Posted by: David Stewart | December 14, 2012

Underground in Beaune

Beaune, France

This is a little French town with a cute center dating back to medieval days. Like other little towns around the world, this one has friendly people, good food, and a strong tie to agriculture.

Like many towns, this one has a secret under its streets. In this case, the secret tunnels beneath the cobbled streets of Beaune contain wine. Millions of bottles of wine.

Marche aux vins, Beaune, France

The town of Beaune is in the area of France we call Burgundy. For many centuries, Beaune has been the center of winemaking for the region. The various winemakers who owned property in the center started tunneling under the streets and other houses until they have a vast cellar network where they stash their wine bottles.

Marche aux vins, Beaune, France

Some of the wineries have opened these vaults for tours and tasting. For example, at Marche aux Vin and Patriarche Pere et Fils, you are given a tasting device (a tastevin, like you sometimes see around the neck of sommaliers) and are set off to wander the tunnels. These two wineries are built from old churches or monestaries, which creates the experience of wandering catecombs.

The wine tasting is self-serve from the various bottles along the way. I visited Beaune this December, and there were so few other tourists that often I would have this vast basement all to myself. Quiet, dark and a bit dusty, you wander amidst the vast stacks of bottles, tasting wine here and there. This is a totally unique experience from anything you would have in the US. In my country, you would never be allowed to pour your own taste by yourself. Wine tasting is always mediated by someone, perhaps the winemaker for a small producer, or perhaps an hourly worker at a bigger place.

At the end of the trail is always a deal closer who is ready to cash in on your experience. Both of these operations that I visited have no US-based retail distributor. Instead, they are happy to sell cases of wine and ship them directly to you.

This is a business model which seems designed to capitalize on the romantic experience you might have had as a tourist in France. As you wander amongst their cached hordes of slowing aging wine, you might become attached to them and decide to relive the experience for years to come.

Hotel Central, Beaunes, Burgundy, France

Above ground, I stayed in a cozy place called the Hotel Central, which was nicely located in the center and was reasonably priced. There was also a terrific restaurant in the first floor. In the photo above, you can see grape vines crowding over the very walls of the hotel. Even in december, there were some old Pinot Noir berries still clinging to the vine.

You can see more photos of Beaune, the medieval wall and its wine on my Flickr set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/davest/sets/72157632241073485/

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