It’s always a good time for a French vineyard

“You are going to Beaune?” said the French sisters, their fine Parisian brows lifting in Gallic surprise.
“Yes. Why? Is it…not nice?” My slight trepidation.
“Non non non!” They reassured. “It is very nice! It is just zat no one goes to Beaune. We only went zere last year, and we go everywhere in France. Vive la France!”
(Okay, I added that last part.)

Burgundy vineyard 4776After the frantic pace of Must-See Paris, often seen through an aftertaste of jet lag, our tours spend a night in French countryside tranquility. And what’s more French countryside than Burgundy? (Quiet down, Provence.) So why Beaune? A quick walk through the streets answers that question. It’s like a Museum of Adorableness. But real-life, not replicated. An Adorability Expo? And for bonus, you can see what happens when the region’s wealthiest man (in a time and place where three out of four people lived in feudal poverty) begins to worry about his soul. (Spoiler alert: it sometimes involves drilling holes in people’s skulls.)

But we have another reason.

Did you know French wine is classified not by grape (pinot noir, merlot, etc) but by the region where the grapes are grown? And that there are French words involved that have no English equivalent? And that there are fancy French ways of classifying high quality wine? And that Burgundy is a top region for wine production in the world? And that the Rick Steves people have longtime personal friends over there, who just happen to produce those top-notch certifications?

Burgundy vineyard 4774Our bus parks on the side of the road that winds past innocuous hills that produce world-famous wine, and when there is a break in the sparse traffic of spiderlike harvesting tower-truck-things, we walk across the warm pavement and up the long driveway between vines to the manor house that looks like, well, like something from a wine label.

Downstairs we feel the precise temperature that fosters optimal fermentation, see the stacks of barrels made from French oak (of course!), and notice the fine gray mold on the ceiling that affords the vintage its penicillin protection.

Burgundy wine cellar 4783Upstairs we sit around a long table loaded with ripe fruit, potent cheese, fresh bread, and savory meats. The jambon persille was my favorite, despite looking kind of suspect with its herb-flaked jelly. And when the friendly hostess pours a glass of white wine, it’s liquid sunlight. And when she pours the red, it’s the personality of the land you’re holding.

I don’t really buy souvenirs anymore. But when even the un-certified stuff, humble beside the grand cru, tastes like Burgundy dreaming, I bought half a case. Vive la France!