France: Burgundy, Wine Festivals

Domaine Faively at the festival in Nuits-Saint-Georges

The French regularly drink wine. There’s little doubt about that. But where do they buy the wine they drink?

In 2018, while pinned down in Saint Jean de Losne as repairs were being made to Wanderlust, we learned a little more about how the French purchase wine. Conveniently the heart of the Côte de Nuits wine appellation is only thirty minutes away by car. We had plenty of time to explore the area.

We’ve visited plenty of tasting rooms at wineries in France. Unlike the States there aren’t typically a lot of locals visiting to taste and buy wine. Tasting rooms in Napa and Sonoma are often crammed with San Franciscan’s more than willing to pay a substantial fee to taste a flight of wines. But in France many rooms have few if any French people tasting and tasting fees, if they exist, are usually lower.

Wanderlust wasn’t going anywhere, but it didn’t mean that we weren’t.

Inside the Nuits tasting event

After a French group popped in and out of a tasting room in Nuits-Saint-Georges without trying any wine the room’s manager explained.

“The French,” he said, “don’t buy expensive wine.”

There seems some truth to that. Indeed, until 2018 the only place where we’ve seen a substantial number of French people buying wine in quantity was at wine cooperatives. More value-oriented, the cooperatives we have visited tend to be packed with locals. We agree with the French on this: Coops are good places to buy wine.

In the spring of 2018 we found another place where the French buy large amounts of wine.

We do buy wine at the producers also.

Returning to Wanderlust earlier than normal and in a holding pattern as remedial works were being performed we visited a wine festival in Nuits-Saint-Georges in the middle of March. The tasting featured a couple dozen local producers who each brought a few good examples of their product. It was excellent overview of the wines from this very prestigious viticultural region.

Wine tasting events in France are similar to those in the States. Each entrant receives a tasting glass in exchange for the entry fee. The glass allows for the wine to be sampled at the numerous booths. It’s a good way to efficiently sort through the array of wines and define one’s personal preference.

But in one way the tastings are very different in France. In France you can often buy the wine that you just tasted. Each stall holds boxes of bottles that are available for purchase. The wine festivals are promotion and sales events.

Though the French generally avoid expensive wine they seem to make exceptions at wine festivals. We too could not resist and bought a couple of cases of fine Burdundy in Nuits to squeeze into Wanderlust’s bilge. The mass tasting was a great way to identify wines that we liked.

One of Burdundy’s many famous vineyards

As we collected the wine we purchased at the end of the tasting we thought we had purchased an embarrassingly large amount of wine. The French, we assumed, would be far more restrained. But this assumption was wrong. As we were lugging our boxes out the door we had to navigate through a phalanx of fully loaded hand trucks carrying much larger quantities of wine than we had just purchased. The French, it seems, do buy wine in quantity, even expensive wine, at cooperatives and tastings.

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