A limestone escarpment meanders south from Dijon. The product of prehistoric geological conflicts, it is now an arcadian idyll: the Côte-d’Or. Ducal Burgundy was one of the hauts-lieux of civilisation, and its resonances are all around you. But even before there was a duchy, Charlemagne enjoyed the wines of Burgundy, as had the Romans. That heritage is equally ubiquitous. In Gevrey-Chambertin, there is an unpretentious building, containing offices and a cellar: the headquarters of Pierre Bourée Fils, winemakers. When the cellars were excavated, Roman artefacts were found. The firm has only been in business for 150 years, but as its owners are well aware, they are part of a history almost as old as Europe.
The creation of great wine is a consecration of past and present. Any good winemaker will study the latest techniques and draw on academic viticulture. He will also know that he is standing on the shoulders of giants: the men who first hacked out the vineyards and nursed the vines. Winemaking is a Burkean coalition between the dead, the living and the yet unborn. Bernard Vallet, who now runs Pierre Bourée, takes all that for granted. His routine is a fusion of artisanship, science and tradition. Like Antaeus, all the best wine-makers take their strength from the soil, and Bernard is no exception. He has a further advantage. He loves his work. Happy the man who does exactly what he was put on earth to do.
The Bourée wines are worthy of joyous study. They are also long-lived. A year ago, Bernard’s ’76 Clos Saint-Jacques was in the prime of maturity, while his ’88 Chambertin gave rise to controversy, for it was still locked in itself. I thought it had latent greatness and was only waiting for the vinous equivalent of a fairy prince’s kiss to spring into glory.