"This entire wall used to be lined with wine barrels," said Genevieve Lahaye, a winemaker in Pommard, at the heart of Burgundy. She was gesturing toward a long wall in June, speaking through a translator as she rubbed her careworn hands and explained the woes of a landowning vintner amid the region's recent years of disastrous weather. A mere three barrels were lined up, though the wall at Domaine Lahaye looked as if it could hold more than a dozen.
This is the new normal for smaller winemakers in the legendary wine region, just a few hours' drive southeast of Paris. For the past few years, hail, frosts, and too much rain at times have resulted in yields of fewer than half the grapes of a good harvest. Last spring, multiple late frosts hit the Côte de Beaune, the central stretch of the ribbon of stony slope where Burgundians grow wine. Hailstorms, too, have crushed the area. As a result, 2016 may be one of the smallest harvests ever.
Which is why this is the perfect time to visit as a tourist to check out the rest of what Burgundy has to offer—and to support smaller wineries and businesses that are struggling in the face of poor weather conditions earlier this year.
Although travel agents and wine experts are warning tourists that individual vineyards may not have product to dish out for tastings, the wine that has been squeezed out of those difficult seasons is incredibly good, if you can get your hands on it. It displays the complexity and structure for which the region is renowned, born in limestone-studded soil and grapes that struggle for life along the hills.
"2016 will be the shortest harvest that they’ve had in the last 25 years. It depends on where you are, but some vineyards were devastated," explained Geoffrey Troy of New York Wine Warehouse, which imports both ultra-high-end and mid-market Burgundies. "But it’s not over for them. The 2015 is an extraordinary vintage for red, and 2014 is an extraordinary vintage for white and a very good vintage for red. If we miss a year, I can see the prices going up, but I don’t see us running out of wine. There’s plenty in the pipeline."
Plus, there's plenty to do in the region beyond chasing grape juice.
How to Do Burgundy, Now
First things first: Rent a car.
One of the great pleasures of a truly gorgeous wine region is driving through the vineyards in the late afternoon light. There's nothing like the way the low sun illuminates the golden, green leaves—plus, on this trip you will want to be able to cover a lot of terrain easily. Burgundy is a confusing warren of tiny plots of vines, assigned hundreds of years ago by Cistercian monks. To experience the breadth of the wines, you are going to want to see a lot of the region.
Burgundy, not known for luxury resorts, ends up being mostly a destination for serious oenophiles. More general wine tourists are likely to be steered elsewhere by travel agents.