Revisiting a place one knows well makes the many minor incremental changes since a previous visit stand out. While those who live there have taken them for granted, when set against the gradually altering backdrop of daily life, for the visitor these subtle changes are quite obvious, sometimes striking. This is particularly true of this most recent trip to Beaune. Amongst many examples, a few stand out: Monsieur Bernard Tatraux Juillet of Givry has retired; his 2008 vintage was his last. While he still has quite a good stock of wines left from this and earlier vintages, we will need to identify another Domaine for future years and one or two spring to mind. The Restaurant Le Grand Balcon has changed hands. This venue of many past meals is now called “Double Sense” and will require a meal on another occasion so that our notes can be updated. Michel Prunier has closed his restaurant La Cremaillere for the time being as he lost his chef last year and has had difficulty finding another that meets his demanding standards, while Jacques Lameloise has also taken partial retirement, passing day to day running of his remarkable establishment to the next generation. The N74, my favourite main road, is still, occasionally, confusingly, called the N74 instead of its demoted title of the D974. Oh yes, just how exactly did we manage to drive past La Moutarderie Fallot SO many times without seeing it?
Aside from this, things seem to thrive. The Wednesday organic market was a real joy to walk through and we bought cheeses, honey, asparagus and a few other absolute essentials like jambon persille (that superb starter for many meals that so effectively sits alongside a good white wine). The wine trade is going through a period of transformation caused by the crumbling of the wealth of so many traditional customers. The UK’s imports are, so we have been told, down by about 40% however the Far Eastern market has sprung to life in emphatic fashion, with huge interest from China that has necessitated a change of name on the labels of some long revered but difficult to pronounce appellations. That perennial balance between high tradition and newly emerging commercial realities needs to be maintained. This year is the 150th Anniversary of the Hospices de Beaune Auction.
Turning to zebra crossings, they have unexpected attributes, such as facilitating fast track learning of foreign languages, as I discovered at lunchtime in the village of Meursault. We had arrived at La Goutte d’Or for lunch with Michel Prunier and I had parked alongside the vines on the opposite side of the minor road that leads to the main N74 just a short distance away.
La Goutte is a busy place. It has a front restaurant that is the posh bit, for visitors and then it has the rear bar to which Michel led us. This was packed with vineyard workers eating the set menu accompanied, inevitably, by an ample selection of wines, including some very practical 50cl bottles which the patron organises privately with several vignerons. Michel explained that the hazard of bottling non-standard sizes “on spec” is that they can all too easily become stuck on the shelf, especially an odd size like 50cl. The meal was excellent, not haute cuisine but straightforward and quality none the less, which leaves us to return to the zebra crossing.
Its function, obviously, is to allow for the safe passage of diners to and from the car park. As we left our cars to go in, I was half way across the crossing when a thought struck me; “Had I locked the car?”. I stood there mentally retracing my steps until I was alerted to the presence of a French lady in her Renault. She had turned off the N74 and was losing her patience with me for blocking her route. There was no doubt about the meaning of what she was saying although I must admit that some of the words were quite new to me and I have sadly now forgotten most of them, however her volley of carefully targeted opinions greatly amused Michel and proved highly effective in moving me off the highway!
Our visit started at Le Cep, an hotel with a considerable reputation and a faithful following amongst the smarter tourists. We have wanted to come here before however it is relatively expensive and it had seemed the wrong place to go if we were constantly in a hurry. On this occasion the pace was to be intentionally more leisurely and as a result we found ourselves in the elegant 15th and 16th Century surroundings of a Beaune town house with enclosed courtyard. It has an excellent town centre location and some lovely views over the rooftops from the vantage point of the look-out tower that now serves as the gym and work-out centre. There are 98 steps up the tower before you arrive at the gym, I counted them all, twice! From here we sallied out to meet Phillipe Senard and his family at their Domaine scarcely five minutes from Beaune.
The Domaine is surrounded on three sides by its Clos des Meix Monopole however the fourth side is not without interest, as it is here that the family tried to build a rose garden in the late 19th Century.
After several attempts to dig into the remarkably stony soil they realised they were attempting to break a wall. Carefully following the line of the stonework they came to an arched entrance which, after further excavations showed itself as the main door into some magnificent underground cellars which, it turned out, had been buried by the monks in the mid-13th Century and lain undiscovered ever since.
The cellars are now too small for the Domaine which has moved its offices and storage into Beaune however they are an elegant reminder of the past.
No trip is ever complete without a visit to Michel and Estelle Prunier and although between us we had muddled the dates and they were expecting us a day later, no harm was done and after a very convivial hour or so, when we sampled the first vintage from a parcel of white vines from Chorey Clos Margot bought recently by Estelle, we headed off to La Goutte
Our stay concluded with a tour round La Moutarderie Fallot, one of only four remaining independent mustard
manufacturers in Burgundy. There are some truly fascinating facts about mustard production that you will probably not thank me for including here. Suffice it to say that a battle has been recently raging between the remaining Les Moutarderies (there used to be 400) and the EU in an attempt to establish AOC status for the Region’s produce. The problem is that the world has had unfettered access to the title Moutarde de Dijon for so long that control is now effectively impossible. The compromise? Moutarde de Bourgogne and it must have all the mustard grains grown in Burgundy,
not imported. My final word on family mustard factories is that in amongst the superb range of products they make, each one has its little family secret. For Moutarderie Fallot its little surprise is Moutarde d’Estragon. If you want to know what I mean, do try it, but try it in VERY SMALL doses. You have been warned!
Our final night was at the more modestly priced Hotel Panorama, set in the vineyards a little outside the town and we set off at a civilized hour the next morning for Calais.