Bourgogne goes by many names around the world (in the U.S. you may recognize it as “Burgundy”). Known by the former in its home in France, Bourgogne is a renowned wine region with a bountiful history and impressive terroir.
On this special episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” host Zach Geballe speaks with two up-and-coming winemakers from the region, Aurélie Berthod of Domaine Aurélie Berthod and Arnaud Desfontaine of Château de Chamilly. Both Berthod and Desfontaine are passionate about making wine in Bourgogne, though as they explain, their backgrounds are vastly different. The two pros share how wine is made in the various subregions of Burgundy, how they have adapted their harvests amid climate change, how different grape varieties are grown across plots, and what makes Bourgogne so special.
Tune in to learn more about the past, present, and future of Bourgogne.
Or Check Out The Conversation Here
Zach Geballe: In Seattle, Washington, I’m Zach Geballe. And in this special episode of the “VinePair Podcast,” we’re talking all about the wines of Bourgogne with two winemakers situated there. We’re joined today by Aurélie Berthod of Domaine Aurélie Berthod in Pernand-Vergelesses and Arnaud Desfontaine of Château de Chamilly in Chamilly. Thank you both for joining us. It’s such a privilege to talk to both of you.
Aurélie Berthod: Thank you for inviting me.
Arnaud Desfontaine: Thank you, hi.
Z: So let’s start with a little bit of background on both of you. Aurélie, how exactly did you get involved in making wine in Bourgogne?
AB: I was born in 1986 in France in Alsace, and my parents and I moved in 1993 because they had the opportunity to take over a grocery shop. Until the age of 20, I believed my destiny was to take over the family business. So I obtained a degree at the business school of Dijon, France and the Faculty of Business in Spain. After those years in Spain, I came back to France in 2009. I got placed in Bourgogne where I had previously met my husband, a Bourgogne winemaker. In 2012, I left my marketing job at Johnson & Johnson Company to manage the administrative parts of my family-in-law’s wine estates. And in 2017, I had the opportunity to buy a wine estate of six hectares. Since my very first harvest in 2017, my wines place themselves among the top at major festivals. They received awards and gold medals at the competition of Millésime and starred in Le Guide Hachette des Vins. My parents are not winemakers. I was not born in Bourgogne. I had never made wine before 2017, and I am now a winemaker.
Z: That’s very cool. I have one more question, and then I want to hear Arnaud’s story. So, you mentioned this journey from one idea of what you would be doing with your life and now, you are a winemaker. Somewhere along the way, was there a bottle of wine or something you tasted, where you realized that you wanted to do this? I assume that anyone who grows up in France grows up appreciating wine; that’s at least what I’d like to believe. But was there some specific bottle of Bourgogne or something you drank that made you really, truly want to do this?
AB: It was an opportunity, I say. Since I was 15, the age to drink some wine at my family dinner, I tasted some red wines. Fifteen years ago, I used to say that I don’t like wine, and now I am a winemaker who does taste them. I taste many wines, fruits, and flowers to develop my sense of taste and smell. It’s an opportunity I have, and now I make wine I love.
Z: Fantastic. Arnaud, how about you? What’s your background in winemaking and in Bourgogne?
AD: This story is different from Aurélie’s story. I’m from a very old vine-growing family. I mean, for ages, over 500 years. I first decided to be a winemaker when I was young, and I made the final choice at about 16 years old, which is quite young. But when you have the luck to be born in the very nice village where I am, when you get a bit older, I started to see that it was a really nice job. Years later, I completed my studies and traveled around the world and around France to make wine. It became a passion, time after time.
Z: So Arnaud, do you think that that opportunity that you’ve had to travel and make wine in other parts of the world and in other parts of France changed your approach to making wine at your family estate?
AD: It has allowed me to see that we can make wine somewhere else than Burgundy. It’s important to understand that wine can be very good and there is great terroir all around the world. It depends on who makes it and what love is put into the wine. It has taught me that each wine is made by the soil, the climate, a plant, and a man. It’s that combination which makes the wine, and that can be possible everywhere in the world. But for me, it’s good to be in Burgundy because I’ve got all my family history there.
Z: That makes a lot of sense. Aurélie, you came to making wine in Bourgogne as an outsider, as someone not from there without a long family history of it. Do you feel like you have a different perspective on winemaking? Do you feel like you do things differently than your neighbors? Or are you a newcomer but making wine in a traditional way?
AB: The first two years, it was my husband who helped me in the cellar. He gave me technical tips like carrying and lining up the barrels. What I understand after five years is that we have to harvest grapes with maturity. If the wine is not fermented properly, it will not run as we want. What I do each year is harvest after my neighbors. Because I think the majority of my grapes were not very good. I don’t know. I test my grape juice every morning and in the evening. If we have a good day or harvest, the wine will make itself.
