Burgundy’s Côte d’Or is rightly famed for its prestigious vineyards, the best of which are the most celebrated on the planet. Think Chambertin, think Musigny, think Montrachet and, right at the top of the pile, the king of the castle, Romanée-Conti. No patch of agricultural land is as revered as this 1.8-hectare plot once owned by the Prince de Conti – who reserved all the wine for himself and friends – and which is now in the safe custody of the eponymous domaine, co-owned by the de Villaine and Leroy families.
A visit to the Côte to explore these territorial riches first hand is on every wine lover’s wish list – I still clearly remember my delight at seeing the village names on my first visit: Chambolle-Musigny, Vosne-Romanée, Chassagne-Montrachet… No longer were they mere names on labels, they were real places with a town hall, a church, a war memorial, usually a boulangerie and, always, a graveyard.
The latter were not noticed immediately, the celebrated vineyards were genuflected to before my gaze wandered wider and I began to notice that each village’s graveyard was, invariably, beautifully sited amongst the vineyards. Les Vignerons’ final resting places could not have been better chosen. If the way a society respects and cherishes the memory of previous generations is a mark of its worth, then the village communities that line the Côte d’Or like a string of pearls are worthy of high praise.
The first cemetery that caught my attention, some 20 years ago, was in Morey-Saint-Denis. It is easily spotted as you travel south on the D974 from Dijon, lying not far from the road, on the flat land below the slope, opposite the premier cru Clos Sorbé and surrounded on three sides by the village vineyard Très Girard. Barely two kilometres further south again, in Chambolle-Musigny, premier cru Les Feusselottes (or Les Feusselotes, train spotters take your pick) embraces the graveyard on three sides. It is on your left as you drive down from the village towards Vougeot, barely 200 metres from the tiny urban heart of Chambolle, and it is perhaps the most beautifully sited of the septet featured here.
In vinous terms Vosne-Romanée needs no introduction. It plays host to the most fabled of Burgundy’s grands crus, including Romanée-Saint-Vivant whose northeast corner nearly touches the graveyard, which itself is separated only by a narrow track from the premier cru Les Suchots – source of excellent wines for those whose pockets don’t stretch as far as a grand cru.
Continuing south to the Côte de Beaune brings us to Volnay, source of my favourite Côte de Beaune reds. It is one of Burgundy’s prettiest villages, looking like it has been stitched into the hillside and, appropriately, the cemetery enjoys a favoured setting, right in the heart of Volnay’s wonderful roster of choice vineyards. Complete with diminutive chapel it sits, appropriately, within the premier cru Carelle sous la Chapelle, with Clos de la Chapelle opposite and other familiar names such as Champans and Taille Pieds close by.
Meursault’s graveyard is less favoured in terms of premier cru neighbours, though it is shaded from the evening sun by a stand of trees that sits between it and Clos de la Barre – the monopole vineyard of a little over two hectares that belongs to the Domaine des Comtes Lafon. By contrast, Puligny-Montrachet’s cemetery lies tucked between village and vineyard, with Derrière la Velle to the north and Aux Paupillot to the west.
My favoured route from here to Chassagne-Montrachet takes me between Montrachet to the right and Bâtard-Montrachet to the left, dropping down a slight incline to cross the N6. Then a right-left skirts me past Les Chenevottes – one of my favourite whites – leading to a stop at the tiny parking area sandwiched between Les Macherelles and Les Meix Goudard, amongst whose vines rest the mortal remains of yesterday’s vignerons.
The message is clear: though the schedule for a long-planned visit may be chock-full of appointments some time should – must – be carved out for a little reflection to leaven the hectic charge from winery to winery, tasting to tasting. Only by doing so can the visitor hope to glean a rounded, nuanced appreciation of Burgundy, the place, and not the one-dimensional picture that places the wine front and centre, with the region as a supporting player. It should be the other way around, so it is time to put the horse back in front of the cart. Slow down, explore the land and you will discover riches aplenty, including those beautifully sited final resting places.
Raymond Blake has been writing about wine for 25 years and has been published across the globe. His latest book, Wine Talk was published by Skyhorse, New York.