Take a Tour with the Queen of Burgundy

By: Barney Lehrer and Jesse Nash

Burgundy is a great name in the wine world. It is beloved worldwide for the delicate smoothness of its red wines made with Pinot Noir grapes as well as its “minerality,” sometimes buttery white wines from Chardonnay.

During a recent visit to Burgundy we based ourselves in the famous village of Pommard, just south of Beaune, the wine business capital. We had the privilege of staying in the 17th century Clos des Colombiers, a luxurious B&B owned and run by the Barthelmebs family, a couple who left highflying international corporate careers to create a luxurious yet homey environment, steeped in wine history.

On our visit we were lucky to spend a day with one of the top wine brokers in the region, Jeanne-Marie de Champs, also known as the Queen of Burgundy. Champs is descended from a family of landowners in central France whose agricultural history dates back to 1180. To this day her brother owns oak trees that supply the major coopers in France. Formerly a marketing executive in Paris, her marriage to a wine exporter brought her to Beaune where she quickly learned the wine export business working within her husband’s company.

In 1994, she opened her own wine export company, Domaines et Saveurs Collection, which has since become one of the major forces in the Burgundy export trade. Champs represents more than 70 “growers,” who represent the best of their terroir.

In one extraordinary day, Champs took us on an exhausting but exhilarating tour to some of her best “growers.”

The first stop was Domaine Alain Michelot in Nuits-Saint-Georges. Alain’s daughter Elodie, now the winemaker, showed us around the “cold” cellar and explained how they have “quietly” invested in new tanks and winemaking equipment while maintaining the ancient traditions of local production. The result is a red Premier Cru that is soft, round and fruity.

Next was the Clos de la Perrière, a Monopole perched on a hill above the village of Fixin, just south of Dijon.  Records indicate that Cistercian monks started making wine on this property in 1142. Since 1853 the property has been owned by the Joliet Family. Bénigne Joliet uses a minimum amount of technology to produce a pure Premier Cru with minerality and substance.  According to Joliet, “the wine making at the Clos de la Perrière has its roots in tradition and know-how dating back to the monks’ work.”

Champs then took us to Clos de Tart in Morey St Denis, another ancient Monopole with winemaking traditions dating back to the 12th century. It was founded in 1141 and was tended for several hundred years by Cistercian nuns. The winery and tasting rooms remain in the ancient convent building. Their two most famous wines are a Premier Cru and a Grand Cru, made using only grapes from their own vineyard, the largest Grand Cru classified property in Burgundy. Clos de Tart is a legend in Burgundy. They produce fruity, lower tannic wine. Sylvain Pitiot, the Clos de Tart chief farmer has the philosophy of “Hands-Off” winemaking.

“Sometimes we have nothing to do: we pick perfect grapes, put the wine in vats, and go on vacation,” Pitiot said.

After Clos de Tart, which would normally be a difficult act to follow, we were escorted to a quite magnificent act in itself. Domaine François Lamarche in Vosne-Romanée is now mostly run by the daughter and niece of François Lamarche.  Nicole Lamarche, François’ daughter, is now in charge of the farming and is doing much of the winemaking. Her cousin, Nathalie is in charge of marketing and sales.

The strong effect of this feminine power is felt throughout the domaine. They produce wines from several appellations in the area. However the most important vineyard  is their Monopole “La Grand Rue” in Vosne-Romanée, a property “stuck” between Romanée-Conti and La Tâche, the two most sought-after and expensive wines in Burgundy, if not in the world. The wines of Lamarche may not be quite up to the quality and prices of their neighbors, but they are well on their way.

The last stop on our Burgundy odyssey was to the Château de la Maltroye in Chassagne-Montrachet.  This beautiful 18th century château with 15th century cellars is located at the top of the hill in Chassagne-Montrachet. The Cournut family bought it in 1940.  Flamboyant Jean-Pierre Cournet is now the winemaker and marketer in chief, as well as a keen collector of old sports cars, which are lovingly stored next to the barrels of aging wines.

Château de la Maltroye’s vineyards are right next to the château and are considered to be some of the best Premier Cru land in the village.  From a total production of 60,000 bottles per year, 60 percent is white Chassagne-Montrachet, with an intense minerality and subtle scent of oak. As Champs said, “The wines of Château de la Maltroyeare are made with the precision of an engineer, precise detail, a constant search for the best expression of the microclimates and terroirs and harmony with the wood.”

For wine lovers, Burgundy is a region that demands study, time, patience and love. Come take a tour and be captivated by its magic.

Looking to visit Burgundy soon?

The Burgundy Wine Board has an encyclopedic website that lists almost every winemaker in the region. In general, since most wineries are small family run shops, it is best to call ahead and book a visit. The Board offers a service that will help plan your itinerary.


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