Z: I see. I have another question about some of the specifics about where you are located, where the vines are. For people listening who may know about Bourgogne as a region, but may not recognize Pernand-Vergelesses, what is it about that village and your vineyards that are special?
AB: In Bourgogne, I am in the Côte de Beaune region in the north of Beaune. Fields are often divided into plots in different areas. My plots are in three villages: Pernand-Vergelesses, Beaune, and Chorey-lès-Beaune. In Pernand-Vergelesses, we are a full operation. It depends on the location and on the plots. Each plot will produce different grapes with different phenolic maturity and different styles of wine. In my case, I make nine different wines with grapes from these three villages: Pernand Vergelesses in white and red, Pernand Vergelesses Premier Cru in white and red, a red Beaune Premier Cru, etc. There’s also some crémant and other wines. The main differences between each operation are the terroir, the geology, the slope inclinations, age of the vines, and so on. I make the wines with the same method.
Z: And for you, Arnaud, how does that compare? You’re in Côte Chalonnaise, so you’re a little further south and in a slightly different part of Bourgogne. What are your vineyards like, and what do you make?
AD: There are some differences between the areas, which are more about the size of the estates. The average family estate in Côte de Beaune is about eight hectares or something like that. In Côte Chalonnaise, Mâconnais, and Chablis, it’s more about 15 hectares because the value is not the same. To be able to leave, have an interesting job, and earn money for your family and yourself, you need to have a bigger estate. So that’s the main difference. Each plot in Bourgogne has its own climate, its own particularity, and that’s the same in all of Burgundy. That makes the specificity of the Bourgogne. In the same village, you can have one winemaker growing the same variety 100 meters apart, but resulting in different wines. This can be from exposure, the altitude, or the type of soil. That’s the same everywhere in Burgundy, and that makes the specificity of our wines. With the same grape variety, there can be many different wines.
Z: You make both red and white wine, correct?
AD: Yes, 50/50.
Z: Besides the difference in terms of the size of the holdings, is there also a difference in terms of the plot sizes? Or are they the same size; you just have more of them?
AD: That’s a good question. Most of the time, the plots are bigger in Côte Chalonnaise. What makes the popularity, and the name Bourgogne, is the most well-known wines from the region like the premier cru or grand cru. Sometimes, you’ve got one hectare of one grand cru, and this hectare is shared by 20 vine growers. So each vinegrower can have 0.05 hectares. So it’s a few rows, which is really crazy, but that makes the richness of Burgundy. But in Côte Chalonnaise, the plots are bigger. We talk in hectares in Côte Chalonnaise. In Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits, you talk in ouvrées, which are 4 percent of a hectare. Which is a bit different.
Z: Let’s switch gears a little bit to talk about winemaking and what it’s like right now. Aurélie, you came to Bourgogne relatively recently at a point in time where it certainly seems, from my perspective and from speaking to both of you a little bit before this podcast, that things have gotten challenging. Did you look at climate change and the more difficult weather as something that you were going to have to just deal with?
AB: I pay attention to global warming, but I don’t want to switch to organic farming right away. I practice sustainable agriculture because I prefer the soil. I am using as many products approved for organic farming as possible. But I prefer to go step by step by mastering all the processes of the vinification before starting. An example with global warming: I began in 2017. In 2017 and 2018, we had a number of risks. I made 40,000 bottles of wine per year. In 2019 with hail, in 2020 with drought, and in 2021 with frost, I kept all the grapes to vinify them because during the first two years, I vinified parts of my grapes. I sold the remaining grapes to another winemaker to make short-term cash flow to pay the bills. In ’19, ’20, and ’21, I kept all the grapes, but I’m only going to bottle 20,000 bottles. With global warming, we will make lower harvests and fewer bottles. It will be a big problem for next year.
Z: Yeah, that’s unfortunate for both of you in terms of being able to have wine that you can sell to keep the winery running, but also for those of us who like to drink Bourgogne wines, it’s sad as well. I want to ask a similar question, but with a little different angle. Arnaud, I know that for you, in addition to things that you might do in the vineyard or in the cellar to deal with some of the challenges that climate change has brought for you, you’re also looking at your business differently. Do you want to talk a little bit about that?
AD: At first, we started with my brother on the family estate in 2007. We started working with conventional farming. We used chemistry products and herbicides and that stuff. Then, we started to work the soil to not use any more herbicides. And then, we started to use organic methods. Like Aurélie said, this evolution needs to be done step by step because you need to learn another way to do it. We have been practicing 100 percent organic farming for five years now. This is because we think about global warming and what we will leave to our kids. On that subject, global warming causes some big changes in the weather. So we have more exceptional hail, frosts, or drought. There are more years where the harvest is too low to be economically sustainable. Our grandparents used to have breeding, and then in the ’70s, it began to stop as they managed the vineyard to make wine. It has worked for 30 years, and now it’s changing, and in my own opinion, maybe we have to change our vision of winemaking. Maybe to have another activity in the company or to start another company to make sure we can continue to make wine, even if there are a few vintages which are hard to live with.
