The wines of Burgundy are divided up into 100 different appellations from the most generic, Burgundy appellation to the smallest Grand Cru of La Romanée.
The soils of Burgundy are distinguished by a patchwork quilt of different soils on bedrock of ancient limestone. Many centuries ago, the sea covered this area and many fossils and shells can be found in the soils. Winemaking here goes back to the Romans in the First Century but it was the Catholic church with its abbeys and monasteries that first began to exploit the riches of the Burgundy soils, especially the large hillsides running north to south, which they called the golden slope or the “Côte d’Or”. The French Revolution and the Napoleonic code changed Burgundy forever, giving the land back to the people and then making sure that family land was divided equally amongst the heirs. Burgundy producers with their small vineyard holdings, pride themselves on their attachment to the land: many practice sustainable, organic or biodynamic viticulture.
The two main grape varieties are Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
There are four categories of Burgundy wines:
Regional Appellations: These account for over half the wine made in Burgundy. A wine labeled Bourgogne Villages or Bourgogne Appellation Communale is an AOC produced in one of the six Burgundy regions such as Côtes de Nuits or in one of the three sub regions such as Mâcon. To these can be added 14 geographical names such as Bourgogne-hautes-côtes-de-nuits.
Communal Appellations: There are 41 of these, also known as village appellations such as Chablis or Volnay. They represent one third of all Burgundy wine.
Premiers Crus: These account for 10% of production and must have the communal name, followed by the climat which has Premier Cru status such as Vosne Romanée Premier Cru “Les Beaux Monts” or Chambolle Musigny Premier Cru “Les Cras”. There are 562 premier cru climats.
Grands Crus: These account for a tiny 1.5% of all Burgundy. There are 34 AOC grand cru climats in the Côte d’Or such as Clos de Vougeot or Montrachet and one grand cru in the Yonne which groups together the seven Chablis Grand cru climats such as Chablis Grand Cru “Blanchots” or Chablis Grand Cru “Valmur”.