Looking between these time-worn covers awaits an important book written in 1866 by one Doctor Jules Guyot. The same Dr Jules Guyot that has a pear which bears his name. Though he did more than what was asked of him in his day job as a physician and agronomist. He would study, detail and alter the viticultural landscape with his thoughts and ideas for the cultivation of grape vines. The impact of his work would spread throughout France, and eventually, throughout the world.
He would outline the vineyards practices and mindset of vineyard owners in 71 departments in France, over 8 volumes.The full title of this work is, ‘Étude des vignobles de France, pour servir à l’enseignement mutuel de la viticulture et de la vinification française’. With this volume, the last of the series, that I have found, he focuses on the vineyards of the the Centre Nord, which consists of the regions of the Lyonnais, Beaujolais, Loire, Saône-et-Loire, Côte-d’Or, Aube, Yonne, Allier, Nièvre, Cher, Loiret.
I found this copy nearly two years ago. The book shop, in Dijon, one of the first that I visited. I saw this original copy from 1866 and figured that I would most easily find another to chance to buy it sometime in the future. As it turned out, I wouldn’t see another copy anywhere in similar condition. I couldn’t remember where the shop was, and I figured by now that the book had sold. In Burgundy, while there is not an elevated demand for wines such as these from the public, there are aways people from the outside regions that poach works such as this, making any advertised book of this nature scarce, and quick to disappear.
A few weeks ago, I had to go into Dijon to grab a few things and honestly, I was looking forward to it. For the last five months, the city of Dijon has increased their work on the coming tramline which will provide service inside of the city. In short, the streets in the heart of Dijon have been at best impossible to navigate and detours have done their best in rendering gps utterly helpless. Whenever I am in any city outside of Nuits, I make it a point to look at any and every book shop or brocante (flea market) that I pass in the hope of finding one of the older books on my list.
That day, I happened to be in a corner of town that I rarely frequent. I saw a large green awning with gold script, ‘Livres Anciens’. I walked in and the elderly lady seated in the wooden chair behind an wooden table with a marble top which appeared to be quite old itself welcomed me warmly as if we had met. Really nice of her to be this sweet to a stranger. Then, in French, ’so, will you finally be taking your Guyot home today?’ The memory of the Guyot book rushed back into frame. She offered a discount, figuring that the price had put me off. After her holding the book that long for me, I thanked her and paid her full price, which wasn’t substantial in any sense of the word.
The book was just as I had remembered it to be. Brilliant condition inside, with the covers betraying the obvious care and attention of the original relieur that had covered the paper covers with the protection that a book of this importance was clear to deserve. Inside were illustrations of vineyards from the north central part of France, including vineyards of the Côte d’Or. Interesting as well were the details of the mindset of those working the vines, the vignerons. These accounts were timely in that at the same moment of his studies, the very vines which his legacy was based upon were under attack by the root louse, phylloxera.
His system, the Guyot (single and double cane), would become popular throughout the world’s wine growing regions. Having just found this book after all of this time, I still have a lot to read. But, it is interesting to note his impressions on the vineyards of Burgundy. citing that most of them were over 100 years old, he is quick to point out there is a great pride in the region for these ancient vines and the wines that they yielded. With this reputation, he thought, was a certain lack of interest in accepting new ways to do things. He suggested that the method of planting, was problematic in ripening, aeration and efficient yields, along with pest, mold and mildew control. The common method involved a linking of sorts, provinage which entailed the cordons, once over around 15-16 years old to be lead into a new hole, adjacent to the current vine in order to create the next generation vine and resulting shoots. This new generation would be more prone to mutate (a trait that pinot noir is known for) which further encouraged diversity within the vineyards. He spoke of a general disinterest in his idea of having individual vines with a self-contained system which can have new generations of shoots and canes each year, which would not interfere with other neighboring vines, or the land which they grew in.
Some would try his ideas, but they would invariably fail, in his estimates and those planting. The problem, he said, was not the system, but the mentality of the grower. Everyone knew that vines of 3-5 years old would result in wines which were of lower quality than those which were older. This was true in both systems, the old and newly proposed. The growers, however, would be impatient in allowing the vines to reach maturity before allowing the Guyot system to establish itself. The wise would seem inferior, thus pulled out, further damaging the merits of the system. Eventually, new plantings would do well and more still would come about after the phylloxera plight. The Guyot system was more straightforward, and allowed for a faster replanting, with decreased down time for these precious terroirs.
