I think wine tours can just suck. The idea conjures images of busloads of tourists piling into a tasting room for some perfunctory explanation about a few marginal wines. What could be worse than that?
So I resisted the idea of subtracting three days from our time in Languedoc for a short tour of Burgundy. I’m also, by the way, an advocate of “longer is better” when trying to learn about a region.
As it turns out, I was wrong. Very wrong.
Touring with Clos Driver
Affable, energetic and possessing a keen wit, Sebastian Crozatier is immediately engaging and impossible to dislike. Crozatier is the owner and principal operator of Clos Driver; a tour company that specializes in high-end wine tours concentrating on Burgundy, Champagne and Alsace.
After we loaded our bags into his van and began the drive from Lyon to Beaune, we began to talk about wine. This is part of Crosatier’s system. He gages the tour participant interests and wine expertise. This allows him some degree of customization. So in a sense, all of his tours are tailored to group or individual preferences.
This and everything else about Clos Driver was at odds with my perceptions of standard tours. We were not herded on and off of a bus as faceless members of a large group. There is nothing standard or uniform about the experience. Indeed, I found it laid back while simultaneously intensely interesting and even educational.
Nothing but the Finest Wines
More than a tour of tasting rooms, we first explored the vineyard blocks and terroir. Only then did we visit Grand Cru or Premier Cru producers, where we descended into their cellars and did multiple-vintage barrel tastings. We also spent time with the winemaker. This is the kind of experience that is simply not available to the average tourist.
Stops in Chambolle-Musigny, Beaune, Puligny-Montrachet, Pommard, Aloxe-Corton, Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Richebourg and Meursault were part of our agenda, but every trip is different. Crozatier has a large network of wineries so that he can avoid imposing repeatedly on a single winery.
We met with winemaker Valentin Jobard of Domaine Jobard-Morey after first exploring his vineyard blocks. A Burgundian winery does not always own a large contiguous block, but more likely controls a few rows in several different parts of the vast expanse of vines. Jobard has several smallholdings that are probably separated by a hundred meters or maybe two hundred.
We sampled wines from the same vintage, but produced from different blocks and it was simply amazing how different they were. This was the most instructive example of terroir that one might hope for. This was the same deep-dive that we did at each of our subsequent stops.
With Fanny Sabre and again with Dominique Leguen of Hudelot Baillet, we also sampled different vintages. This allowed us to see how differences in growing season affect the wine. It was just such an ideal learning experience and left us with a renewed appreciation for the wines of Burgundy.
Of course, the days were not devoted exclusively to wine. One must eat and sleep.
Our first night was Hotel Le Cep in Beaune. With its own Michelin star restaurant, a pair of sixteenth-century gardens and an award-winning concierge service, Le Cep is listed among the best hotels in the world.
If it’s even possible, our second night was spent in greater luxury at the charming castle-hotel Chateau de Gilly located between Beaune and Dijon. Originally a residence for Cistercian monks, the estate’s 14th through 16th-century character is still intact with its stonework, moats and French gardens.
All of the meals were at Michelin star (or near equivalent) restaurants.
A few highlights were Loiseau des Vignes in Beaune which offers a large number of wines by the glass and many Burgundian specialties prepared by acclaimed chef Mourad Haddouche. A few doors down is the very modern and vegetarian friendly French wine bar La Dilettante Beaune.
A little north of Beaune, we dined at the very upscale hidden gem Le Millesime and ate our final dinner just down the road at Gilly-Les Citeaux. Every meal was worthy of note.
Our stay was short, but there was a small amount of time available to explore Beaune. We tasted mustard at Moutardes Fallot, stopped in at Athenaeum Beaune a store that offers every conceivable book on wine and spent a couple hours wandering the city’s back streets.
On our final day, Crozatier took us to Château du Clos de Vougeot. This medieval Cistercian winery was built in the 12th and 16th centuries and today is a museum and symbol of Burgundy’s wine history.
Nothing else could possibly be squeezed into our itinerary…
All Tours are not Created Equal
So, as I pointed out at the beginning, I was wrong. Busses filled with tourists and winery staff reciting from a script do not define all tours. Clos Driver tours include a maximum of eight participants and every tour is tailored to fit individual or group interests.
For my part, I would and probably will do it again. Maybe next time Sebastien Crozatier will show us around Champagne or Alsace.
Planning Your Trip
Clos Driver Tours:
Phone: +33 4 26 72 51 90