In an 80-year period spanning the July Monarchy and the Third Republic, a number of Côte d’Or villages took on the names of their most famous climat. Rory Hill digs deep into the archives to explore the history of a time when Burgundy’s wine trade cemented the link between place and product
I cannot be the only person to have noticed that wine shops and travel agents are just about the only businesses on the high street that organize their product by place. My local Oddbins, for example, has its shelves arranged under headings such as Italy, France, Regional France, Burgundy, and Bordeaux. Red or white, old or new, expensive or cheap, all those matters are of less immediate concern in the commerce of wine than the place of origin. We know that many wines are named after places and that some of the most famous wines have been abbreviated in English to one-word evocations of a place: Chablis, Sherry, Champagne. This established synonymy of place and product forms one of the major axes of difference between Old and New World wines; it is the geographical order against which grape varieties and wine brands must struggle for recognition by the wine-buying public. On shelves and in catalogs, the names that appear on wine labels refer to places we can find on maps, see on our travels, or long for in our imaginations. But on Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, over an 80-year period that spanned the July Monarchy and the Third Republic, something happened that remains unique in the world: Places were themselves named after wines.
This was a bold attempt to tie together the geographic and economic dimensions of certain wines, to make place stand for product and to celebrate the names of the clos and climats that had been planted with vines for hundreds of years. The resulting double-barreled names are now facts of geography and enology, but they are so often briefly passed over in atlases and textbooks, and it seems that little attention has been paid to how the process of renaming villages fits into the wider development of the wines of Burgundy. How was this act of renaming achieved? Which voices called out in support, and which clamored in opposition? And what might we consider to be its legacy? The renaming of Chassagne to Chassagne-Montrachet, of Gevrey to Gevrey-Chambertin, and of a handful of other wine-producing villages in between is certainly compatible with the wider moves toward geographical protection and designations of origin that are today organized through the AOP (appellation d’origine protégée) system. But it both historically precedes and rhetorically surpasses that. In appending the name of a particular climat or vineyard area to the name of the village, a great step is taken beyond the gazetteer of wine and out into the world at large. A famous wine is mentioned in the same breath as its village of origin in whatever domain the latter is raised. Through maps, through road signs, through writing, and through speech, the apparent self-evidence of a place being home to a unique terroir and quality wine is repeated ad infinitum. This is a rhetorical move that was not, as we will see, always deployed without opposition, jealousy, or rivalry; but it is one that stands today as an example of the determinedly geographical distinctiveness of Burgundy’s wines. With the aid of some key archival and cartographic documents, I want to explore how rendering a wine as a place name has been a powerful way of imaginatively transmitting the value of terroir and making reputation endure.
Wines of distinction
The fascinating account of Claude Arnoux initiated the education of many in England on the hitherto rather esoteric world of Burgundy wine. Arnoux was a French abbot who had moved to London, taught French and Latin, and set about making terms like climat and côte, not to mention scores of place names, understood by those who would buy wine. In 1728, he produced a short, detailed dissertation accompanied by a map, and these were soon circulating in Europe, with an Italian translation appearing in Tuscany some years later. Arnoux’s map evokes the history of the wines of the Côte d’Or and sets the tone for the many cartographic representations that have followed. The presence of the Cistercian monks (Cîteaux) in the center of the map recalls nearly a thousand years of their presence on the Côte, their role in tilling and classing vineyard soil, and their development of the notions of terroir and climat. The wide, navigable River Saône running along the bottom of the picture suggests the ease of shipment that the French historical geographers Roger Dion and Xavier de Planhol argued has facilitated the commerce and contributed to the renown of the region’s wines, with the tributaries running from Beaune, Nuits, and Dijon reflecting their preeminent role in the wine trade since the 15th-century ducal heyday of Burgundy. The map shows the contrast of plain and slope (and, beyond, the arrières côtes); and in its unusual Western orientation, it presages the long, landscape perspective of the famous maps of the Côte d’Or that would be prepared in the mid-19th century. It also limits itself to the line of settlements that run from Dijon in the north to Santenay in the south, an extent that is repeated in those guides to the Côte produced ever since. On Arnoux’s map, we recognize the wine-producing villages and the several climats named individually—Montrachet and the Clos de Vougeot (itself established by the monks at Cîteaux), for example. Gevrey doesn’t figure on the map; instead, Chambertin does. Indeed, the fame of Chambertin and the relative ignorance of Gevrey in the context of a lucrative wine-producing region would be one of the reasons for action to be taken to append the name of one to the other.