Much more can be said, but I have to jump into writing something related, though different in scope.
Thank you again for reading!
In 1920, Camille Rodier penned his ouvrage on the wine, culture and vineyards of La Côte d’Or. He would go on to write several other books including a celebrated work on the Clos de Vougeot and co-founded the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin
In this book, he combined the works of Morelot (1831) Lavalle (1855) as well as the work by Mnsr Danguy and Mnsr Aubertin (1892). Notably, he included a good number of crus which were left out by the previous historians/authors. A strong point of this book is that he did quite in opening up the Côte d’Or to those outside of the region and indeed outside of France.
While the other works focused on the history of the vineyards and those working the vines as well as the commercial aspects (especially Lavalle on this point), Rodier wrote this book as an open letter, an invitation to cone and explore this region which he knew well and loved even more.
There are 10 fold out maps, which dissect the appellations in equal parts. The use of color illustrations adds a beautiful sense of context to understanding the richness of the region’s history. I still have much to read but there are already quite fascinating things I’ve stumbled upon. One interesting piece is due to his inclusion of more crus (largely those which are forgotten/absorbed/overlooked climats) which have in this book been classified. In Morey, there are quite a few surprises with the whole of Les Chaffots and other (now classed) Premiers Crus being placed on the top rank alongside Clos St Denis, Clos des Lambrays, Clos de la Roche and others while favorites of mine such as Bussière and Clos Sorbès as being of lower rank. Previously, as an example Les Chaffots (this cru stood out to me as we source grapes from Les Chaffots 1er Cru) went unnoticed in Lavalle’s 1855 work which has largely been upheld in our current classification.
Well, I need to get back to more reading and chores.
Hello again everyone. Lately, we have been busy setting up orders for En Primeur sales of our 2010s. It is early, though I find this time the best to focus on sales with not much going on in the vineyards besides bud break. Sales, by the way, are going quite successfully.
During the downtime, I have been fortunate to find a second copy of Michel-Jules Lavalle’s – Histoire des Vins de la Côte d’Or from 1855. The price I paid was unspeakably low. A spot of luck? This copy’s condition is unbelievable. The page edges are gold leafed and the first owner was wise enough to have a hardback cover fitted. I am certain that the quality of the book is a result of having a hard cover from the start. My first copy of Lavalle is a bit more delicate and has quite a bit of foxing. My point in noting the condition is only to mention that now I can safely and confidently browse the pages without fear of something tearing. Of note, the copy was signed by Jules Lavalle (not noted by the seller). Reading from Jules’ book, knowing he held my exact copy really just adds another level to just how close I feel to the region’s history, text and author.
I would be remiss in not speaking to a level of intimacy that I feel in Burgundy, owing much of this to the chain of history here that places so much into a direct context. If I need a tip on where to look for directions, the history is sure to provide insights, clues and evidence of what has and will continue to be successful and lasting here. This fact is immensely comforting in uncountable ways. Having my eyes focused on words that were pressed so long ago, though ‘just yesterday’ if taking in the length of time this region has been around into consideration, it truly humbles me and drives me to no end.
EDIT: After showing the book merchant who sold me my first copy of Lavalle, this example seems to be quite special. It turns out that the 6 lithographs in the book were an option. Both of my copies have them. Also of note, it was suggested that since my newest copy is signed, ‘To Mr and Mrs Magnien, their friend, J Lavalle’ and clearly has superior paper quality (not a hint of foxing-completely white) that perhaps there were some examples that went to his friends and family with the gold leafing on the higher quality paper, along with the leather bound cover which was clearly done on release. All of this makes this copy even more special and inspiring for me.
These ‘old’ books do something amazing for me every time I open one. For one, they have a much more romantic phrasing of the French language…and yes, easier to read. This helps my French immensely. I don’t mind too much that my sentence structuring and vocabulary may sound the equivalent of olde English being spoken today. No, what is truly of great benefit is the perspective and inspiration that I draw when I read such texts. I’m not simply transported to an earlier time, I am being educated by someone that is knowledgable in the surroundings of their day.
When I look at something interesting, I often wonder about the origins of a concept, the first inklings which later develop something substantial. To this end, I was led to (MJ) Jules Lavalle and his 1855 book on the wines, history and terroir of Burgundy. After finding an original, I looked forward a four decades in learning about Danguy et Aubertin. After finding this original, I learned about Camille Rodier (influenced by Danguy et Aubertin) , co-founder of the Chevalier de Tastevin as well as many other things. I’m still looking for a good example, though they are plentiful.
