Like Vin Expo, the Grands Jours de Bourgogne comes around every other year. Unlike VE, this roving tasting---a celebration of the newly released vintages- which ambles through the winemaking towns of glorious Burgundy, tastes of the real. But I didn't know that. I have sworn off of most conventional cluster f* tastings for years. On top of that, I travel on my own to Burgundy several times a year. This might be why it took me so long to see how the BIVB handled their big event. Then they invited me. I went. That was March 2014.
If you decide to book your flight and reserve for the coming festivities this March, and if you're in the biz of Burg, you should, let me tell you what not to expect.
No bikini -clad models with trays of crémant.
No traffic jams.
No marketers showing wines.
There won't be a ton of those alternative wine tastings as there are at conventional tastings such as Vin Expo, Millésime Bio and the Loire Salon. In 2014, there was one "off," Les Affranchis. I hear that's on hold this year, in a move towards solidarity with the BIVB. (Let's see if that sticks.)
What you will get is the experience of tasting within view of the weeping (it is the season after all) vines. You'll find which wines are worthy for your store. You might pick up some new Burgundy producer.
For press, there's the new and the gossip, the snapshot of the vintage, in this case 2014 and the news on the 2015. And as I did, I stood in awe of the Asian buyer who was starting to tire of Bordeaux: Korean, Chinese, Japanese. Yes, they were out in force.
There are events for new talent, young talent, female talent and organic talent. There are the focused tastings spotlighting the villages. This is the event's spine.
The tasting starts up in the white town of Chablis, squirrels down to the Côte d'Or and then stretches to the Macon and Chalonnaise. Then it zooms back up to do Beaune; focus on Pommard and Corton--two appellations that do need a little help.
While the trade hall, Palais du Congrés is pressed into service, the key tastings, the ones that give you that moment of deep breathing are the ones situated in buildings hidden amongst the vines.
Some are held in grand venues, like the Vosne tasting at the Clos Vougeot. Some are more of the people, like the Marsannay Mairie. The Vosne tasting was packed with people who believe its Vosne or nothing. There was a pile up at the Mugneret sisters. On the other hand, more my speed Jean-Yves Bizot, had time for a coffee. My luck. Time for a good catch-up.
I have some advice for you; hunt the lower rents. Go and give the little appellations a little love. As happy and surprised as I was to find Jean Yves at the tasting, my time, for my reader, was better spent tasting the action over in Marsannay. It was there I discovered a fierce new energy as well as the soul-patched Giles Ballorin. That was the kind of thing I came for.
I also came looking for leads and gossip.
I found that piece off-site, on my last night, after the organic Burgundy tasting where I also discovered the groovy wines of Jane et Sylvain.
Still having never gone to Bar du Square (it's always next time) I took refuge at La Dilettante and as it happened, I bumped into quite a few people I knew, Marko and Niko. We sat and drank and drank and sat.
"Did you hear about the Marsannay dinner?" I asked.
After that village's tasting, there was a celebratory dinner. The organizers had snagged a guest of honor, the auteur, Jonathan Nossiter who was to show his then new film, Natural Resistance. A bold move. There's a lot of progress in Marsannay, the village still has a great deal of super-traditional growers and I couldn't imagine them taking kindly to the message of the film. The film was championing natural and natural is still a word not many people are comfortable with--even if they might work that way.
Turns out my friends had been there. "I heard it was a disaster," I told them.
They looked at me as if waiting for more of an explanation. "People were impatient. Wanting to eat. Had to sit through that drivel. People walked out."
My friends looked at me as if I was speaking Georgian. "Not at all! It was fantastic," Niko said, laughing. "People crowded Nossiter asking him to autograph their menu. It was an inspiration."
Things are changing. Truly. If you want to see that change, in the wine styles or in the people, or just understand what the hell the (wonderful) 2014 vintage is about, what you're going to buy and who is your customer, this is a great excuse to come to Burgundy.
The next edition of Les Grands Jours is March 21 to the 25. The vines will be weeping with life when you arrive and the air tinged with warmth of the coming season. In Beaune, there are few wonderful wine bars to visit, late nights and parties as well as low key times. Perhaps I isolated myself from an industry crush, but I found this event--yes--for the trade only--to be a make it what you want it, kind of affair. But there is wine, a chance to meander through the villages, and get a real grip on what a village's wine can be.
Why? Because Burgundy matters.
This is where the notion of terroir was born and where it flourished. It is about labels, about high prices but that's not all. There are real people who make real wines. Burgundy has been held captive by the collector for too long. My suggestion? Go and liberate it.
And where to eat and drink?