“Considering that the town of Gevrey has within its territory the climat of Chambertin, which produces one of the most famous wines of Burgundy,” begins the record of the meeting of the Gevrey town council, held on May 10, 1847, and “desirous that this denomination, which cannot be claimed by any other locality, be legally acquired by the town,” the mayor was charged with requesting permission from the French king, Louis-Philippe, for an official change of name to Gevrey- Chambertin, which was granted. These words suggest the motivation for this change was external and allied to the commerce of wine. People in the immediate area would likely have known that the Chambertin (originally, Champ Bertin, “the field worked by a man called Bertin”) was found in Gevrey, but outside of the area, outside of the region, and especially in the growing wine markets of Paris, London, Amsterdam, and elsewhere, that geographic knowledge could not be assumed. Already, argued Dr Morelot in his report of 1831, the “rich products” of the Côte d’Or have “spread to almost every part of Europe,” and the Gevrey town council argued in its meeting that “the reputation of this particular vineyard is European, and its name much better known than that of the town where it is situated.” The qualities of the terroir would need to be adjudged by rich consumers in cities far removed from the Côte d’Or if they were to be effectively recompensed, and for that to happen, the act of naming had to be accurate. “The inhabitants and landowners of this place,” resolved the town council, “so as to fix the attention of foreigners and merchants who often do not know where they should apply to procure wines from this vineyard (crû), have an interest in adding the name of Chambertin to that of Gevrey.”
The wine trade was growing, and in the interval between the publication of Arnoux’s map and the application by Gevrey for a new name, several things had happened that served to make precise geographic provenance more important. One was the decision taken by the town of Beaune around 1752 to abandon the “Vin de Beaune” marque and instead ask for producers to indicate on their barrels where the wine was actually made. This was a step toward reducing the fraud that had stalked the Dijon and Beaune markets for hundreds of years, and it brought more attention to bear on the particular villages and clos that made up the Côte d’Or, as opposed to their being subsumed under the catch-all, though good, reputation of Vin de Beaune. Another thing was the development of printed labels for bottles, which, according to Burgundy historian Jean- François Bazin, began in the 1820s and built on the invention of lithography in Munich in 1796. Though at this time most wine was still being exported from Burgundy in barrels, glass bottle production was growing, and the increased precision and name recognition that came with labeling individual bottles would go on to shape the way wine was appreciated and magnify the benefits of choosing a name that carried a good reputation.
Arnoux’s 1728 treatise, published in London, a major destination in the European commerce of wine, did much to educate merchants and consumers as to the qualities and internal differences of Burgundy wines. It contains, for Olivier Jacquet, the first “literary” mention of the climats that would, almost 300 years later, receive UNESCO recognition as part of the world’s cultural heritage. Giving decision-makers a little more information about the wine they might buy, within a market that was already crowded with the products of France, Germany, and Portugal, could be seen as the thin end of a wedge that has grown today to a complex system of appellations d’origine and the geographic organization of wine classes. Only a few years before Arnoux’s account, the wines of Tokaj had, as Hugh Johnson has noted, been organized into a five-point classification scheme; and only a few years after Arnoux’s treatise, Rousseau was discoursing on the economy of rarity and the proliferation of luxury goods he saw taking place around him. In fairly blunt terms, the growth of the mercantile and middle classes in modern Europe created more demand for wine and more interest in distinguishing fine wine from its more rustic versions—or at least, pursuing that which was fashionable. By the early 19th century, guides to, classifications of, and prejudices concerning the wines of Burgundy and elsewhere were proliferating; the accounts of Morelot and Jullien are prominent examples. And such questions of taste and distinction are no less important today: Social observers from Pierre Bourdieu to David Harvey have noted how products that connote luxury and carry interesting and, especially, historical stories became even more rapidly fetishized in the 20th century. In this century, the Internet and social media provide permanent exhibition spaces for fashionable objects and tales of provenance; and in a recent edition of this magazine, Ch’ng Poh Tiong discussed how fashions among growing numbers of middle-class Chinese consumers are expressed in dress, as well as in wine. For consumers in London, in the 18th century as today, wine is more of a luxury good than an everyday source of calories, and the appreciation of different qualities among wines fits readily within a structure of designated labels of origin, just as the profit of distinction to be enjoyed by conspicuously consuming a fashionable wine is more assuredly attained when the precise provenance of the wine is made known. In each instance, naming a village after a climat increases the probability of commercial attention being paid to it.
