The 19th century, the golden age of Bourgogne wines

In the 19th century, Bourgogne saw a huge growth in sales. Driven by the early days of modern winegrowing and accompanied by scientific progress, it was a major success around the world. Until the arrival of phylloxera…

Did you know ?

In the 19th century, the renown of Bourgogne wines even fed into the literature of the day

In Around the Moon, a futuristic novel by Jules Verne, three men set off to explore the Moon. To reach their goal, they are fired out of a giant space gun in a bullet-shaped projectile, which takes them to the Moon.
When they reach their destination, they celebrate by opening a bottle of wine from Nuits-Saint-Georges !
It was in memory of that literary event that the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 led by Neil Armstrong took a label from a bottle of Nuits-Saint-Georges wine to the moon and left it there.

From research to classification

© BIVB / MONNIER H Development of wine trade in Europe.

Did you know that Napoleon I would only allow Chambertin wine to be served at his table?
Like him, the gourmets of the 19th century hailed the wines of Bourgogne, as far away as Russia and America. Rich Bourgogne families of négociants-éleveurs exported these delicate wines. They bought the wines from winegrowers, aged them in their cellars and then bottled them or put them in barrels before selling them.

In these times of technical and scientific innovation, Bourgogne also underwent certain developments that marked the start of modern winegrowing:

  • Chaptalization

This process was invented in 1801 by the chemist Jean-Antoine Chaptal. It involves adding sugar to the grape juice or must prior to or during the fermentation process. This practice makes the wine easier to store by boosting the alcoholic content when it is too low. It is strictly regulated and is only used for wines that are too low in sugar due to poor weather conditions during the growing season.

  • Discoveries by Louis Pasteur

In 1866, this great savant explained how wine turned into vinegar due to the action of microorganisms such as yeast and bacteria. This new understanding helped winemakers improve the quality and conservation of their wines.

  • Innovations from Jules Guyot

In 1868, Dr. Jules Guyot wrote a paper recommending a range of new winegrowing practices to better organize the vineyard and the work in the vines. For example, he advised planting vines at regular intervals in clearly defined rows in order to be able to work the soil with a horse-drawn plow.

In parallel, other scientists were seeking better ways to classify the wines of Bourgogne according to their qualities and the plots where the grapes were grown. The first classifications were proposed in 1827 and 1831. They were reused in 1855 by Dr. Lavalle, who established an official hierarchy of wines, divided into several categories:

  • “Hors-ligne” or “outstanding” wines

This list included the most prestigious wines such as Romanée-Conti and Clos de Vougeot, which were then sub-classified into two groups: “tête de cuvée numéro un” and “tête de cuvée numéro deux.”

  • “Première cuvée’ and “deuxième cuvée” wines

These categories cover all the other wines.

However, while the wines of Bourgogne were enjoying great success, the vineyards were hit by an unprecedented crisis. From 1875 onwards, they were struck by phylloxera, a bug that destroyed the plants. It came from America and devastated wine production and the area of land under vine.
Insecticides didn’t work, so in 1888, the winemakers adopted a novel solution: grafting. From then on, French vines were grafted onto American rootstock, which was naturally resistant to the phylloxera bug, with no consequence for the resulting wine.

Thirty years later, Bourgogne had been replanted and had a totally new look. It had been reorganized according to Dr. Guyot’s advice and was better ordered and better aerated, as it is today.
This new arrangement in the vineyards also permitted the use of the first agricultural machinery.


Ploughed in horse

in Burgundy