Tag: Dijon

Father’s Day: Wine tasting in Burgundy

Wine tasting in Beaune, May 2010

This first is blended with blackcurrants.

The second has hints of honey and balsamic vinegar. The third packs a punch of spiced gingerbread.

We tuck in as Marc Desarmenien, General Manager of Fallot, explains the favourable combination of terroir, natural resources and climate.

We’re in Burgundy, the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay-producing heart of France’s wine trade, but we’re not talking vin with Monsieur Desarmenien. This tasting is dedicated to Burgundy’s other world-beater: mustard.

“As a moutardier, I’m looking for a rich-yellow hue and a strong, not spicy, taste.”

“A winemaker seeks subtlety but I’m more concerned with the combination of flavours,” explains Marc, offering more canapés to dip into the coloured pools of mustard daubed artistically on the plate like Picasso’s palette.

Marc’s grandfather founded the Fallot mustard mill in 1928 and it now produces some 85,000 tones of mustard per year. It is the only one left of 30 mills from Burgundy’s mustard-producing salad days.

But Marc is sanguine. The honey and balsamic vinegar blend recently won them a contract with Waitrose.

“Mustard has a 3,000-year history from China to Burgundy,” explains Marc, taking us on a guided tour, first an interactive romp through the history of mustard in France, then a high-tech factory visit with graphics explaining the science of preparing the wild mustard seed.

“Mustard is mystical and medicinal. It was even used in Britain in Victorian times as a tonic.”

Weekend escape

Mustard, wine and curative properties are to feature heavily on the agenda for the weekend.

I’m here with my 71-year-old father to celebrate both his birthday and 100 years of Father’s Day in the UK this June.

France caught up with the event in 1952. It’s over 15 years since dad last time dad took a holiday and it was 1947 when he was last in Burgundy, still wearing short trousers.

But why Burgundy for a dad-doting weekend? Simple.

Dukes, vineyards, museums, gingerbread, churches and lashings of mustard, plus five hours from St Pancras by Eurostar and TGV with a short metro hop across Paris in between.

No queues, no hassle and definitely no volcanic ash-inspired delays. It’s perfect for father-son bonding trip.

Room with a view

We start our visit in the wine town of Beaune, indulging dad’s interest in heritage with a guided tour in English of the 15th-century Hotel-Dieu.

Built by Nicolas Rolin, one of the Dukes of Burgundy, as a perceived way to fast track a place in Heaven, the lavishly designed hospice has been a place of healing since the Middle Ages.

Part of the complex is still a working retirement home today. Dad is already eyeing up one of the rooms with shuttered windows set among the flower-strewn garden.

Less appealing, however, is collection of ceramic jars of traditional cures in the old pharmacy. That’s a paste of herbs, snake skin and opium, a dose of which was traditionally given to every new arrival.

After a simple but satisfying lunch of ham terrine, beef tongue and crème caramel at a homely local bistro, plus the obligatory glass of something fruity and fragrant, we make our way through the historic, cobbled streets of Beaune to Sensation Vin, a wine cellar-cum-classroom.

Tasting session

The owners left the wine trade some four years ago to set up a cellar where anyone with an interest in Burgundy wine, but a low threshold of knowledge, can call in for a one-hour crash course in wine appreciation. It includes a blind tasting of six local wines. Co-owner Celine Dandelot explains:

“People are afraid of stuffy tastings at local wine cellars. It can be intimidating, so we try to demystify the process.”

Dad and I take our seats at a lightbox-style tasting table and watch the introductory briefing on the wall-mounted TV as Celine uncorks the bottles.

The five wine-producing regions of Burgundy, we learn, produce 200m bottles of wine per year, one third red, two thirds white. These are split into four categories: grand cru, premier cru, village and region.

“We simply look at colour, smell and taste, repeating the same three tests for each of the six wines,” explains Celine. “You can tell the age of a wine form its colour and its aroma. By tasting, we identify its characteristics.”

Sure enough, after just a few minutes, we are plotting the wines on a Venn diagram, ranging from young wines with a floral nose and high acidity to mature wines with cooked-fruit aromas and higher levels of tannins.

Best of all, the relaxed, speak-your-mind ambiance takes the stiltedness out of the tasting.

A summer breeze is gently ruffling the sun-basking landscape as we head north to Dijon later that day, following the Route des Grands Crus that cuts a grape-growing swathe through the heart of the Cotes de Nuits slopes.

As we trundle along country lanes, regimented battalions of vines stand to attention. Isolated, stone worksheds spring out from the hillsides against a thousand-acre sky.

Plots of land, demarcated by weather-aged walls, are interspersed by proud stone crosses, keeping sentry duty by the roadside.

Lazy morning

After a hearty dinner and a good night’s sleep in the newly restyled fifth-floor rooms at Dijon’s Hotel La Cloche, we set out the next morning to explore the city, catching the free, city-circling shuttle bus to the stately main square, Place de la Liberation, with its pavement cafés and dancing fountains.

The morning is spent leisurely, weaving through historic passageways, marveling at the produce for sale at the traditional covered market and stopping for an espresso boost and some people watching.

There’s time for souvenir hunting too: traditional Burgundy gingerbread biscuits from the Rose de Vergy patisserie and a dainty, ceramic mustard pot from Boutique Maille, Dijon’s celebrated shrine to mustard.

