Those Cistercian Monks first appeared on the European scene nearly a 1000 years ago. They built their first abbey at Cîteaux (Latin Cistercium, hence "Cistercian") near Nuits-Saint-Georges. It just happeed that several of the wines we tasted in the IPNC Burgundy session had roots in the region. It felt like I was tasting history.
As they grew grapes and made wine, those monks kept great records, according to moderator Allen Meadows, who spends 4 months a year in Burgundy when he visits more than 300 domaines and publishes Burghound.com—an e-newsletter specializing in Burgundy. Those monks started to notice that the wine from one parcel tasted different from the next, sometimes from adjacent plots.
Fortunately, they planted lots of Pinot noir, the most terroir transparent of grapes, says Meadows. He claims the monks were tasting differences in terroir, in geography, in soil, in temperature.
The monks attributed the taste differences to God. For those pious monks, Pinot noir was only the messenger, not the message.
Regardless, those monks prospected for terroir. They planted vines everywhere but only kept those that were the most interesting. And they took meticulous notes, keeping volumes of hand-written records. So now Burgundy has hundreds of years of history of knowing what will grow best where.
Thus today, Burgundy is divided into many different appellations, sometimes covering only a single vineyard. In fact, Meadows said there were some 1600 different "climats"—a term unique to Burgundy which designates each plot or group of plots of vines which have been known under the same name for several centuries.
In the end, Meadows and the 5 Burgundian panelist—Bertrand Ambroise from Maison Ambroise, Cyril Audoin of Domaine Charles Audoin, Philippe and Vincent Lécheneaut of Domaine Lécheneaut and Jacques Lardière of Maison Louis Jadot—seemed to agree with the historic monks: Pinot noir was the messenger of Burgundy terroir.
Thank you monks. Thank you God.