Pinning name to place
It did not take long for other wine-producing villages on the Côte d’Or to follow Gevrey’s example. Aloxe managed to append the name of Corton in 1862, and the archives show Vosne being renamed Vosne-Romanée in a decree signed by Napoleon III in 1866. With the growth of the Second Empire, France built on its European reputation for gastronomy, art, and culture, and developed a dazzling commercial arsenal of luxury goods and such things as could be evoked by terms like art de vivre, haute couture, and le bon goût. The Paris of Flaubert and Maupassant was guzzling wine, while the London of Wilde and James, in a nation now at peace with France and flush with her goods following the implementation of a free-trade treaty in 1860, was measuring French wine against imitators from the New World. I use that term advisedly, since catalogs from Victorian and even Edwardian London show us wines from Australia, California, and the Cape being described as “Burgundy,” “Sauterne,” “Chablis type,” and “Red Hermitage,” even as their own brand, place, and grape-variety names were also vying for attention. Attracting the eye of the now vast numbers of middle-class consumers was important, and reputations that had already been established among connoisseurs could be mercilessly exploited. Terroir, more than ever, would flourish in the sense of a unique productive territory in wider relation; more than merely an area of ground known to local farmers, terroir would bear commercial and imaginative connections to consumers in far-off cities and towns. If “Burgundy” was so loose a term as to have become a descriptor of a style of wine, Chambertin, Corton, and Romanée would be made to stand for a particular piece of land and a long-established history of production—an inimitable French possession. In this way, the climats and clos of Burgundy were tools of commercial and culinary distinction.
With the opening of a section of the Paris–Lyons railway that passed in close sight of the vineyards of the Côte d’Or in 1849, passengers could observe the wine country whose reputation was evoked in the dining rooms of the capital. This new perspective was not lost on Jules Lavalle, a botanist, scientist, and viticultural enthusiast who wrote a new account of the vineyards of the Côte d’Or in 1855 and accompanied it with both an intricately detailed map and picturesque scenes of villages with the slopes of the Côte in the background. The map, oriented in the same way as the more primitive map of Arnoux, features the names of hundreds of climats, lieux-dits, and villages. And instead of focusing on the river at the base of the map like Arnoux, Lavalle shows the line of the newly laid railway snaking its course from Dijon to Chagny, near Santenay. This railway would have allowed travelers to gaze upon the Côte with exactly the same orientation that Lavalle proposes in his map, and it is from the point of view of a train on this line that his scenic images are drawn. Furthermore, the positions of esteemed climats are indicated directly beneath those images, as a kind of legend directing the eye to where the treasures are to be found among the vines. While the railway allowed the wines of the Côte d’Or to be exported with new expediency under the Second Empire, it also permitted those who were aware of the reputations of the town of Beaune or villages like Vosne or even climats like La Romanée to visit and to look upon them and reconcile their presence and name with their cartographic representations and their own geographical imaginations.
In February 1877, the village of Chambolle saw the chance to append the name of Musigny to its own, a climat that “produces a much sought-after wine, the reputation of which is growing further every day.” The record of the meeting at which this was discussed notes that the impulse for action came from “several important local landowners,” and the successful cases of Gevrey-Chambertin, Aloxe-Corton, and Vosne-Romanée are explicitly cited as important precedents. The detail of the deliberations casts a clear light on the motivations of the decision to change the village name; it shows the commercial context, the importance of a name in carrying a reputation, and the growing awareness of the choices with which wine consumers are confronted. It is worth citing at length to appreciate this at first hand:
The wine of Musigny has managed to extend its reputation overseas, but the general ignorance of the place where it is produced has meant that the name of the vineyard (crû) has been used as the name of the village. According to some wine merchants (négociants), even in France, Musigny is itself the village that produces the wine of that name. Certain merchants, unaware of the origins of Musigny, have even written on their labels “Musigny-Vougeot”. These errors are obviously causing great prejudice to Chambolle by taking away the most beautiful flower of its vinicultural crown.
