The term ‘Grand Cru’ used in Burgundy refers to the top 33 recognised vineyards.
These 33 vineyards cover 550 hectares of vines, which is approximately 2% of the total Burgundy area.(29000 hectares). Grand Cru can refer to red wine (356 hectares) or white wine (194 hectares).
The original Grand Cru vineyards were mapped out by the Cistercian monks who enclosed many of the vineyards with walls to mark the limit and also to protect from wind. The word ‘Clos’ is often used in Burgundy to describe a vineyard. The etymology of this word links to the word ‘enclosed’, as a ‘clos’ vineyard has to have at least three walls around it and therefore be enclosed. Over time many of the Grand Cru vineyards have been divided and sub divided due to the Napoleonic laws of succession, which state that you can not give your whole estate to one child, you have to divide the estate equally between your children.
However there remains a few ‘monopole’ vineyards, which are owned by one person. These vineyards have a premium to the other Grand Crus. As an example the 7.3 hectares of Clos de Tart in Morey St Denis were sold recently for €200-250 million.
The significant difference between the Bordeaux and Burgundy ‘Grand Cru’ usage is that Burgundy is very detailed and clear for the exact limit and position of the vineyard. Whereas in Bordeaux the term is used for a Chateau (estate), and over time that estate might plant more vines or buy neighbouring estates and incorporate them into their own. For example all the 1855 First Growths in Bordeaux (Grand Cru Classé 1855) have bought more land and changed their size since 1855.
The Grand Cru of Burgundy are mainly in the Cotes de Nuits north of Beaune and the Cote de Beaune mainly south of Beaune. But there are also some important Grand Cru vineyards in Chablis, which tend to be much more affordable.
The most famous Grand Cru is the monopole vineyard Romanée Conti, owned by Domaine de la Romanee Conti (DRC). This 1.76 hectare vineyard of Pinot Noir above the village of Vosne Romanee produces 5500 bottles per year. Compare this to Mouton Rothschild, Lafite Rothschild, Margaux or Latour who are all producing at least 200,000 of their first wine as well as second and third wines.
DRC is highly sought after all around the world. The distribution is tightly managed and you normally have to buy some other top quality wines in order to get the specific Romanée Conti wine.
But the price is normally quite high! The current average price per bottle is over £15,000 on Wine Searcher.
Here is a list of all the Grand Cru vineyards of Burgundy:
So the term ‘Grand Cru’ in Burgundy is simple to understand. It refers to the very best quality vineyards and it is very tightly defined. The level below Grand Cru is Premier Cru and then below that it is the name of the village. For example a good quality grower in the village of Gevrey-Chambertin might own some vineyards in the village as well as a few Premier Cru vineyards and if they are lucky they may own a few Grand Cru vines.
There are only a few monopole Grand Cru vineyards in Burgundy, so they are highly sought after. Many of the vineyards are fragmented such as Clos de Vougeot, which has over 80 different owners. So the big question in Burgundy is: Do you follow the vineyard or the grower? Some top growers can make very good village wine, whilst some lesser quality Domaines might label their wine as ‘Grand Cru’, when it is inferior. Hopefully the terroir will prevent any disasters.
Having explored what ‘Grand Cru’ means in Bordeaux I will be explaining what ‘Grand Cru’ means in Champagne in a forthcoming post.