Famous for its tapestry of vineyards that stretch like a jigsaw across this classic wine region, Burgundy still carries so much influence over the rest of the world.
Here VINEX takes a look at its 2020 harvest and its key export trends.
If any wine region can strike fear into the heart of the most seasoned of wine professionals, it must surely be Burgundy..
One of France’s most famous wine producing regions, and revered around the world for its iconic wines and for its unique terroir, it is also notorious for the complexity of its wines and their classification system.
Situated in north east France, it covers an area from Mâcon in the south to Auxerre in the north, and is characterised by numerous small villages and a patchwork of vineyards in rolling countryside.
Winemaking here dates back to the Romans in the first century AD, but it was the Catholic monks that really
established the vineyards in the Middle Ages, producing wine for the Church and the Dukes of Burgundy.
Today the region is now most famous for its dry red wines made from Pinot Noir and whites from Chardonnay. Other grape varieties widely used in the region include Gamay and Aligote, while small quantities of rosé and sparkling wines are also produced. It has five key wine growing areas, namely Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, Côte Challonaise and Mâconnais.
Burgundy’s key wine growing regions
This is Burgundy’s most northerly growing location and is world famous for its Chardonnays. It sits geographically apart from the rest of Burgundy, and in reality is closer to Champagne, both in terms of location and climate, with cold winters, spring frosts and hot summers. The main soil here, as in Champagne, is limestone.
The Côte de Nuits
The Côte de Nuits, which begins just south of Dijon and ends at the village of Corgoloin is home to 24 Grand Cru vineyards, and some of the world’s most valuable wine producing land. Around 80% of the wines made here are Pinot Noir, with the remainder either Chardonnay or rosé. These Grand Cru vineyards form a patchwork on the eastern slopes facing the Saône River valley, and most are small and can have many owners due to French inheritance laws. The Pinot Noirs produced here are some of the world’s most expensive.
Côte de Beaune
Further south lies the Côte de Beaune, named after the medieval village that lies at the heart of Burgundy winemaking, and is renowned for its rich Chardonnays. Here, seven of the eight Grand Cru vineyards produce white wines, including famous names such as Corton and Montrachet.
Collecatively the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune are called Côte d’Or, and are considered amongst the most important regions in Burgundy.
Continuing south and the Côte Chalonnaise is situated between Chagny and Sain-Vallerin, where there are no grand Cru vineyards. The region is best known for its better value Pinot Noirs and sparkling Crémant wine. The first village in the northern part of the region is Bouzeron, the only appellation dedicated to Burgundy’s other main white grape variety, Aligoté
The Mâconnais is the most southerly region of Burgundy, as well as its largest, and known for its good value wines. In the middle of the region lies Viré-Clessé, which was declared an appellation in 1999, and the warmer climate –where harvests typically begin a full two weeks earlier than in Chablis- is apparent in its well structured Chardonnays. The main producing area, however, is Pouilly- Fuissé which lies to the south, with many of the vineyards bordering Beaujolais.
Burgundy wine classifications
With 100 appellations - more AOC’s than any other French region – it is not surprising that Burgundy can appear confusing and complex.
However, in simple layman’s terms, the AOCs are classified into four categories:
- Bourgogne’s regional wines account for over half (52%) of production;
- followed by Village wines comprising 27% of production and made from a village or commune of Burgundy such as Chablis, Nuits-St-Georges and Macon Villages.
- Moving up the quality scale, Premier Cru wines account for 10% of total output and include wines from 640 plots (called climats).
- And at the very top of the quality rankings sit the Grand Cru wines which account for a mere 1% of all production and include wines from Burgundy’s very top plots – which are often situated only inches away from Premier Cru vineyards.
There are 33 Grand Crus in the Côte d’Or with around 60% of production dedicated to Pinot Noir.
Last year Burgundy exported its world famous wine to 169 different markets, and exceeded 90 million bottles, a small (0.8%) increase on 2019, bringing in a revenue of over one billion euros, according to the region’s trade body the BIVB.
While the value of shipments during 2020 stagnated, it still posted strong growth – up 42% on the 15-year average, with volumes up 2.2%
Europe accounted for over half (52%) of all of Burgundy’s overseas sales, and 39% of its total revenue, with exports to the region up by 10.8% in volume and 11.6% in value compared to 2019.
However, the Covid pandemic has seen sales to other overseas markets hit, with overall sales down by 8.4% in volume and 7.3% in revenue.
Sales were largely driven by white wines, which were up by 2.7% in volume and 1.1% in terms of revenue compared to 2019.
There were some outliers, however, with shipments to South Korea soaring by over 55% in value, and Denmark (+ 28%) and the Netherlands (+27%) also showing particularly strong growth.