At a time when the names of Burgundy wines were becoming well known (“In the civilized world,” asked one contemporary with perhaps a little pomposity, “who does not know the wines of the Côte d’Or?”), but still at a time before the organization of appellations d’origine, when fraudulent naming of wine was very easy to carry out, officially changing the name of the village in favor of its most famous wine appeared a canny means of redress. It was a means to tie the economic reputation to the exclusive geographic boundaries of the wine-producing village. It would mean that most of the time the famous wine of Musigny was mentioned, its home village would be mentioned in the same breath, clarifying its location and territorial affiliation. And conversely, most of the time the village of Chambolle was mentioned, reference would be made to the brightest star of its economic firmament: the wine of Musigny.
The logic of tying geographic position and economic potential through the names of particular villages and their climats could, conversely, also be used as the basis of opposition to the act of renaming. Though Puligny and Chassagne were both permitted to append the name of the esteemed Montrachet climat to their own in 1879, when in 1885 the village of Flagey followed the now well-trodden path of asking government for it to be renamed in favor of a famous climat—in this case, Les Echézeaux—a number of barriers were raised. First, the newly renamed village of Vosne-Romanée opposed the move because it had its own territorial claim on that climat. This led the sub prefect at Beaune to demand a meeting of the mayors of Flagey and Vosne to hammer out the question before he would pass the request for renaming any further up the chain of government. Once that was resolved, a further spanner was thrown into the works by Charles Mazeau, the senator for the Côte d’Or department, and later justice minister. “I am not much in favor of the principle of adding the names of grands crus to the names of villages,” he wrote in a missive to the mayor of Vosne. “I believe that this practice has only served to make certain wines appear to be what they are not, to the great detriment of the good reputation of the wines of our côte.” Certainly this was a tenable position. While the wines of several climats of the Côte d’Or were described as first-class in Jullien’s influential classification scheme, for example, the wines of the villages—including Flagey—were rated as third class. 28 Supposing the reputation of a specific climat in the remaining vineyards of the village was optimistic, some would even say misleading. But there was also a specifically geographical, and apparently objective argument to buttress his personal opinion: “There are special reasons why the village of Flagey, which is on the plain, should not have its request accepted”9—a brief phrase but one loaded with connotation for those familiar with the wines of the Côte d’Or. The geographical orthodoxy according to which the lower slopes of the Côte produce the best wine—as distinct from the plain and the upper slopes—was already pervasive, and this is what Mazeau was referring to. It is an orthodoxy that was strongly and widely propounded in the 1861 map of the grands vins of the Côte d’Or drawn up under the aegis of the Comité d’Agriculture de Beaune, hot on the heels of Bordeaux, where a complex classification of wines had been established in 1855, and Jules Lavalle’s map of the Côte d’Or of the same year, in which hundreds of climats and lieux-dits had been painstakingly inscribed. Drafts of the 1861 map, drawn on the basis of cadastral plans by the surveyor Bonnamas, were placed in the village halls of the Côte d’Or so that producers and, indeed, anyone in the area could register their comments before it was published. The final map precisely marks the extent of each vineyard with fine lines and uses a three-step gradation of color, much like the maps prepared today, to indicate three classes of wine. The best—the premières cuvées in the language of 1861, or grands crus in the language of today—are colored pink, the next best-colored yellow, and the others colored green. Beyond the brightly colored areas are a few slightly shaded lieux-dits and the nether regions of vins ordinaires in the plain and the hills of the back country. When one opens the map out to its full extent, it is easy to observe how the most highly regarded pink vineyards appear as a nearly continuous band along the lower slopes of the Côte. This map propounds the idea, through a very effective and topographically consistent use of color, that the lower slopes are where the best wine is made. And this fits with the claims of other authorities: the “regularity” of the landscape of this part of Burgundy as noted by the geographer Paul Vidal de la Blache, and the altitudinal range of great Pinot Noirs as reckoned by the viticulturist Alfred de Vergnette de Lamotte. The village of Flagey—which sits on the plain and finds itself excluded from the colored fine cuvées of the 1861 map, tarnished by its cursory vins ordinaires description, and little celebrated by Arnoux, Morelot, and Jullien in their accounts—should not, according to the thinking of Senator Mazeau, pretend to the glory of the lower slopes.
