Clos de Vougeot: the origin of all terroir wines?

Clos de Vougeot: the origin of all terroir wines?

Superlatives are easy to come by when it comes to wine. They are the best way to market wines of any quality and colour. But there are also superlatives in the wine sector that have grown historically and are therefore more than deserved.

The Clos de Vougeot on the Côte d'Or north of Beaune (Cote de Nuits) has a few superlatives to its name. With a vineyard area of just under 51 hectares, it is the largest Grand Cru in Burgundy. It is also the largest Clos (a vineyard surrounded by a stone wall) in the world. And it is also mankind's first experimental vineyard. These are almost superlatives of superlatives. But all three have actually grown historically.

Many of the best wines worldwide are Burgundy wines, amongst others from Clos de Vougeot. Because which fine wine aficionada doesn't know the domaines of Faiveley with its high scoring Clos de Vougeot, Domaine d'Eugenie, formerly known as Rene Engel, Jean Grivot and Laurent Ponsot from the famous Domaine Ponsot? Just to name a few.  

Let's take a closer look.

Clos de Vougeot: monks create a legend

In 1098, the Cistercian monks from the nearby monastery of Cîteaux planted the first Pinot Noir vines in the highly heterogeneous soil of Vougeot. Parcel after parcel was created. They cleared and planted with great meticulous dedication, built a simple yet highly functional press house in the centre of the vineyard and finally erected the stone wall. It was the official birth of the Clos de Vougeot. The first two superlatives were created.

But that was not all. The monks analysed the microclimate within the individual plots as well as the growing conditions of the different Pinot Noir varieties that they planted. And, of course, the different types of soil. There are a lot of them in the Clos de Vougeot. The subsoil actually changes every few metres. The mix of clay and limestone, the depth - factors that are quite homogeneous within most other Grand Cru sites in Burgundy are subject to great diversity here. All of this was the subject of Cistercian research. According to legend, the monks even tasted the different types of soil in order to better understand them.

The results of the Cistercians' research are still valid today. In general, it can be said that the upper part of the Clos de Vougeot, where the castle has stood since 1551, has particularly lean soils rich in limestone. At the bottom, however, where the national road now runs along, clayey and heavy soils predominate, in which moisture can accumulate very easily. But there are limestone veins here too.

One becomes many: Clos de Vougeot fragmented

The Clos de Vougeot is therefore a real soil mosaic that was clearly catalogued by the monks for the first time. However, the monks went one step further. They experimented with the grapes from the different parcels and blended elaborate cuvées to show the terroir character in the wines in different ways. A real masterstroke, of which unfortunately nothing remains today. After secularisation in the course of the French Revolution at the end of the 18th century, the parcels of land became private property. Due to the Burgundian law of succession, ownership became increasingly fragmented. Today, between 70 and 90 winegrowers - depending on which source you believe - cultivate the vineyard.

And because winegrowers do not make wine together, the Clos de Vougeot wines are now only produced from individual plots. As a result, nobody can bring the monks' overarching idea of terroir to the bottle. Nevertheless, the spirit of exploration of the Cistercians lives on in the Clos de Vougeot. This has something to do with the château that Dom Loisier, the forty-eighth abbot of Cîteaux, had built around the existing wine presses in 1551. Originally only intended as a magnificent building, the château threatened to fall into disrepair over the centuries.

Change of ownership included

More than three centuries and a revolution later, the château and the Clos de Vougeot passed into private hands. The owners changed again and again. It was not until 1818 that things settled down a little when the banker Gabriel-Jules Ouvrard bought the château and vineyard. Just one year later, he also acquired the neighbouring Romanée-Conti vineyard, but that was only temporary. After his death, the Clos de Vougeot was divided among his three heirs, but they continued to cultivate it as a whole. In 1882, the vineyard was finally destroyed by phylloxera and later replanted. In 1889, six Burgundian wine merchants took over the property. This was the beginning of the division of the Clos de Vougeot.

It is also thanks to one of these three wine merchants that the château, which was in danger of falling into disrepair, still shines magnificently today. Léonce Bocquet not only bought a few hectares of vineyards, but also the entire château, which he had lavishly restored. This brought him to the brink of bankruptcy because he had a real penchant for splendour. However, he somehow managed to finance the reconstruction. In gratitude, the driveway to the château has borne his name since 2013. After his death, Bocquet found his final resting place in the Clos de Vougeot - such was his love for this exceptional location.

The Château du Clos de Vougeot and the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin

After Bocquet, Etienne Camuzet became the new owner of the château in 1920. As a winegrower, member of parliament and mayor of Vosne-Romanée, the château, which had such an impact on the region, was also close to his heart. From 1930 onwards, he made the château available to the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, a brotherhood whose mission was to promote the image and marketing of Burgundy wines. On 29 November 1944, Camuzet sold the building to the newly founded Société Civile des Amis du Château du Clos de Vougeot, which granted the Confrérie a 99-year right of use.

The Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin has used this right very effectively ever since. On 16 November 1948, the Confrérie held its first Chapitre de la Résurrection in the château, an official members' meeting followed by a gala at which international personalities who had made outstanding contributions to Burgundy and its wines were celebrated. These chapitres are still held several times a year. However, the brotherhood no longer uses the Château du Clos de Vougeot on its own. The château, which has held the status of a historical monument since 1949, is now open to the public all year round.

UNESCO World Heritage Site and venue for an egg competition

UNESCO World Heritage Site and venue for an egg competition

Since 4 July 2015, the Château du Clos de Vougeot has also been the official home of the Climats, as Burgundy's vineyards are known, which were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List on this day after a ten-year campaign. The fact that the Clos de Vougeot itself is home to 16 of the 1,247 Climats is one reason why it was chosen as the Climat Centre. Secondly, the Clos and the château have lost none of their prestige over the centuries. Both symbolise everything that is noble about the Burgundy wine region.

That all sounds very honourable and impressive, doesn't it? Well, it is. Without the Clos de Vougeot, Burgundy would not be as famous as it is today. And yet the Château du Clos de Vougeot in particular has not lost its sense of humour and penchant for the lightness of being. To mark World Ice Cream Day, for example, the world championship for the best oeufs en meurette has been held at the château on 11 October every year since 2019. Oeufs en meurette is a Burgundian national dish for which eggs are poached and then served either in a meurette sauce or in a bourguignon sauce. It goes without saying that a Pinot Noir goes best with this dish. Preferably from the Clos de Vougeot. And so the circle is complete.

Talking Wine Romana Echensperger MW
 

Talking Wine Romana Echensperger MW

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Super Tuscan
 

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