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Exploring Burgundy, France

Place Carnot, Beaune's main square.

Photo: Andrea Fazzari

Véronique can sympathize. She’s genial and soft-spoken, certainly nobody’s idea of a revolutionary, but compared with the others here, she’s positively anarchic. At home in France, she’ll taste top Burgundies such as Bonnes Mares and Musigny with fresh appreciation; no New World Pinots, not even hers, are as refined. But she’ll also carry with her a renewed understanding that most consumers desire fruitier wines than Burgundy typically offers. “We need to make all our wines elegant, clean, pure, fruity,” she tells me. “I no longer like that barnyard smell you sometimes get in Burgundy. Some people call it part of the terroir, but it isn’t. It’s avoidable.”

And yet, for all that radical talk, she remains completely and unshakably Burgundian, as much a part of this place as those stone ramparts. When we stop before a window displaying a phenomenal number of cheeses, more cheeses than I’ve ever seen in a window in my life, she introduces me to the shop almost as though it were an old friend. “And here,” she says, leading me inside, “is my family’s fromagerie,” meaning not that her family owns Fromagerie Hess, but merely that it is the cheese shop—of all those in town—that the Drouhin family historically frequents. It is, I must admit, as beautiful a fromagerie as I’m ever likely to encounter, the one that would certainly grace the cover of a hypothetical French Cheese Industry travel brochure, and when we step to the counter a woman comes alive behind it and leans over and gives Véronique a peck on each cheek. Soon we’re tasting artisanal cheeses—crumbly, creamy, aged—while the shop owner offers commentary like a painter describing his various works. For the moment, at least, it’s the best meal I’ve had in Burgundy.

On Rue Monge, we stop at Charcuterie Raillard, an unremarkable storefront. Seeing it makes me wonder if force of habit is keeping Véronique a customer here instead of someplace around the corner or down the road. Then a reticent shopkeeper offers me a sample of jambon persillé, a simple slice of cold ham with parsley, and a spring terrine that seems to conjure up flavors from somewhere deep in the Gallic soil, and I understand that Véronique’s choice has again been unerring. And why shouldn’t it be? Why shouldn’t she know everything there is to know about these shops, and the shopkeepers inside them, and the shopkeepers’ parents, and even the farmers who’ve raised the hogs and cows? This is her terroir. A minute’s walk gets us to the house where she grew up and to the office of Maison Joseph Drouhin, where she makes strategic decisions about the future of its wines.

The cool, tranquil cellar at Maison Joseph Drouhin was constructed in the Middle Ages and leads to tunnels that extend below the city. In the tasting room upstairs we make our way through the family’s latest bottlings, but the wine that I’ve been eager to try is missing from the lineup. And I understand why. There isn’t enough to waste on tasting—and none available to buy, anyway, as the bottles were all pre-reserved. To commemorate her graduation from enology school in 1985, Véronique’s father purchased for her a small slice of the nine-acre Les Petits Monts vineyard, in Vosne-Romanée, a few rows of vines that happen to be located beside two of the world’s most famous vineyards, Romanée-Conti and Richebourg. The vines were a mess, but she helped nurse them back to health. Later, she added another similar-size parcel. Under French law, she’d need a separate facility to vinify the fruit, so she sells it to the family winery instead. Then she makes about 1,200 bottles of a separate cuvée, sold under the house label with her name listed as propriétaire.

Vosne-Romanée Les Petits Monts isn’t the most expensive of the Drouhin wines, but it has always been my favorite. Another reason I’ve asked Véronique to meet me is a not-so-secret desire to drink more of that wine. After a trip to the outdoor market the following morning, she proposes a drive to see the vines. We park and follow a path that leads up the slope right between Romanée-Conti and Richebourg, wine’s equivalent of Notre-Dame de Paris and St. Peter’s Basilica. These storied plots lie on relatively flat land, but once Les Petits Monts begins, the land becomes steeper—so steep that the rows can be worked only by horse. “The first time I saw that, I almost cried,” Véronique says.


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