The basis of the claim of Flagey was not, in fact, its mediocre vineyards of the plain but rather a narrow strip of vineyards that reach up to the border of Vosne-Romanée and include above all the climat of Les Echézeaux. Once Vosne- Romanée had given up its claim to that climat in 1886, Flagey was free to build any and all claims upon it, and by the strict logic of territorial boundaries, the village managed in the end to gain government approval to honor the name of the village with that of its special viticultural exclave. But the legacy of the renaming is not the fame that the wine producers of Flagey might have hoped. Today, the wines of Les Echézeaux, despite having their own full appellation d’origine as a grand cru, are sometimes declassified and sold instead as Vosne-Romanée premier cru because they fetch a better price under that name. And the other wines of what is now called Flagey-Echézeaux still struggle for recognition, as Larousse put it some years ago, “with good reason: Most of the vines are planted on the wrong side of the road—i.e., in the plain, where the fertile soils provide too rich a medium for the very best wines.” This relentlessly orthodox topographical logic is also presented on other maps from the Côte that can be seen in the archives—the Carthusian monks’ map of their land in Nuits from 1674, for example, shows that same road (today’s D974, or Route Nationale 74) separating valuable tithed vineyards from free arable fields. And on the 1861 map mentioned earlier, that road largely marks a hard border to the east of the classed wines of the Côte d’Or. In fact, this latter map was admitted as evidence in the disputed delimitation of wines in Chambolle some 70 years after its production. The vineyards located to the east of the Route Nationale 74 were not to be allowed into the Chambolle- Musigny village appellation, and it was argued that the evidence
[…] consists above all in a map of vineyards producing “the great wines of Burgundy” drawn up in 1860 after a thorough and, in a way, official investigation, the aim of which was to class these wines “according to their merit.” It is very clear from this map that, at least for the village of Chambolle, the wines made from vineyards to the east of the Route Nationale were not classed.
The plain and the wrong side of the road are thus facts of geography that, with the aid of their repeated and widely respected presentation through maps, have taken on important and enduring connotations of quality. In the cases mentioned above, they were facts that could impede the renaming of a village and be the reason to exclude vineyards from the enjoyment of a new name. More widely, though, when one examines the historic maps of the Côte d’Or, as in Henri Poisot’s excellent Historique de la Cartographie des Grands Vignobles de Bourgogne compilation,9 one is struck by the repetition and the very gradual development of representational style. The naming of specific climats, the use of different colors to indicate degrees of quality, and their topographic reference to the slopes of the Côte is a constant—this stands out in comparing, for instance, the 1861 map mentioned earlier and that drawn by Camille Rodier to accompany his new edition of Le Vin de Bourgogne in 1948. I would argue that this constancy is itself a rhetorical device—one that allowed a succession of images to propound the locality, loyalty, and constancy of the region’s terroirs. They could be used, for example, to help persuade buyers as to the continuation of the reputation of the Côte d’Or after the ravages of phylloxera between 1860 and 1890. They helped locate the magic of terroir in the closely delimited clos and climats of the lower slopes, despite the turfing up and replanting of most productive grapevines on American rootstocks. The widely distributed maps of Lavalle and Bonnamas were templates that inspired further maps of the Côte in the late 19th and early 20th centuries40 and, by changing little, served to carry on the reputation and geographical dogma of the origin of the fine wines of Burgundy.
The economics of precision
Amid the gaiety of the fin de siècle and the belle époque and the soon-to-expire peace and prosperity of the Edwardians, popular knowledge and appreciation of wine grew in the nations of Europe, the territories of the European empires, and the Americas. The wine industries of Australia, South Africa, and the United States were already shipping wines to London that competed on price terms with those of France and Italy. But wine merchants on both sides of the English Channel were also offering more and more specific wines for more and more discerning customers. The example of Matrot Frères, a propriétaire and négociant based near Beaune, is instructive. In its brochure and price list of 1896, the company offered red and white wines from several villages on the Côte d’Or, such as Santenay, Beaune, and Pommard, sometimes with a cheaper “second growth” (2e cru), as well as some “ordinary” (ordinaire) Burgundy wines, of its own first and second choice (1er choix, 2e choix). All wines were sold by the pièce, a barrel of 228 liters, and where these were sold to intermediaries, there was little stopping the wine being bottled with fanciful or false names, as in the wine “baptisteries” near Bercy station in Paris mentioned by Bazin, before onward sale. Much of Burgundy was still apprehended “through a glass, darkly” by way of the discretion, classes, and nomenclature of négociants. By 1906, however, as well as offering wines for sale by the bottle for the first time, Matrot Frères were beginning to offer wines from those particular climats that had been appended to village names: Chambertin and Corton figure at the top of their list; along with a wine bearing the no longer extant double-barreled name of Blagny-Montrachet. Had the company bought up plots of land in those areas so that it could offer those wines, or was it simply following trends in nomenclature, in particular that embodied by the double-barreled renaming of villages? In London, meanwhile, Chambertin, Corton, and Clos Vougeot were also being sold per se to shoppers, sometimes with it even being mentioned that the wine was “bottled at the château.” All of this signals a trend in offering product with more specific provenance for a better-informed and more demanding clientele than even ten years earlier. Merchants were still trusted and still bottling, but the demand for specific wines would be met both by traditional specialist suppliers and in the new, glittering department stores such as Harrods, which prided themselves on offering apparently endless choice.