The Lavalle text from 1855 is cited as providing the groundwork for the classification. He did set up the tier system, though he used five classes then. This was used a few decades later by a group in Beaune that he was a part of to establish the unofficial classification that would be further modified and then adopted by the INAO in the 1930′s. This classification is the system and further to the point, the rankings by which we in Burgundy use. There are of course a few exceptions.
Over the years, small vineyards which proved to be of high quality were consumed by larger, more famous vineyards. The lieux dits, or names places are at times still present to just a few, with the sum of the vineyard only known spoken of under one homogenous name. There is, of course great value in knowing which plots were historically known to over or under performing. Having these old texts, with the old names and descriptions certainly help.
After having my Lavalle firmly in hand, I did more research after continually seeing the name Dr Denis Morelot come up. As it turns out, in 1831, he wrote the book that was to become the inspiration for Jules Lavalle. Lavalle actually uses Morelot’s work as the solid foundation that it is to create a substantial account of the diversity in Burgundy’s vineyards and resulting wines.
After searching high and low, I learned that there was a reason Dr Morelot was so obscure. The book was left without a 2nd edition until 2009. Upon release he was heavily cited and researched, though the book was in short supply since the subject (in the way that he presented it) was such an innovation that it didn’t really sell too well outside of academics. It is estimated that only 500 copies were made. Due to the rarity of the book I had decided to purchase a new release. The style if the writing is much more poetic than Lavalle, much more about how mounds are shaped, geology is involved and how everything is interconnected, yet unique. There us more of a focus on feel and texture, rather than sheer mass and structure.
To make a long story a few sentences shorter, I recently got VERY lucky. I found an original Morelot from 1831 in excellent condition at quite a modest price. Its still in excellent nick, the same type imperfections as copied in the new (copied) version. In short, the words are the same but it is much more inspiring reading this original copy first hand. I imagine Denis Morelot sending this to press almost 180 years ago, excited to see his work in print, without truly knowing just how much his passion, studies, efforts and words would help to further benefit the understanding of such an amazing place. This truly is an exceptional pleasure to have and to hold such an amazing and inspirational resource. When I am on the road, I bring the new version to go over text which I have already read in the original. I prefer to read new chapters first in the original to capture a certain context and spirit which cannot be duplicated in the modern reproduction.
Here are a few pictures. Note there is a water stain on the front cover that will need caring for. In this era, the books were meant to be bound after purchase as many wished to have a special or personalized touch. Finding an example with the paper cover is simply astonishing.
In 1892, Aubertin and Danguy wrote a followup to the book that Jules Lavalle had penned roughly 27 years earlier, Les Grands Vins de Bourgogne. Jules Lavalle had taken much of the findings from Denis Morelot who in 1831 wrote a great deal on terroir, geology and wine in the Côte d’Or. While Jules Lavalle added the distinct class system to the earlier works and reported on the financial aspects at play, Aubertin and Ganguy got back to terroir and filled in with a great technical effort.
Inside the book you will find many engraved images of old Burgundy. Wineries that have come and gone (or simply moved) are illustrated in detail. Soil studies are shown with resulting reports on material breakdowns and comparisons. This is a very interesting piece for so many reasons. They break down the climats and even show average alcohol percentages and ph. Its interesting to note the vineyards which regularly produced wines in the 14% alcohol range, amongst other things.
There are still many more pages I have yet to explore in this book. Things like this are exciting to read. And, to be specific, they always add a level of humility and context to my own path. The vineyards have been here well before me and they will be here much longer after I have gone. The vineyards will always be more important than any wine maker.
This book is also a first edition, just like the 1855 Jules Lavalle book I picked up during harvest 2009. I wish you could find some of these writings easily in a book store. It would make things a lot easier to search out. The difference is the condition on this book is quite exceptional, seeming only 20 years old if just looking at the page quality. There is also binding which helps protect the delicate pages which are just under 120 years old. This makes it all very easy to just pick up and read it as was intended.
Last thing. When I’ve thought about ‘why Burgundy’, the answer has never been a simple,’to make great pinot noir’. The answer lies largely in the living history of the region. To read about people who made wine from the same vineyards, walked the same paths, and dealt with the same struggles as I am is truly inspiring. I know, sounds like a broken record. Sure. Yet every time I encounter something such as this book, it really closes the gap between history and today. Truly inspiring.