Z: What have you decided to do?
AD: I work with my brother and my mother. Everything we do is together. So this year, we decided to start a brewery, which will open in February.
Z: Very cool. Aurèlie, I have another question for you that I’m hoping you can give a little bit of perspective on. For those of us who’ve never been to Bourgogne, like me sadly, we know it through the wines, maps, and pictures. What is life like for you? Is it the countryside and quiet? Or is it more urban and bustling than we imagine?
AB: Beaune is less than two hours by train to Paris. It’s a small city of 20,000 people. There are a lot of villages like Pommard with 1 or 2,000 people. We have agriculture and the crops, so it’s very quiet but very dynamic. For example, this weekend, there was a festival and a lot of people came to Beaune and the region to see the festivity, taste wine, and see famous people. It’s very nice, very dynamic. But in the winter, it is very quiet. The life here is parallel to the life of the wine.
Z: Yeah, that makes sense.
AB: You can see very beautiful views here. In Pernand-Vergelesses, you have the Notre Dame de Bonne Espérance. In town, you can see the hills and the city of Beaune. We see different colors corresponding with the leaves — orange, red, brown, and green, depending on the vines. It’s a very beautiful region.
Z: I bet. Arnaud, does that sound about right to you as well, or is it different than that in your town?
AD: The estate is in Chamilly, which is 20 kilometers south of Beaune. So that’s close enough to go have a party in Beaune. I’m personally living in Côte de Beaune in Saint Aubin, a nice little village, and I’m fundamentally a guy from the countryside. I’m happy when I’m in the vines or in the forests riding my mountain bike. For me, Burgundy is just great because it’s a big playground for a farmer and for a guy from the forest.
Z: Excellent. I want to wrap things up with this question, because I think one of the most important things about understanding wine is how it relates to food. We think so often about pairing and enjoying your wines and wines from the region with food. I would love for each of you to share a couple of your favorite things to have with your wines. If you want to share classic recipes or dishes from the region, that’s great. But I think a lot of our listeners would be interested if there are cuisines or dishes that you really think go great with your wine. Aurèlie, do you want to get started?
AB: I usually drink my white Pernand-Vergelesses as an aperitif with fish or cheese like brie. On the other side, my Beaune Premier Cru is great with fish. My Pernand Vergelesses Premier Cru red “Creux de la Net” is great with beef with sauce Époisses. Époisses is a famous Bourgogne cheese that smells very bad, but it’s very good.
Z: Arnaud, how about for you? Do you have any favorite pairings with your wines?
AD: I like to cook. Sometimes, simple food and sometimes, more complicated meals. When I go down to my cellar to choose the wine, I forget what I cooked. I just take what I want to drink. Both whites and reds of Burgundy are very well balanced with the fruit, acidity, and freshness that you can pair with a very large style of food. It can be spicy food. It can be just roasted meat. It can be meat cooked with wine like beef Bourguignon. So for me, I enjoy the food and drink wine that I want to drink. And always remember that what you eat and what you drink make your bones, your skin, and your head. So you need to eat well and drink well.
AB: The most important thing for me is to share wines with your friends and your family, and to discuss what you feel when you drink it.
Z: If people want to taste these wines or to share them with their friends and family, how can they find them in the United States? Arnaud, do you have an importer that people can look for?
AD: Yeah, I work with an importer that is based in New York. They are also my agent for the rest of America. So if anyone, anywhere in America, wants to taste my wines, they have had to contact Elenteny Imports in New York, and they will explain where to go to find my wines.
Z: Fantastic. And how about for you, Aurélie?
AB: My wines have been in the U.S. since January 2021. For the moment, they are only in Pennsylvania. With the low harvest, I will stop and develop my network in the U.S. in 2022. If you want to get my wines, you can contact Dave from DellaVino Imports in Pennsylvania.
Z: Fantastic. Thank you both so much for your time. It was really interesting to hear about how similar and different in various ways your stories are. I will be seeking out both of your wines. I look forward to trying them. Really appreciate it.
AB: Thank you, Zach.
AD: Thank you!
Thanks so much for listening to the “VinePair Podcast.” If you love this show as much as we love making it, please leave us a rating or review on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever it is you get your podcasts. It really helps everyone else discover the show.
Now for the credits. VinePair is produced and recorded in New York City and Seattle, Washington, by myself and Zach Geballe, who does all the editing and loves to get the credit. Also, I would love to give a special shout-out to my VinePair co-founder, Josh Malin, for helping make all of this possible, and also to Keith Beavers, VinePair’s tastings director, who is additionally a producer on the show. I also want to, of course, thank every other member of the VinePair team, who are instrumental in all of the ideas that go into making the show every week. Thanks so much for listening, and we’ll see you again.
Ed. note: This episode has been edited for length and clarity.