set out for us to try. Miss A enjoyed playing hostess.
This isn’t my favorite way to taste wines, I confess. It feels a little bit forced, and I think the appeal of carrying your sippy cup from cellar to cellar works if you get to visit with different people and learn about different wines. Here, a retail clerk sold us our tour, then left us to wander through a sterile wine cellar with a few bottles left out. This just didn’t add much, but the cellars were interesting. The kids enjoyed running through the caves and our tasting cups will make nice souvies.
All-in-all, Beaune was beautiful. We followed up our visit to the wine cellar with a stroll through town and some dinner in a casual French bistro. The light drizzle did little to dampen our spirits.
We’ve had a chance to tour through several different wine regions and wine towns on our trip, with more to come, and they all have their own unique style. Burgundy wines are soft and approachable, fairly easy to understand and very easy to drink. In addition to Pommard and the wine shop, we also stopped at Louis Jadot and sampled wine from a bunch of different vintages and appelations. It feels like it would take a bit more time to understand all of its nuance, but then I guess we’ll have to come back.
Perhaps for the wine auction! (Seems like our list of places to revisit only gets longer!)