The US is Burgundy’s top overseas market by value, accounting for 17% of all export revenue and volumes. However, sales were down by over 15% in volume and 22% in value last year, thanks to the impact of the hefty tariffs applied to French wines imported into the US.
Whilst there was an upturn in the second half of the year, with sales picking up by 3.4% in volume and 5.6% in value compared to the same period in 2019, this did not make up for losses experienced earlier in the year.
The UK accounts for 16% of revenue and 19% of volumes of total exports. Last year shipments increased by 14.3% in volume and 12% in revenue, and returned the country to its position as the leading export market by volume, leapfrogging the US after two years of consecutive growth.
Burgundy white wines accounted for a full 40% of the volumes of French white AOC wines shipped to the UK, and 58% of revenues last year.
However, despite this strong performance, there are concerns over whether sales to the UK will remain at current levels, due to fears over Brexit, which led to stockpiling in the UK before the country left the EU.
There are also worries about the impact of Covid, as the UK has been the worst affected country in Europe.
Japan is the third biggest international market for Burgundy, making up 11% of revenue and 8% of volumes, and has grown signficantly in importance to the French region, with revenue growth surging by over half between 2005 and 2020.
Last year, however, saw volumes slide by 3.3% and revenue down by 1.6%. While shipments held up well during the first half of 2020, they fell back in the second half.
While Japan has been less heavily impacted by Covid than many western countries, the prospects for Burgundy in Japan still look uncerteain, according to the BIVB.
China remains the fourth largest international market for Burgundy. During 2020, however, shipments were down by 12% in volume terms, but slightly up – 1.2% - in revenue. And while the Chinese market has traditionally been driven by red wines, accounting for 92% of French AOC wines shipped there, during 2020 exports fell by 20% in volume and over 18% in value, with only Village and Village Premier Cru wines from the Côte de Nuits showing positive growth.
Burgundy’s white wines experienced growth, up by 4.1% in volue and 18.6% in revenue terms.
Chablis and Petit-Chablis which account for nearly a third (30.5%) of total volumes and over a quarter (24.4%) or revenue from Burgundy white wines saw sales up by 7.5% in volume terms and 5.7% in revenue.
Régionale Mâcon wines meanwhile, which comprise over a fifth (21%) of the volume and 9.5% of the revenue from all Burgundy white wines saw sales increase by 8.7% in volume and 1.8% in terms of revenue.
nd Premier Cru wines from Côte de Beaune and Côte de Nuits which between them make up nearly 5% of volumes and almost a fifth (17.7%) of the revenue from Burgundy white wines also enjoyed an uplift in sales, by 0.8% in volume terms and 2.6% in revenue.
The 2020 vintage
- Last year’s Burgundy harvest was up by nearly 7% on the five year average with white wines accounting for a record 64% of total volumes.
- White wine yields were up by 13.5% on the five year average, at 994,226hl, and up by nearly a third (32.8%) on the 2019.
- Chablis put in a particularly strong performance last year, with yields up by 16% compared to the five year average.
- Whites from the Maconnais also posted good growth, up by 12.3% on the average.
- Conversely, red wines saw yields fall by 12% on the five year average, weighing in at 362,971hl, which represented a 1.7% decline on 2019.
- The regions posting the biggest falls in production were Mercurey and Mercurey Premier Cru appellations, which were down 23.5% on the past five year average.
- Rosé yields were also down, plunging by nearly a quarter (24.2% on the five year average), while Cremant de Bourgogne was up by over 20% on the five year average, and a hefty 51.4% compared to 2019 with 196,084hl.
2020 – 2021 transactions
- Total sales for the first six months of the campaign were up by 29% compared to the same period a year previously, and by 19% compared to the five year average.
- Bulk wine transactions were significantly higher than the previous year, according to the BIVB, with sales up by 12.3% on the same period in 2019-2020 and 8.2% higher than the five year average.
- Bottled wines were up by 1.6%, accounting for nearly 35% of total volumes leaving estates, with this growth being driven largely by white wines.
White wine growth:
- 414,491hl of white wines: Up 23.5% on the five-year average, for 58.4% of volumes
- 57,551hl of red wines: Down 3.8% on the five-year average, for 22.2% of volumes
- 731hl of rosé wines: Down 41.4% on the five-year average, for 0.2% of volume
- 136,389hl of Crémant de Bourgogne: Up 19% on the five-year average, for 19.2% of volumes ·
Overall, red wines were down in the first six months of the campaign, but certain appellations remained dynamic:
Several red appellations also showed growth: ·
- Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits: Up 11.3% on the first six months of the 2019-2020 campaign, for 5.2% of volumes ·
- Bourgogne Côte Chalonnaise: Up 39.4%, for 3.74% of volumes ·
- Mercurey: Up 16.9%, for 3.4% of volumes
- Gevrey-Chambertin: Up 7.2%, for 3.9% of volumes