Jules Lavalle wrote a very important book in 1855 on the terroir, wine and people of Burgundy. A few years later, Lavalle went on to head a group in Beaune that would piece together the first comprehensive classification of the vineyards in the region. His book was largely based on the work of Denis Morelot from 1831. Morelot is credited with putting a pen to the notion of terroir in Burgundy.
In 1936, the INAO used the classification which Lavalle helped create to establish the first official classification which would from then on place government boundaries and guidelines upon the Côte d’Or(AOC).
This is of course a simplified summary of Jules Lavalle and the classification of the Côte d’Or. More can be found through online searches.
I found an original copy of the 1855 book filled with an amazing amount of information such as thoughts on quality comparisons of different appellations, princing and vintage comparisons, lithograph maps, etc. The book is quite difficult so it’s taking a bit of time to read through. The 7 foot long lithograph map(shown in the frame) is a bit of an oddity as I had never heard of it before finding it. It dates back to 1855 as well. I can only imagine that it wad released with the book originally.
I really enjoy reading these old perspectives on Burgundy. Not all of the classification in this book was held up through the official classification. Part of the enjoyment is seeing both how things were changed and how accurate these opinions are even some 150 plus years later.
When reading things like this, I can’t help but feel more drawn to Burgundy. Stepping in these vineyards that have been worked for the same goal for thousands of years is just awe inspiring.
While in Burgundy I have been constantly searching for ways to improve my French and understanding of the region. This search has led me to buying old books wherever I can find them including at Bricorant or garage sales.
I found two books recently that are quite interesting. The first is a book of all great wines (from France) written by Anthony Réal in 1887. This is an origianl copy simply titled ‘Les Grands Vins – Curiosités Historiques’.
He speaks about the many merits of the traditions and terroir of France, but also of the dedication of the vigneron, the winegrower/maker. He compares regions and speaks about some regions that get little press in our times. Some of the old drinking songs and songs which were sang in the vineyards get a bit of mention as well. Altogether, a great read for something light and fun.
The second book by Henri Drouot is also an original copy written in 1925 and is titled La Côte-D’Or under the series Collection Des Départments et Pays de France.
Now this is an amazing book. Not two weeks before finding this book in Nuits Saint Georges, I saw a reprint from the 60′s that was displayed in a book shop’s window that sold just before I decided to enquire about it. The book sold for a lofty sum. I bought my original for 10€.
This book is quite a piece as it not only goes into detail about winemaking traditions, modern (for the early 20th century) techniques, but also offers a mice collection of photos of the region, maps, geological details, statistics showing population trends in Dijon and Beaune, other exports made in the region, and a wealth of other historical hems such as other proposed names of the department.
This has got to be my favorite book by just a hair over the Clive Coates book I used to lug around when I first learned about wine. I still love my Coates book. This book just comes to life with the food, roads, sights, history and tradition that are so special and all too difficult to communicate to someone that has yet to visit the Côte d’Or.
I have yet to read all of the book of course. There is a lot of information to digest and it is in French afterall, I have a long way to go to becoming fluent. But books like these that capture interest are one of the best ways to connect the sounds you hear during the day to words and phrases on paper.
Another part of interest, the book notes a post fermentation maceration of three weeks with aging in barrel for four years on wines of quality and 18 months on ordinary wines withdour rackings in total. This is truly a great book.
Well, back to reading…
October 13, 2009 | Categories: Burgundy Library, Burgundy Posts | Tags: Anthony Réal, Burgundy book, Côte d’Or,Henri Drouot, History of Cote d’Or, old books on Burgundy, old wine book, wine book | Leave A Comment » | Edit
Once my interest was piqued with Burgundy, I searched around for all things Burgundy. Websites were scoured, magazines digested, and books dog-eared…yet none more so than Clive Coates’ Cote D’Or. The interesting thing about this book is that it can be a wonderful coffee table book if someone just wishes to pick it up. For me, this book has been much more, an inspiration, companion read and altogether it has been an amazing reference to Burgundy.
The vineyards get a great amount of ink (as they should). The history of the many villages, the types of soils, location, soil depth, etymology along with the wines they produce are all fully fleshed out in detail. While the book can at times provide information bordering on overkill, the information is there for the times when you really wish to dig a bit deeper. I wish I would have taken my book along with me when we visited. One of the first things I did on our return was to read about some of the places we visited. The notes on producers are a bit out of date, yet the historical aspects remain. Also, there is a revised edition that hit last year with more producer info and more maps.
I can’t say enough about this book. In a nutshell, pick it up! Enjoy!