With the peace and reconstruction that followed the devastation of the Great War, the now mature idea of renaming villages to improve commercial prospects was once again put into application. By the time that the village of Pernand sought to rename itself Pernand-Vergelesses, that Auxey sought to rename itself Auxey-Duresses, and that Morey sought to rename itself Morey-St-Denis, each in honor of its most famous climat, the wines of Burgundy were undergoing a great revival. Camille Rodier published his Vin de Bourgogne books and maps in 1920, and the colorful 1861 map of the Côte d’Or, with its contoured climats and crus, was reissued in 1927. Gilles Laferté and Philip Whalen, among others, have described the “folklorization” and connection of terroir and heritage that were put to use in the promotion of Burgundy wines in the 1920s and 1930s. This built on both the nostalgic regionalist attitudes that had developed in many quarters, through which the word terroir took on a broader cultural and literary sense, and the increasing auto-mobility of the middle classes, through which edible products of terroir could be encountered sur place, even in the most remote parts of the country. A large gastronomic fair at which wines were given pride of place was put on in Dijon in 1921, and another in Mâcon in 1924. The now famous Paulée event in Meursault was given a new wind and a new cultural importance with the invention of its own literary prize in 1932, while the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin was begun in Nuits-St-Georges in 1934, setting a trend for medieval-looking confréries that spread throughout France’s gastronomic landscape. And in 1937, a large wine fair in Mâcon was surpassed only by a massive Burgundy pavilion built at the Paris Expo of the same year. In those interwar years, the national and international profile of Burgundy’s wines was built with determination, and the result, as historian Philip Whalen put it, was “an imaginative and enduring form of commercial regionalism that other French regions have since emulated.”
Although the logic of renaming a village in honor of a famous wine had been put to use many times over the preceding 80 years, the process was far from automatic, and oppositions could be raised before, during, or after the process was begun. In Morey, where the idea was being pursued in the 1920s, concerns were raised by a Mr Courcelles, acting for the principal landowner of the well-reputed St-Denis climat. In his correspondence with the mayor of Morey in the spring of 1926, Mr Courcelles explained that he did not wish confusion over changing nomenclature to impede negotiations he was holding with a potential buyer of his wine. Furthermore, he did not want the term “St-Denis” to be used to refer to an inch more than the territory of the climat it currently did. This was obviously a question of economic geography and, we might say, geographic economy. The commercial benefits of a name, tied to a specific area of vineyard, were jealously guarded by the beneficiaries. The mayor sought to reassure Mr Courcelles that there were no plans afoot to extend the climat of St-Denis, only to allow the name to be appended to that of the village. In keeping with the zeitgeist of getting history to work for the economic good in Burgundy, the mayor drew upon the idea that this renaming had been mooted in the past:
There was talk at one time of complementing the name of Morey with that of St Denis (Morey St Denis) so that the new name, being more sonorous, would better attract the attention of customers.
He even pushed this into a more personal dimension, adding:
Your late lamented brother-in-law was in favor of this idea, and gave his authorisation to the village of Morey for the addition of the St Denis name. Unfortunately, the village council of the time felt there was no need to pursue the matter.
