Some places you can’t forget. They bury themselves deep within you, and refuse to leave. Everything else is seen in relation to them. One such place, for me, has been Burgundy. For one reason or another, I have always visited in late August or early September. Arriving by train, from London via Paris, you first notice how Burgundy still clings to summer, even as London slides towards the grey drizzle of winter.
Once in Beaune, it’s hard to know what to do. Still, as Mike Steinberger said, “there may be different paths to wine geekdom, but they ultimately all converge in the same place—Place Carnot” – so you may as well head straight there. Place Carnot is, more or less, the main square of Beaune: its heart. Once I’m sat outside Dix Carnot with some improbably elaborate cake, I know I’ve arrived. I can plan: what wineries to visit? Hire a car? A bike?
Frankly, Burgundy is a maze, and it will take you time to get your bearings. Take the time. Visit again. You will. I feel I am, slowly. It is a tapestry of ancient villages and tiny vineyards, each with its own subtly different aspect on the hillside, its own climate. Burgundy is a paradox, but a delightfully vinous one.
A place like Burgundy leaves you with many impressions. Looking back through my notes, I encounter everything from pages and pages of detail on viticultural techniques, to gripes about the weather, or meals that were more than memorable. Like, being forced into a small restaurant on the edge of Pommard for an unplanned lunch by unexpected rain: an inconvenience at the time, but the sort of thing I would normally dream of. Or a meal at a small restaurant in Beaune, with a shared, long table, where I ended up in deep discussion with several other diners, and did not stumble out the door until eleven pm. There were people from Japan, from Brazil, from Holland, from Switzerland – and me, from Australia. The Brazilians thought that the Europeans worked too hard, and didn’t live enough – something the Europeans objected to.
The conversation spilled out onto the street outside, and, in my head at least, followed me home. What does it say when you meet people you feel you’ve known all your life, but know you won’t meet them again? Such is travel, I guess.
The next morning, Beaune was as quiet as ever. That morning, I drove to Château-Chalon, leaving Burgundy behind for the foothills of the Alps. But, as always, I knew I’d be back.