Below is a Burgundy wine glossary listing the definitions of many terms both specific to French winemaking traditions in Burgundy and Chablis, as well as some more general winemaking terms. We hope a few of these definitions will help those of you looking to learn a little more about Burgundy.

A.O.C. Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée

French term for the strict rules for growth and production for a certain appellation or defined area, regulated by the Institut national de l’origine et de la qualité. All of Burgundy is in fact an A.O.C. In addition, there are hundreds of smaller appellations within Burgundy that are A.O.C. This helps to regulate quality and consistency for certain areas that are meant for certain wine growing and production styles.

Battonage

Stirring of the lees. Adds richness & oxygen to the wine. Excessive battonage can cause undesirable results.

Bourgogne

Wines made from grapes from a variety of vineyards throughout Burgundy.

Château de Clos de Vougeot
Château de Clos de Vougeot built in the 16th century by Cistercian monks

Cistercians

An incredibly industrious order, they refined vineyard practices and wine making techniques, restored vineyards, invented wine presses, built canals, buildings and cellars to last for centuries.The cistercians were the first to notice that pinot noir or chardonnay grown in one area created superior wine to what was grown in another and went on to start to define the classification system that is still used today.

Climat

A defined plot of land that has it’s own terroir. These climats have been organized over the centuries to create a hierarchy including Grand Cru, Premier Cru and Village classifications. For example, Corton is an appellation, but parcel named ‘Les Renardes’ is a climat. Wine has been produced in Burgundy for at least 2000 years, but many credit the Cistercian monks with starting to categorize the vineyards. They developed the idea that grapes from different plots of land that are put through the same vinification produce individual tasting wines with properties that remain generally consistent to that terroir year after year. The Climats du vignoble de Bourgogne have been proposed by France to be a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Clos

An enclosed parcel of vineyard, usually by stone walls on at least 3 sides. Sometimes a side can be a hedge or river as well. A clos can contain divided plots of land owned by many. Examples include the Clos de la Roche in Morey-Saint-Denis, the famous, gigantic Clos de Vougeot (See above photo of the Château de Clos de Vougeot with vineyards surrounding it). A smaller example is the Clos des Réas in Vosne Romanée, which also happens to be a Monopole. The clos walls were originally used to prevent theft and were used widely in the middle ages by the Cistercians.

Courtier

Broker who buys grapes, must or juice from the growers or land owners and sells to negociants.

Elevage

The maturing of a wine in barrel after vinification. Malolactic fermentation takes place during elevage. For red Burgundy, elevage lasts from 12-16 months. For white burgundy, it is closer to 12. Most traditionally produced fine Burgundies are aged in French oak and it’s up to the winemaker to choose what percentage of new and used oak barrels are used. Some winemakers prefer to age in much larger oak barrels, or steel or concrete tanks to avoid any undesirable flavors the oak may impart on the wine. Domaine de la Romaneé Conti chooses to age all of their wines in 100% new oak barrels. Domaine Comte Georges de Vogue chooses to only use 30-40% new oak, for their grand crus, preferring to let the grapes dictate the flavors more. These choices depend on the terroir and winemaker preferences.

Fermentation

During vinification, alcoholic fermentation turns the grape must or juice into wine. Natural yeasts turn the sugar into ethanol. A second fermentation takes place, known as malolactic fermentation, during elevage. This helps to reduce the acidity of the wine.

Floraison (Flowering)

Harvest generally begins 100 days after Floraison, or a time when the buds flower, usually in June.

Grand Cru

The highest category of wines in Burgundy, made from grapes grown at one of the 32 Grand Cru classified sites. Some examples of Grand Cru sites include ‘Echézeaux’ in Vosne-Romanée, ‘Bonnes-Mares’, situated in between Chambolle-Musigny and Morey-Saint-Denis, ‘Montrachet’ in the Cote de Beaune and ‘Les Clos’ in Chablis

Lees (Lies)

Sediment that consists of dead yeast, grape seeds, and other solids. Wine is separated from the lees by racking. Lees are found during and after fermentation.

Romanée-Conti vineyard. A monopole owned by the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
Romanée-Conti vineyard, owned by the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

Maturation

Describes the period before harvest when the grapes develop their sugar content.

Millésime

Vintage or year of harvest

Monopole

A vineyard owned by one wine producer. Two famous examples are the La Tâche and Romanée-Conti vineyards owned by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.

Must

Unfermented grape juice from the harvest.

Négociant

Wine merchant who buys the grapes, must or wine from the Courtier, who then ages, bottles and sells it under it’s own label. The negociant system is widespread in Burgundy – some of the biggest producers in Burgundy like Faiveley, Drouhin and Jadot are actually negociants. There’s a growing trend of much smaller negociant operations that are producing very high-quality and cared for wines.

The system is so different here in comparison to other parts of the world probably because of French inheritance laws. Vineyards owned by a family are split between the children when the owner dies. Often a family or person owns such a small plot of land that it wouldn’t really make sense for them to fund the entire wine making process when the grapes grown there could only fill a few barrels. So farmers tend to sell to Negociants. Since land in the Cote d’Or is currently so expensive, most Negociants could never make a return investment on buying a vineyard, so they choose to buy grapes or must from the landowners.

Premier Cru

The second best, but revered classification for Burgundy wine.

Racking

Separating the wine from the lees by transferring the wine into a different barrel or tank during elevage. This is done because wine can develop an off taste in some cases when left on the lees. Contributes to clarification and aeration of the wine.

Tannin

Substances in the grapes that help the wine develop in the aging process giving it finer taste properties. Tannins can be offensive to people when they are overly prominent in younger burgundies, but are essential to bringing out finer qualities of wine over time.

Terroir

Commonly defined as ‘a sense of place’, terroir can be used to describe a number of conditions at a certain site. These sometimes include geography, altitude, soil conditions and any consistent special weather circumstances year after year like fog or cold winds. Many would include the types of nearby flora and fauna as part of the terroir. An example of how geology affects the taste of wine can be seen in prominent mineral characteristics of the chardonnay of Chablis; a grape grown in what is called Kimmeridgean soil which is composed of limestones, clay and fossilized oysters and other sea creatures.

A mid-century vendages family portrait of the Dampt family from Milly, Chablis. Photo courtesy of Domaine Sébastien Dampt.
A mid-century vendages family portrait of the Dampt family

Vendange

Harvest, or the time when the grapes are picked to make wine. Typically vendage takes place between late August and the end of September.

Vigneron

Winegrower who in addition to working in the vineyards, also vinifies, matures the wine in barrel, bottles and sells his or her wine.

Village (classification of wine)

Wines grown in village classified vineyards are from climats not labeled premier cru or grand cru. Village wines can be of excellent quality.

Vinificateur

Winemaker

Vinification

To turn grape juice into wine through alcoholic fermentation.

Vintage

The year the grapes were harvested to make the wine. Also known as Millésime.