The mayor must have been determined to push the renaming through. Records show he planned to hold discussions with a lawyer on the possibility of going ahead without this landowner’s permission. But they also show that his letter, and perhaps other overtures, were persuasive, because in the end Mr Courcelles gave his permission for the village of Morey to seek government approval for the renaming, “on the strict condition that no extension will be made to the St-Denis climat.” Forty-four wine producers of the village assembled at the behest of the mayor on March 30, 1926, and voted overwhelmingly in favor of changing the name. This served as an important basis for the village council meeting held four days later, in which the request was formally made, recorded, and passed up to the next link in the chain of government, the prefect at Beaune. The meeting listed as its two primary considerations (a) that the name of Morey is often confused with other villages of the same name elsewhere (Moret in the Jura, Morey in the Saône-et-Loire, and Moret near Paris) from which it ought to be distinguished, and (b) that adding the name of St-Denis, as a grand cru, to the name of Morey “cannot fail to help build the reputation” of wines from there. Given the progress that labeling, classification, and widespread knowledge of styles of wine had made by this time, and the abandonment of so many marginal areas of grape production after phylloxera, one wonders at the extent to which possible confusion with the above-named villages some distance away would have been a real concern. The second reason—of building reputation—must surely have been much more important. The rising tide of interest in Burgundy did not lift all boats at the same rate, and the value of the wines of Morey did not compare favorably with that of Vosne, Pommard, or Nuits, which had been successfully renamed Nuits-St-Georges in 1892. There was sensitivity to the fame of so many near neighbors—shown, for instance, in the record of a meeting of the Morey village council in 1925, at which funding was granted to support a regional wine fair to be held in Dijon—but only on the condition that “the order in which the names (crus) of wines appear on the promotional material be picked at random.” Nor did the value of Morey wines generally compare well with that of Chambolle, its neighboring village, with which it was involved in a territorial dispute that was not resolved until 1930.
Some uncomfortable truths were also raised by the government in Paris when the request reached them. As with previous villages that had sought to be renamed, an investigation was carried out at the behest of the Conseil d’Etat (Council of State). In a letter passed on by the prefect to the mayor of Morey on November 19, 1926, it is noted that the Conseil d’Etat is considering two potential problems:
On the one hand, Saint-Denis is not the only famous clos in Morey, and the owners of other vineyards risk having their interests harmed by the adoption of the proposed name. On the other hand, the village of Flagey-Echézeaux also has a Clos Saint-Denis, and might raise objections of a similar nature.
In these circumstances, the powers that be decided to surseoir à statuer (postpone their decision) until the councils of the two villages could discuss and agree the matter between them. But the response from Morey was brief and determined, saying that their wine producers had got together and had put forward the proposition “in full awareness of the relevant circumstances,” so they stand by it. The archives, at least, don’t show discussion of other climats in the village that could have been used for a less contentious renaming. The original request was eventually approved, and Morey became Morey- St-Denis on January 19, 1927, the last village on the Côte d’Or to be rebaptized in this way, some 80 years after the groundbreaking achievement of Gevrey-Chambertin.
By the time that Morey achieved its renamed status, the appellation d’origine system was beginning to make its progress through the national legislature of the Third Republic, and the kind of opposition that Morey experienced—concerns around economic inequalities, territorial limitations and coincident names—would be raised for other wines and later cheeses and other products from around the country as their producers sought the new form of legal protection. At the heart of this program was a powerful tension between two very French phenomena: on the one hand, the attachment to terroir and the sense of quality tied to provenance; on the other, the political will to equality and fraternity, and the wariness of great economic gains for the few at the expense of the many. When the French senator Joseph Capus was gathering support for his AOC project in the 1920s, opinion in Burgundy was divided. Some were in favor of measures to protect the names of famous wines from fraud and unfair competition—whether Australian Chablis for sale in London or lesser Burgundies sold under the name of famous crus. But other voices called out in dissent. At a meeting of viticultural unions from around Burgundy, the following opinion was broadcast:
The Capus project […] is rather biased, because it gets rid of everything that is unfavorable to fine wines and at the same time gets rid of everything that is favorable to ordinary wines.
That is to say, at the regional level, that the AOC project would compound the gains of the wines of the Côte d’Or over less celebrated areas such as the Mâconnais. But the fact is that the wines of the Côte d’Or were seen by many as the essence of Burgundy, the best of what could be imagined when that latter name was mentioned. It was the Côte d’Or that Claude Arnoux presented in his 1728 dissertation on Burgundy, and the wines of that Côte were, for Dr Morelot in 1831, “wines of premier quality; the reputation of Burgundy rests only on these wines.” The maps of 1855 and 1861 likewise proudly labeled the area they depicted as the home of the “grands vins” of Burgundy, and although maps and classifications of the wines of the Mâconnais, the Côte Chalonnaise, and Chablis came later in the 19th century, it was the wines of the Côte d’Or—intricate in their geographical distribution, famous for their climats, and known by their single and double-barreled names around the world—that would benefit from the legal protection of the AOC system.
