Dating back to 1750 Bouchard Aîné & Fils is one of the oldest wine houses in Beaune. Part of the estate is open to the public every day of the week where you can purchase wines from their wide selection of regional, village, appellation, premiere cru, and grand cru wines. [I explain the differences here] The shop also contains a lot of photos, plaques, and historical knickknacks that help tell the 250+ year evolution of this prolific house and region.
As a wine club member at DeLoach they gave us a complimentary tour and tasting, of which they offer several levels, the more expensive coming with bottles of wine you can keep at the end of the tour. The basic “Tour of the 5 senses” is around $15 USD and it was totally worth it.
Ray, our guide for the day, was an intern at Bouchard Aîné & Fils. She was looking to get some experience with a classic Burgundian wine house under her belt as she studied travel and hospitality at university. Since this was the first winery we’d been too, I was planning to ask her tons of questions, the perfect test of her knowledge of Burgundy’s history and it’s wines. Let’s just say she aced my interrogation!
The tour started across the gravel courtyard in the original cellar house that is still in use today. There at the top of the staircase down to the caveau (cave) is where Ray gave us a crash course in Burgundy wines. Did we learn everything there is to know about Burgundy? Absolutely not, but we learned enough to make us dangerous to all the stuck up sommeliers back in the States.
Next we continued down this narrow staircase and into our first wine cave. It was pretty much what you’d imagine a brick wine cellar built by monks five centuries ago to be like: dark, damp, dirty and cool—the prefect environment for storing wine. Ideal conditions in the wine caves are 50-55° F (10-12° C) and 55%-70% humidity.
Down in the cave Ray reintroduced us to each of our senses through the lens of wine. We did a side-by-side tasting of whites and noticed the difference in colors. She poured wines of varying qualities so we could get a sense for the difference between wines that were blends from a region vs a village vs juice from a single vineyard block, etc.
Most of the old bottles you see in the caves of burgundy are just for show. There were some library wines locked behind rod iron gates in the cave that are apparently still drinkable. Ray showed us the owner’s private collection (the Boisset family now owns Bouchard Aîné & Fils) where they have some wines more than one hundred years old.
“How are these still drinkable?” I asked.
She explained they change the corks every 15-20 years and top-off the bottles (ie: add some of the current vintage from the same vineyard to account for any juice that’s evaporated) so they can keep them going. If during the cork change they notice the wine is “off” or gone bad, they discard it.
Here’s a wall of some of the old tools used by the growers over the decades. The various stencils hanging are what they used to mark the tops of the barrels with the name of the Domaine, the region, village, etc.
When we progressed to tasting reds, Ray took us into a room where we sniffed at the opening of a bunch of jars, trying to guess what fragrance they represented. As we made our way around the room, the musty smell of one jar heightened the note of truffles in my next sip of wine. It was pretty cool.
Having completely circled back across the courtyard underground, we finally ended the tour in the shop where we first arrived for a final taste of their Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru. It was dee-lish!
The experience was complete when I took this silly photo of Jonathan in the courtyard and then we were off to our next destination—the caveau de Chassagne-Montrachet.
Fun fact: you’ll notice most of the wine makers in Burgundy have “…& Fils” in their name. That means “and Sons.” So Bouchard Aîné & Fils means Bouchard Aîné and sons.