An unforgettable vintage in Burgundy

Our current Apprentice, Kathryn Cumming, reports on her vintage in Burgundy...

Five weeks in Burgundy with Aussie winemaker extraordinaire, Jane Eyre, was an incredible experience that included being covered head-to-toe in Pinot Noir and eating a ridiculous amount of Comté. 

This year, the harvest was very early in Burgundy; we picked our first parcel, Savigny-Lés-Beaune 1er Cru Aux Vergelesses, on 24th August. The week before it all kicked off was spent cleaning tanks in the winery and tasting grapes in the vineyards. It was fascinating to taste the difference in phenolic and sugar ripeness between vineyard sites. The fruit at Corton Les Maréchaudes Grand Cru tasted ripe and almost ready to pick, while further north at Comblanchien, where Jane sources fruit for her Côte de Nuits Villages, the grapes were still at least a week away from ripeness. 

Despite the high temperatures and drought conditions experienced in Burgundy during July and August, the fruit we processed was remarkably healthy. So much so, we were able to use a considerable proportion of whole bunch in several of Jane’s wines - 70% beautiful whole bunch went into her Côte de Nuits Villages this year. Getting up at the crack of dawn did have its perks, however, as we often managed to squeeze in a couple of hours for lunch and a few glasses in between collecting fruit and processing - La Dilettante in Beaune fast became a favourite! 

Our harvest team was a small but stellar trio; Jane and I were joined by Graham, a fellow Brit recently retired to Pommard whose one-liners made us laugh even after the long days in the winery. This meant it was all hands on deck, working alongside Jane on all parts of the winemaking process. It was great to take ownership of tasks like morning and evening temperature and density checks, pigeage (who doesn’t love getting into a tank of frothy, fermenting grapes?!) and later digging out when we came to pressing. 

Doing the vintage gave me amazing insight into the life of a négociant in Burgundy. I’ve returned with a much greater understanding of the intricacies of the region, from the relationships between micro-négociants (like Jane), growers and brokers, to the complex patchwork nature of the vineyard plots or climats. Particularly interesting was seeing in person the distinction between Grand Cru, Premier Cru and Village level parcels; Jane’s Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Les Corbeaux fruit comes from vines that sit no more than a metre away from Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru vines! 

The experience also opened my eyes to how climate change is fast becoming a reality for Burgundians; in warm years, like 2020, cooler sites that were previously less desirable become sought after. This poses challenges for small négociants who are at the mercy of the growers’ decision as to which parcels they will keep and those to sell on. I saw this first-hand as Jane was unable to source fruit from all nine plots she had last year. However, in a tumultuous year like 2020, I think she was simply happy to make the best possible wine with what she could get her hands on – and what she got was fantastic quality fruit. 


Jane Eyre and Kathryn in the Corton Les Maréchaudes Grand Cru vineyard

Main image: Picking in Fleurie