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Anthony's Trip Diary

Travelling through Burgundy is simply not something that can be hurried. Any timetable is always at risk of being turned inside out before lunchtime by forces quite outside your control. The obvious one is where a convivial visit becomes extended but there are so many factors that can step across one's path and change the course of a day. The weather, the traffic, losing one's way and even slow service over lunch are all potential gremlins waiting to wreak havoc on a well planned itinerary. Fortunately, most vignerons seem to be relatively relaxed about such eventualities.

We started our November visit with a schedule that seemed to be light. Rather too many visits were concentrated into Monday while Tuesday and Wednesday had less in them. We did however suspect, from previous experience, that our schedule would end up being more demanding and so it proved. At the beginning of our trip I had proposed to Graeme that we would visit the Hospices de Beaune, one of the very earliest examples of a community hospital in Europe and today the home of the annual Hospices wine auction. By Wednesday morning it was quite obvious that this would be impossible and it became another of those tasks for "next time we are over". Gevrey Chambertin and Nuits St Georges beckoned and they were a long way up the N 74 in conditions that had turned from bright sunshine to pouring rain.

The weather for our first three days was beautiful. We left England in a drizzle, with the threat of heavy rain later in the day and arrived in Calais to strong sunshine and warm temperatures. Calais sunny? Yes, it was, really. In Burgundy the weather was more typical of late Summer than mid-November and all the talk was of the very dry conditions which have prevailed all year. If I recall correctly, we were told that there had been absolutely no rain for several months apart from one burst a few weeks before harvest, which had allowed the grapes to unblock and continue their maturation. This combination appears to have created an exceptional balance in the 2005 vintage, which may turn out to be the best for many years. In the meantime however, there are several other years to tuck into as Burgundy has had quite a run of late.

Our plan for the week included visiting most of our existing vignerons as well as going to several new villages. In particular we wanted to visit Nuits St Georges, Gevrey Chambertin and Aloxe Corton. As you will see in the coming weeks, we have met several vignerons whose wines we will be including in the JustBurgundy list and while there are many other villages we still need to visit, our selection of wines is becoming more broadly based and is beginning to become a better representation of the variety that Burgundy has to offer.

One quite unexpected feature of our visit was the starlings. We saw many huge clouds of birds as we drove through the lanes between the vineyards. They made extraordinary patterns in the sky as their wings caught the sunlight while they wheeled and swooped in tight, synchronised formations above the vineyards, before coming to rest in amongst the vines. The ripening fruit attracts huge flocks of them and fortunately this year they arrived after the vendange. Their presence before the grapes are harvested is most unwelcome as they will eat large quantities of fruit and damage even more, however this year they were picking up the left-overs which was truly fortunate as the vintage promises much and it would have been a tragedy to have lost half the harvest to starlings!

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