The Saône: Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune

Jet fighters and vineyards in Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune

Being confined to the area around Saint Jean de Losne for an extended stretch was not ideal. We wanted to take Wanderlust out on a cruise, but practically we could not. With the dispute ongoing and the need to have work done, staying in or near Saint Jean was the only real option. Though Saint Jean de Losne is not the most interesting town in France it does have one advantage: It is in Burgundy. With time and a rental car, we could explore the area.

Attractive villages are sprinkled along the base of the Côte-d’Or escarpment in Burgundy. Gevrey-Chambertin, Chassange-Montrachet, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Morey-Saint-Denis, Chambolle-Musigny, Vosne-Romanée: The names of the towns read like the expensive section of the wine list in a posh restaurant. This is the heart of the Burgundian wine country. The vineyards in this region produce some of the most sought after wines in the world. Like pendants on a necklace the famous communes are connected by the Rue des Grands Crus, a touristic road route that passes through some of the world’s most famous vineyards.

Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune

This North American F-86D at Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune.was used by the Royal Danish Air Force but has been repainted to represent North American F-86D Sabre USAF 23667/FU-667.

One of the villages on the wine route is Savigny-lès-Beaune. The old town of Savigny sits along the River Rhoin as it emerges from a gentle valley that cuts through the escarpment. This area is the northern end of the Côte de Beaune wine appellation. It’s within walking distance of Côte de Nuits.

The wines from Savigny-lès-Beaune are less famous than those from the vineyards in the nearby Corton Grand Cru appellation. In Burgundy terroir is everything; vineyards a few hundred meters apart can produce wines whose bottle cost varies by a factor of ten or more. Savigny-lès-Beaune’s wines are priced at the lower end of the range. They can be good values and an option for those who are unwilling to fork out the €100+ demanded for a bottle of the finer Corton Grand Crus.

It’s good to visit Savigny on a cool spring day and walk its narrow streets. The village is too small to get lost in and large enough to keep ones interest for an hour or so. Inevitably visitors to Savigny-lès-Beaune will find themselves in the center of the commune next to the château.

There’s an extensive selection of Abarth race cars on display.

Not everyone has an F-16 in their backyard.

The château at Savigny-lès-Beaune was built in the 14th Century, dismantled in the 15th Century, and restored in the 17th Century. Its history reflects the shifting rulers of the region and the political choices made by the château’s owners.

 More recently the château changed hands in 1972. This time a local winemaker purchased the estate. Fealty was no longer to a ruling lord but instead to the Burgundian vineyards. Today the doors of the castle are open seven days a week for wine tastings and purchases.

Wine tasting is not the only reason to visit. Behind the estate’s walls is a surprise: The chateau is also a museum of sorts, though “museum” is not quite the right word for what’s on display. The owner of Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune is a collector of transportation memorabilia. Loosely organized throughout the estate’s large walled compound is a collection of planes, fire trucks, farm equipment, racecars, motorcycles, bicycles, etc. All told there are nine different themed collections displayed with minimal signage and in various states of repair and upkeep. It’s all there for visitors to discover.

The most impressive part of the museum is its extensive collection of airplanes mostly from the Cold War. The planes are parked in rows between vineyard plots. In person, many of the jets are surprisingly small maybe because they were trucked in. (Transport logistics undoubtedly biased the collection towards smaller fighter jets, as there’s no airport nearby.) Taken together and in working condition the assembled collection would have been quite an air force in its day, as long as that day was sometime in the 1950’s. For sure a forgotten air force is not what you expect to find in the middle of Burgundy’s premier vineyards.

It’s interesting to contrast the collections of equipment held at of Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune and a large tech museum like the Technik Museum Speyer or the Smithsonian in Washington DC. Both types of collections hold the same sorts of things. The difference comes in the level of restoration and curation. The Technik Museum is slick and well explained. Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune is rustic; it is left to cell phone-equipped visitors to fill in the history behind the machinery on display. The collection is more boneyard than museum. A visit is like reading the book rather than seeing the move: There’s more left to the imagination.

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Our visit to the Château de Savigny-lès-Beaune occurred in April of 2017.

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