When we decided to spend part of our vacation in Dijon, we knew we wanted to see more of the area than just the city itself. Renting a car for a day was one option, but we were having trouble deciding what to visit – there are lots of things to see. And we knew we had no interest in one of those bus tours where they herd you on and off like cattle. Or first-graders. So John sent an email to the girl at the hotel who had made our reservations to ask for suggestions.
She led us to Max.
Max Renau is a man of many hats. Together with his wife, Beatrice, he owns and manages tourist apartments in Dijon (four are his, and he sees after 6 others). In the summers, they run barge tours up and down the Burgundy Canal. And, he does half-day and full-day personal tours of the region – just what we were looking for!
Max arrived in front of the hotel promptly at 9:15. Introductions all around, then we hustled into his van, and started for the countryside.
Our first stop of the day was the impressive and ancient Clos de Vougeot. The Cistercian monks began growing grapes and making wine here in 1109. By 1336, the vineyard had acquired its current 125-acre footprint, and the surrounding wall (clos) was complete. The current château (not shown) was built in 1551 to replace an older chapel and other small buildings. The building in the photo is a barn. It houses the antique winepresses and other equipment.
In fact, this equipment is so old, antique might not be the right word. Prototype might be better, as it seems to be the forerunner of the modern mechanical winepress. The wooden screw in the photo would have been turned by a pair of monks, pushing from either side of the beam. The screw would bring down a massive cut beam to press the juice from the grapes, and the juice would be funnelled into troughs.
There was really no good angle for a picture that could convey the massive size of this press. And it was one of four.
Like most church property, Clos de Vougeot was seized during the Revolution and sold-off. In the years that followed, the owners died and inheritances were split among heirs. Some parcels were sold. Today, the original 125 acres, still surrounded by the monks’ 14th century wall, is split among 80 different owners. The château and other buildings are owned by a group called the Friends of the Chateau, who run the museum and rent out the hall for parties and weddings.
Next stop on the tour was the village of Aloxe-Corton, and the 15th century Chateau de Corton-Andre. We had a brief tour of their facility, and a tasting of their lovely wines. The family continues to live on-site, and produces the same quality wines they have for generations. And, Max is a friend of long-standing – his guests are always welcome!
Next on the agenda – lunch! Max took us to a restaurant in Volnay. Let me say right now, if the only Coq au Vin you’ve ever had was in a city restaurant, or out of Julia Child’s cookbook, you have never eaten real Coq au Vin. Country dishes should be eaten in the place where they were born. This recipe began as a way to make a stringy old rooster palatable. It’s not a fancy dish. The simple wine sauce, the stewed rooster – yes, they use roosters, several tonnes per year. All at least 3 years old. – the herbs, the potatoes and bread combine into the tastiest stew I’ve had in a long time. Anyone with an authentic recipe, please share in the comments – I need to be able to make this! Given the weather, this was the perfect cold weather dish!
Our last trip of the day was to Beaune, and the famous Hospice de Beaune.( Normally, Max’s tours go one more stop, but the weather was turning and the light was fading.) Even if you’ve never been to France, chances are you will recognize the colorful roof tiles of the Hospice – They grace postcards and pictures the world around. The tile colors are Flemish, not French or Burgundian. The Dukes of Burgundy were also Lords of Flanders, having married into the Flemish royal line. Their wives are credited with bringing the colorful glazed-tile roofs of their homeland to Burgundy with them.
The Hospice was built at the end of the Hundred Years’ War(1443) as a charity hospital. Until 1985, parts of it were still in use as a hospital and retirement home for the poor. It was built by Nicholas Rolin, Chancellor of Burgundy, and his wife, Guigone de Salins, a salt-mine heiress from Belgium. They endowed the Hospice with the income from a salt mine, and gave it a vineyard to support its work. To this day, the foundation they began serves the poor with the income from those sources, plus the auction of wines donated from area châteaux. No longer in daily use as a hospital, the Hospice is now a museum.
The snow was falling harder now; it was time to return to the hotel in Dijon. there were a few tense moments on the return trip, but thanks to Max’s driving skill, we all made it back in one piece. We parted at the door, promising to look at the possibility of renting one of the barges for next summer. I can think of worse things to do…
The snow fell softly on Dijon, just in time for the lighting of the holiday lights.
More information on Max and his tours can be found at dijon-rentahome.com.