by Marla Norman-Freytag, Publisher
The De Aureo Spirito wine cellars, in Nuits-St-Georges
It’s a little chilly in the De Aureo Spirito wine cellars, even though we’ve had a couple of nice full sips of Burgundian Pinot Noir. The temperature continues to drop as we move through the old tunnels. We’re sticking close to our guide, Thibault Garin, a coordinator for the winery -- without him there’s no way we’d find our way out of this labyrinth.
We finally reach a section of the cave that was in use over a 1,000 years ago by monks who made the first wines in the area. As Thibault shows us the dusty racks and bottles, his light suddenly goes out. Standing in the dark, frigid tunnel, we can more easily imagine the daunting task of those early winemakers.
Thibault Garin of De Aureo Spirito wines.
One of the numerous tunnels in the De Aureo Spirito caves.
An old diagram of the caves -- possibly used by the early monks.
Parts of the cave were in use over 1,000 years ago by monks who made the area's first wines.
BURGUNDY IN THE BEGINNING
Cistercian monks, who built Clos de Vougeot, were the first winemakers to develop the theory of terroir.
King Louis XIV, lover of Burgundy wines.
Winemaking in Burgundy is an ancient art, dating back to at least 300 BC. Romans who conquered France, or Gaul, in 51 BC found that the Celtic settlers living in Burgundy were quite adept at winemaking.
Catholic monks arrived in 200 AD and began making wines for use in church services. Benedictine monks founded the Abbey of Cluny in 910, which became the largest and most influential of Burgundy vineyards, enduring for several centuries.
But even more significant, were the Cistercians, who built Clos de Vougeot. The Cistercians were the first to realize that different sites within a vineyard produce different wines -- thus the concept of terroir. The monks also invented a system to control temperatures during fermentation. This system, devised over 800 years ago, is still in use around the world.
However, it wasn’t until the early 1700’s that Burgundy wines were recognized. The physician for Louis XIV prescribed a glass of wine for his king each evening -- and not just any wine, only that from the village of Nuits-St-Georges. The king faithfully followed his doctor’s orders, and his evening wine ritual was quickly copied by French and European aristocrats. Burgundy wines had finally arrived!
Historic Château d'Arcelot near Dijon.
Count Antoine de Loisy shares stories about his family and the many antiquities in his château.
De Aureo Spirito, located in Nuits-St-Georges, pays tribute to Burgundy’s history through its wine production.The vintages the group offers are all chosen by members of a confrérie -- a brotherhood, of sorts --made up of the owners of some of the greatest Abbeys and Seigneuries (estates) in Burgundy. We’re visiting four of these historic sites; the first is Château d’Arcelot near Dijon.
Count Antoine de Loisy personally opens the massive doors to his château and greets us. Our jaws drop at the sight of a gigantic staircase, trompe-l’oeil, and Flemish tapestries. Count de Loisy leads us into sitting rooms and bedrooms, all filled with period furniture and family portraits. He casually tosses out dates: “This Triptych came from Van Eyck’s Flemish school and is from the 1400’s. This bed and chest are from the 1600’s. The library holds books collected since the 1700’s.”
A painting of Louis XVI, one of the last portraits before his arrest and execution.
Château d'Arcelot sits on an 111-acre park with a 17-acre pond.
As we make our way to the main balcony, the Count stops briefly to point out a painting: “This is the last portrait made of Louie XVI, with whom the family was connected. And,” he continues, gesturing to the long driveway and gardens, “This is exactly where the Czar of Russia and the Archduke of Austria-Hungary stood to review 100,000 troops on parade after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo.”
Alex and I stand on the balcony trying to imagine 100,000 troops, not to mention a Czar and Archduke. We feel as if we’ve climbed into a time machine -- and might have a few centuries worth of jet lag.
The balcony also provides marvelous views of the 111-acre park that surrounds the château. Rare trees and a 17-acre pond sit within landscaped gardens.
Guests who attend Count de Loisy's annual costume ball wear authentic designs from the 1700's.
Our last stop is the Grand Salon. Count de Loisy explains that this is where he hosts his annual costume ball every October. Guests attending the ball wear authentic and impeccably-detailed clothing from the pre-Revolution 1700’s.
Beaujolais Seigneurie d'Arcelot De Aureo Spirito
The ball is also a celebration of the Count’s De Aureo Spirito wine: a lively, fresh Beaujolais (Not to be confused with Beaujolais Nouveau -- wine bottled just 6-8 weeks after the grapes are picked.) Count de Loisy offers us his delicious wine, and we continue on in the time machine.
Watch the festivities at the Château d’Arcelot Costume Ball.
The Grancey château sits high on a hill overlooking the village of Grancey. Built in the 6th Century, the property is surrounded by an impressively large wall and moat. As we wait for someone to let down the drawbridge, we conjure up vandals and rogue knights trying to scale the walls and attack the castle. The invaders are all soundly repelled by forces on the Grancey side, obviously.
Baron Jacques de Mandat Grancey stands next to the massive wall that surrounds his estate.
Serving glasses of the Baron's Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru.
As we cross the bridge, Baron Jacques de Mandat Grancey himself greets us. He’s a tall, elegant man, dressed in a tan velvet jacket. Once we’re on the other side of the moat, he thrusts a heavy 8-inch key into an ancient lock and the drawbridge slowly closes behind us.
We follow the Baron to the estate chapel, where members of his family have been buried for over 500 years. He explains that the first Seigneurs of Grancey appeared around the year 1000. One of the most prominent was a Templar Knight and -- incredibly -- another is a canonized saint. The last Abbot of the great monastery at Cluny was an ancestor of the Grancey family and later pronounced a saint. The Abbot is portrayed in a large stain glass window that dominates the chapel.
