French wine country in November … cool, foggy, and delicious. (photo by Renee Wilmeth for Wine and Whiskey Globe)

[ Editor’s note: Follow Renee’s tasty journeys on instagram at feedmedrinkme ]

When COVID 19 became a real epidemic in February 2020, it was hard to believe that many of us wouldn’t be back on airplanes and heading for our favorite vineyards for more than a year. My last trip to Burgundy was in January 2020, to celebrate Saint Vincent Tournante in Gevrey-Chambertin, and now I am finally headed back again—my tenth trip to the region for the Trois Gloriouses celebrations centered around the famed Hospices du Beaune auction. The auction and accompanying dinner, a chapitre at the Clos du Vougeout, and the Paulee de Meursault make up the “three glories” and together form one of the most famous wine weekends in the world.

What does it mean for the average wine lover? Many of the best Burgundy experts in the world like Jasper Morris and Allen Meadows (the Burghound) have been tasting in the region for weeks. In fact, many journalists were the first to return when travel restrictions were lifted. Now, however, the wine lovers—and wine buyers—are converging to hear about the 2020 vintage and get a sense of how the 2021 wines will fair. It’s also said that the auction prices will set the tone for the upcoming year. While the auction benefits the prestigious Hospices du Beaune hospitals and schools, the top barrels are considered a leading indicator on Burgundy prices for the upcoming vintage.

So, what do we think we’ll learn about 2021?

Going in, we know the vintage was very small, with losses due to a late frost. Weather plays an enormous part in development of the sometimes finicky Pinot Noir. Unlike the fine wines of Bordeaux, Burgundian vigneron don’t blend grapes to achieve the finest expression of their famous walled vineyards, called “clos.” As climate change leads to weather extremes, the domaine of the region have become experienced in combating hail, early freezes, and late frosts, However, the weather has led to other problems in the past decade including reduced harvests, smaller vintages, and mildew.

In Burgundy, some like to say there are no bad vintages, only “winemaker’s vintages” which means the skilled hands of good winemakers can make any wines shine, but the last 10 years of difficult harvest have yielded other results, too. As many vignerons have taken the opportunity to retire or sell, more sons—and daughters—have returned from apprenticeships in Oregon and New Zealand. As these members of the next generation take their places in cellars throughout the region, they’re changing the face and even the style of Burgundy. Many domaines have sold with foreign investment funding the effort, while others sold libraries to juice up the cash flow in lean years.

No matter how they have survived, the winemakers of Burgundy have made it through and, after muted (and controversial) celebrations last year,  everyone is ready to celebrate.  

Join me over the next couple of weeks for dispatches from Burgundy and producers including Domaine de Chandon de Briailles, Domaine Parent, Herestzyn-Mazzini, Domaine Alain Burguet, Domain Pierre Guillemot, Domain Michel Lafarge, and many more.