It’s surreal to cycle through the world’s most prestigious, centuries-old region for producing fine, expensive red wines and not stop for a tasting. To atone for this, nearly every evening we often had excellent local red wine for low prices every dinner in this corner of France.
Enroute Through World’s Cradle, Centuries and Prestige of Red Winemaking
We were reminded of this grand dame locale and terroir in the panthenon of wine regions in different ways: road signs declaring “Route des Grands Crus”.
Grands Crus is French for “great growth” and is a designation by the French authorities for a vineyard producing high quality wine. Other markers, were old stately stone gateways engraved with wine brand name that stood like faithful soldier by its vineyard acreage. In fact, stone fences were built to prevent grape theft.
Thankfully we were spinning in early October with less tourist car road traffic. More often, we were followed or passed by local mini farm tractors, grape haulers and mini-vans that dispensed vineyard workers.
The sun was bright and hot. Luckily, tailwinds pushed us along the flat terrain most the time, dotted with red tiled mini houses and village church steeples. Unlike winery regions in Canada –Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Vancouver Island or Niagara Ontario region, wine-tasting in this French
region, needs to be planned and more often, you must pay. Many wine producers did not offer an on-site retail tasting room where we cycled. No big deal for us since we had to navigate our loaded bikes.
Bumping Along Cobblestones Through Villages
Our cycling route, took us through tiny ancient villages every 5-10 kms. where I was not accustomed to cycling on very narrow cobblestone streets
with occasional car either patiently waiting for us, or zipping through at any open opportunity. These villages had road speed limits at 20-30 km./hr. which truly preserves a peaceful, sedate atmosphere. Still, I spent more time focusing on blind corners and uneven stony road surfaces.
Many homes and public buildings were well-preserved with air of gracious tradition and quiet pride. And these villages were very quiet. A wailing child would shatter this pastoral ambience like a thunderbolt.
Museum of Wine – Beaune France
Just a block away from our hotel in the town of Beaune, we ambled through this large museum cradled inside a very old stone thick-walled building and cobblestone courtyard which looked deceptively small from the street.
Inside there were exhibits illustrating geohistory of vineyards –from colour-coded, detailed maps on family-owned, named grape-laden, land parcels, their terroir to grape harvesting, crushing and cooperage, or making of wine barrels. I enjoyed artsy wine-inspired accoutrements from archival to contemporary, on grapevine cultivation and bachannial celebration in paintings, on vessels and even tapestry art of local landscapes, oenephiles, patrons and workers.
And yes, according to photos, there was a time in recent 20th century history where workers were sometimes naked when foot-crushing grapes in vats.
Wine-Making, Sales and Branding for Monastaries and Convent
There is a long centuries history of the Cisterian monks that tended some vineyards and made some fine wine. Jack tells me in some churches did store their wine underneath the church floor –at least in Germany. In Catholic strongholds, wine was for mass.
In Strausborg, France we toured a smallish cathedral, St. Thomas. I went to the tiny church shop where surprisingly there were a few bottles of wine produced by some monk orders. In Beaune, there was a convent that ran a historic hospital for over 6 centuries. Historically, the convent also owned some vineyard plots. Over the centuries, nuns’ hospital work, was also supported by funds from local wine producing benefactors.
Today there is a brand of wine with the name of convent, only to mark its location and affinity to the people and rich history in this French region of Bourgegnon or Burgundy.