Yet another relative discovered a house in Turkey where Mary, the mother of Jesus, lived after her son’s crucifixion. A stone from the house is enshrined in the chapel.
Monument to a Templar Knight and early member of the Grancey family, interred in the family chapel.
Baron Grancey is a Knight of the Sovereign Military Hospitalier Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, Rhodes and Malta. During the Middle Ages, this order defended pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem. Nowadays, it is a Catholic charitable organization.The Baron supervises its activity in South America.
Trying to absorb the centuries of remarkable family history, we walk from the chapel to a broad terrace overlooking a forest. There, we sample the Baron’s De Aureo Spirito wine, a Gevrey Chambertin Primer Cru. The wine is exquisite. We savor it as we chat over hors d’oeuvres, then enjoy lunch and a tour of the immense château.
Baron Jacques de Mandat Grancey with his family crest.
Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru La Perrière Les Dames de Medavy-Grancey.
Château Grancey exterior
As we wander through the magnificent art collection, Baron Grancey talks about the responsibility he’s felt to preserve his family history. “It’s not been easy,” he admits. “The cost of maintaining these places is tremendous. In the winter, you can’t heat them effectively. You’re in a small village, far from the attractions of Paris. I understand why the generation coming up doesn’t want to be burdened with them.”
“But what about the history and family legacy?” we ask.
He shrugs, “I don’t know. I did my part. That’s all I can do.”
He escorts us to the drawbridge, and we wave good-bye from the other side until the bridge slams shut, as it has for centuries.
MARQUISAT DE MONTIGNY
The Bishop of Langres once resided at the Seigneurie de Montigyny. Prior to the Revolution, he owned the vast share of vineyards in the Côte de Nuits. Now, the château is owned by Madame Ménage Small and her American husband.
Madame Ménage. Exterior shot of the château.
The couple have restored the estate to perfection. And there is a definite American feel to the property. In almost every room, at the touch of a button, modern appliances pop up out of antique woodwork and marble counters. Touch again, and everything disappears. You’re back in the 1700’s once again.
Madame Ménage invites us into one of her charmingly furnished sitting rooms to sample wines. Because Montigny is at the border of the Champagne region, she has selected two crémants: a Brut -- made from Chardonnay, Aligoté and Pinot Noir -- and a Rosé made from Pinot Noir and Gamay.
Glasses of Madame Ménage’s signature Rosé Crémant De Aureo Spirito.
The sparkling wines sip like a dream. We sit relaxed, listening to Madame discuss her plans to restore the orangerie and gardens, perhaps locate a new chef for a cooking school she has in mind. We dink a bit more of the crémant..... and hope our fantasy never ends.
ABBAYE DU VAL DES CHOUES
The Abbaye du Val des Choues was originally built in 1193 by Cistercian monks.
Our last stop, Abbaye du Val des Choues was once a Cistercian Monastery. The Abbey’s first monastic buildings were completed in 1193. Eudes III, the Duke of Burgundy, and Pope Innocent III approved the charter for the priory in 1203. The Abbey continued to prosper until the Revolution, when most of the buildings were heavily damaged and subsequently abandoned.
Gardens created by the monks are being restored.
Happily, Inés and Michel Monot bought and restored the property as a lodge. The couple own more than 180 hunting dogs and horses. Guests come from across Europe and the U.S. to hunt wild boar -- and to drink good wine -- of course.
Abbaye du Val des Choues, once a Cistercian Monastery, is now a hunting lodge.
A room, with roaring fire, at the Abbey Hunting Lodge.
Inés Monot shows us to our room, then accompanies us on a long stroll through her gardens. She and Michel discovered old lithographs of the Abbey dating back to the 18th Century. Using the drawings, they were able to recreate the original gardens.
Next, we visit the hunting museums, filled with antlers, bugles, guns and mounted heads. Quite a contrast to the peaceful, meditative gardens but interesting nonetheless.
Inés and Michel Monot with a magnum of their Pouilly Fuissé De Aureo Spirito.
Hunting bugles on display at the lodge museum.
Trophy collection and hunting attire loaned out to guests.
The Abbey is located in the steep hills of Burgundy, surrounded by dense forests. Nights are quite cold, so we’re pleased to see that dinner is served in front of a huge, roaring fireplace. The food is deliciously hearty and the Abbey wine is a gorgeous Pouilly Fuissé. While we enjoy the wine, Inés and Michel regale us with stories about their hunts and visitors over the years. Towards the end of the evening, they also mention a headless ghost.
The warm fire, heavy food and wine had made us quite drowsy, but the mention of a ghost has us wide awake. “The Abbey is haunted?”
“You can’t expect a place that’s almost 1,000 years old not to have a few spirits. We have our monk. He’s harmless.”
“But he’s headless?”
“Most of the monks left for Spain or Italy during the Revolution. But,” Michel says with a grimace, drawing a finger menacingly across his throat, “Some didn’t get out in time.” We gasp, but Michel quickly changes the topic and after a few more stories we say our goodnights.
Back in our room, we stoke the fire and throw a few more blankets on the bed. The temperature seems to keep dropping. As we snuggle under the covers, I hear the hounds baying mournfully across the yard.
Watch Inés Monot feed her well-trained dogs as they prepare for the hunt.
DE AUREO SPIRITO WINES are sold in the United Kingdom, Japan and China. Additionally, they are available on Thai Airways in First Class, Princess Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Lines.