UNESCO Celebrates the ‘Fingerprint’ Uniqueness of Burgundy Climats

Moment of truth, Cristophe Bouchard offering a taste of his renowned Beaune Greves VIgne de l'Enfant Jesus 2010 / Credit: Sylvia Davis

To the naked eye, the undulating vineyards along the scenic route des grand crus between Dijon and Beaune are all perfectly groomed, and pretty similar to each other. To the cognoscenti, however, nothing could be further from the truth.

Each parcel has its own “fingerprint’ and is entirely different from the others due to specific natural conditions like geology and sun exposure, as well as vine types. They have been shaped by human cultivation. Collectively, these unique parcels are known as the Burgundy climats, and earlier this month they were registered on the UNESCO World Heritage list in recognition of their exceptional universal value.

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Clos de Vougeot ©Sylvia Davis
Clos de Vougeot ©Sylvia Davis

The climats (not to be confused with climate) are very precisely delimited vineyard parcels and are found on the slopes of the Côte de Nuits and the Côte de Beaune south of the city of Dijon. Since the middle ages, people have been able to recognize  their ‘fingerprint’ in the wine they produce. The first climat believed to have received such a nomination goes back to the year 640 concerning the clos de Bèze in Gevrey-Chambertin.

The climat distinction is particular to the Burgundy wine region. It is usually part of a larger appellation but allows for a rare level of geographical specificity when describing a wine. It’s a bit similar to the Châteaux for Bordeaux wines, but instead of focusing on the brand of the property, it concentrates on the name of the patch of land itself, whatever its size.

Celebration at Chateau Meursault - Aubert de Villaine (right) reluctantly accepts praise from French Academician Bernard Pivot on behalf of the people of Burgundy ©Sylvia Davis
Celebration at Chateau Meursault – Aubert de Villaine (right) reluctantly accepts praise from French Academician Bernard Pivot on behalf of the people of Burgundy ©Sylvia Davis

The World Heritage designation covers the parcels themselves, but also gives a shout-out to the political and administrative role of the historic center of Dijon, the engine behind the climats system. They represent an outstanding example of grape cultivation and wine production developed since the High Middle Ages. Without their rigorous protection, we might not be able to taste the fruits of the Burgundy region with so much awareness today.

The effort to get the climats on the Heritage list took eight long years and a team of dedicated Bourguignons. At times it seemed as if it was never going to happen, but today it is a very jubilant and living reality. It was championed by Aubert de Villaine, head of one of France’s most prestigious vineyards, the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, who celebrated the win with characteristic humility, saying that the best thing about the distinction is that it serves as a reminder that “we are custodians of something precious and fragile, worth preserving.”