Legal rulings in the late 1920s put an end, for example, to the sale of wines labeled “St Jacques Chambertin” and “Aloxe- Charlemagne”—fanciful combinations that would certainly raise the eyebrow of an INAO inspector today. Double barreling became a restricted activity, and one in which Morey and the other villages discussed in this article had stolen a march on the developing AOC regulations. The ever-stricter delimitations would reduce the degree to which evocative and esteemed names such as Bourgogne could be shared by producers anywhere in the region and those who enjoyed the lower slopes of the Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits. It would, in the eyes of some, only further benefit those wines that already enjoyed wide recognition and high estimation. But at a time when national political attention was drawn to the proliferation and confusion of appellations— that is, the names of France’s diverse agricultural products— one wine producer in Burgundy asked, “Which wine producer would refuse to abide by the rules?”—rules that he saw as an attempt to “introduce some order and balance to the current chaos!” With the eventual passing of the new AOC law in 1934, the direction of travel was set, and protections against fraud for fine wines would thereafter be attendant upon fine delimitations64—an association of name with territory and terroir that had long been propounded in representations of the villages and vineyards of the Côte d’Or.
Conclusion: quality by name
The exercise of renaming villages of the Côte d’Or in honor of their most famous crus or climats was tied to commercial gain from the beginning. Where wine producers and village mayors sought the approval of government for a name change, as in Morey, we can see a collective effort to promote the reputation for quality in wine production in a particular locality. This effort both geographically located the fame of the cru or climat, such as the Clos St-Denis, and associated its reputation with the other, mostly lesser vineyards nearby. Starting in the mid-19th century and accelerating in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this exercise rode the wave of renewed access to the wine market in England, where Burgundies would compete with wines from all over the world, and where much discernment was going on as more and more knowledge about wine and its provenance was spread. It benefited from the French economy itself growing under the Second Empire, and from the encyclopedic efforts of scholars in 19th-century France to chart, compare, and class things like wine. And it was another tool in the promotion of wines and defense of terroir following the destruction wrought by phylloxera. This rarely discussed exercise in double-barreling to better protect and promote wine-producing areas prefigured the AOC system that was propagated in the 1920s, and in both we can see the key role of cartography in associating place and product, reflecting names used on labels, and using lines to support (and contest) proprietary claims.
Should any further help have been necessary, the exercise of renaming in honor of a wine has compounded the economic and agricultural specialization of villages on the Côte d’Or, making it all the more valuable to concentrate on wine production within the prevailing norms—and all the more eccentric to use the land for something else. Names like Gevrey-Chambertin, which have perfused the national imagination and that of wine lovers around the world, are now powerful tools of recognition and promotion when seen on the map, in the territory, and on the product. These double-barreled names have not always generated exponential returns for the villages that adopted them—Flagey-Echézeaux, Morey-St-Denis, and Auxey-Duresses, for example, perhaps still don’t enjoy the distinction of Vougeot, Pommard, or Meursault, despite their extra sobriquet—but they contribute to a mystique, unambiguously locate the climat, and associate its fame with the other vineyards of the village. More widely, the fact that some terroirs in Burgundy are today so famous as to be perceived as “mythical” and that their histories are commonly transformed into myth owes a lot to the work that has been done to distinguish their reputations by marrying their names to specific bounded territories, putting both within more or less historically fixed schemes of classification, and communicating them in imaginatively compelling ways. As we have seen in this article, naming a village after a wine draws attention to the village, the vineyard, and the wine, and it ties the economic fortunes of its producers to the international reception of a place that has become a brand. Champagne and Chablis, like Port and Sherry, represent close association between wine and region, but brands like Vosne-Romanée and Chassagne-Montrachet are the ultimate expression of a desire to relate product to place, because they leave so little room for ambiguity or exception. They have drawn upon a synonym of quality even before they reach the shelves of the wine shop or the sensoria of wine critics, and they locate it in a few precious parcels of vineyard, worked for centuries and bounded by the lines of countless maps. As geographers and historians begin to examine the role of toponymy in relations of commerce, identity, and power, it may be a good time to reflect on how the words we use to refer to the wines of Burgundy today are far from accidental or arbitrary. What’s in a name? A whole vintage history.