A visit to Beaune should be circled in red on the calendar. It’s nothing less than a treat.
“Each stone of our House tells the past and consolidates our future.”
In the late 1880’s a young wine merchant named Joseph Drouhin from Chablis travelled deeper into Bourgogne to the town of Beaune. On arrival he was impressed by the historical cellars that rest beneath the town. Four generations have passed since Joseph came to Beaune and in that time Maison Joseph Drouhin has become a global wine presence with an incredible story of heritage and excellence adn those wine cellars are now part of the Drouhin estate
Manager of Private Tours, Tastings and Events at Maison Joseph Drouhin, Jacquie Morrison an expat Brit, runs tours of the cellars. Before heading to Beaune, check the Drouhin website to see what’s available as there are special opportunities to explore unique aspects of the estate and vineyards as well as regularly-scheduled tour times which are purposefully limited to a few guests. Jacquie personally constructs these groups based on her years of experience. This careful cultivation is in direct alignment with the way that Drouhin manages every aspect of their House, nothing seems thrown-together or left to chance; visitors feel very much tended-to.
I met with Jacquie at the Drouhin L’Œnothèque where you’ll discover a selection of wines before being led back outside into the darling stone streets of Beaune that wrap around the back of the building. Wondering alound where the cellars were located Jacquie told me they are under the village, under the streets, under the building we’d just left which was built centuries ago and was originally used for the regional government. Eventually she took the group through a door which opened into an ancient wine making room, with still-working & highly-rare mechanics that were once the go-to tools to make wine. The for-sure scent of grapes was ground into this space. We wound our way down a little spiral staircase, with steps so small they didn’t even fit my whole shoe. Our footsteps made soft echoes as we walked through the dark little alleyways that worked through many cellar rooms.
It is an ancient space. The Drouhins weren’t the first to store wine here. The cellars are comprised of 12th century rooms that were built to store the wines owned by the Kings of France. Those cellars were built on much older foundations that were once the base of an ancient Roman court. There are also 13th century cellars and 15th century cellars, and there are areas still being modified today in order to unify the cellar space. This is a theme I’ve found strongly present in the Drouhin story: the stone-deep heart of history buttered with new alterations aimed at perfection. There is nothing in the Drouhin story that feels falsified or inauthentic. On the tour visitors are introduced to this ancient history, seeing for themselves what lies at the roots Drouhin.
At Drouhin, as is the standard for most Bourgogne wines, vintages are made with Pinot Noir (for the reds) and Chardonnay (for the whites). Some of these wines reach myth status, the gem of cellars worldwide. I was thrilled when Jacquie offered me a taste of the famous Clos des Mouches. This is a wine made known by its incredible history in the vineyard, on the label and upon tasting.
Clos des Mouches is entirely memorable, but it is only one wine in a collection of over 90 being made from the 73 hectares that comprise the Drouhin vineyards throughout Bourgogne. Clos des Mouches is delicious and beautiful and fortunate and elegant…and oh I could go on. But alongside the sip of wine, the scent and the taste and the color, are the stories. The stories of the wine stay with you and, when you sip the wine later at home, you’ll recall the moment you discovered this taste…
Visit the website of Maison Joseph Drouhin to book your wine tasting tour and discover other events (in English or French).
Jill Barth is a wine writer in Chicago.