Dad has loved the good food and wine, the sense of heritage and gentle mooching around one of France’s most attractive regions, not to mention sampling his own body weight in mustard.

And I’ve enjoyed sharing it with him. We don’t need to wait until the next father’s day for another generation-spanning weekend away.

Besides, dads do a hard job us and they deserve their moments in the sun too.

* This article was first published in the Daily Mail in 2010. 

* Liked this? Try also Is fatherhood really worth it?

Talking contemporary art in Burgundy


* Sometimes commissions go wrong. This was one. I was commissioned to write this piece during summer 2012 with a view to running it in the October issue of Metropolitan, the magazine for Eurostar. The the editor left, the piece got spiked and I didn’t get paid – that’s freelancing for you. But I did write it and, at least, I can run the copy here for those who helped with the trip and on-the-ground research.

The location, an unassuming house on Dijon’s Avenue Eiffel opposite a Casino supermarket, looks nondescript.

But beyond the green-iron gates is this month’s hottest art opening in France: the new studio of the Chinese-born, Dijon-adopted painter, Yan Pei-Ming.

The low-key opening by one of the most lauded contemporary artists is typical of Burgundy.

While Paris has well-established galleries for contemporary art clustered around Odeon and Bastille, Burgundy’s at scene remains relatively unknown, a discrete but revolutionary find in a region traditionally associated with the classical art of the 14th century Dukes of Burgundy.

But it’s contemporary work that is now sweeping Burgundy — from ephemeral installations in rural villages to bold-statement openings like L’ Usine, Dijon’s new contemporary art space unveiled quietly last summer.

Sherry Thevenot, who leads art-themed tours around the region with Burgogne Authentique, says:

“These artistic statements are a pleasurable surprise for visitors, a new canvas for artists and a boost to rural villages in Burgundy,”

We meet some of the faces behind the burgeoning Burgundian art scene.


“I’m still an anarchist,” says Xavier Douroux, the founding father of the Burgundy art scene, swivelling playfully on his office chair on the top floor of L’Usine. “I like to make conflict if that conflict changes something for the better.”

Douroux was one of the founders of the groundbreaking Dijon art space, Le Coin du Miroir, in 1977. An art student with classical training but an anti-bourgeois streak, one of his first projects was to turn his student apartment into a gallery – and early take on the Consortium – and invite internationally known artists to show their work.

“Dijon is different to places like Lyon, Nantes or Lille as a reference point for contemporary art. That’s why we started here and we stayed here,” he says, a mass of grey curls piled higher on his head than the art books accumulating on his desk. He adds:

“The artists have created their own energy here. It hasn’t been programmed, it happened organically.”

Since those early punk-rock days, Douroux has become a focal point for the artistic community, currently juggling 15 new art projects around Burgundy alone with a further ten outside the region. He has been particularly active in taking art into dying rural communities, including creating a trail of installations around old lavoir, communal village washhouses.

Some of these isolated farming communities took some convincing that an art installation would enrich their environment. “Of course it takes time. You have to meet with the farmers, drink with them, and go fishing with them.

He smiles. “I’m not trying to convince people that contemporary art is the best thing in the world. I’m just happy we had an experience together.”

One of the latest initiatives is to open a private art space in the village of Vosne-Romanée, home to the world-renowned winemaker Aubert de Villaine of the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. The space opens this October with work by the local artist Bertrand Lavier.

Also in October, L’Usine will host a new exhibition of works from the Consortium collection, including pieces by Francois Morellet amongst others.

Despite being increasingly as part of the art established with the ear of ministers and artists, Douroux is still proud of his anarchist streak. “Art is something free but it has energy,” he says.

“When we create art, it gives us energy to build new something new.”


Paris-based art school inspector Alain Gislot and art teacher Edith Bricogne found a ruined 17th-century chateau while holidaying in rural Burgundy in 1986. They decided to restore it and, by 2002, had turned the sprawling mansion into Arcade, a cutting-edge atelier for design.

The Chateau de Sainte Colombe en Auxois now hosts three major exhibitions each year, all based around a central theme, and attracts some 3,000 visitors annually to a formerly lost-in-time village some 60km northwest of Dijon.

“Of course it was pure folly,” laughs Alain, basking in autumn sunshine by a wicker seat with a tree growing through it, a living-chair installation by the artist Pascal Stemmelin. “We did it because we are passionate about design.”

“People are afraid of the word design,” he adds, “but we bring students from the major art schools here to guide visitors through the exhibitions and explain the ideas behind the pieces to make it more accessible.”

“I hope,” he adds, “we change perspectives.”

The current exhibition, Entrelacer: Des Lignes au Volume, based around the idea of interconnections, runs until October 14. It includes furniture, lighting and, notably, new work by the Paris-based textile designer Helene Pillet-Will. “I like the experimentation with new materials in these works,” says Edith. “They have soul.”

The new season starts in April 2013 with the exhibition Textiles du Monde, based around the concept of less is more. Le Jardin de Camille, a new permanent outdoor piece by the Burgundy artist Bernard Lavier was installed spring 2012 to recreate St Mark’s Square, the famous meeting point in Venice, next to the village’s Romanesque church.

Yet, despite support from the Burgundy art community, funding remains a major concern and the curators are now looking for a full-time director. Alan laughs.

“We have never taken a salary for our work. It’s crazy. We do it for the passion.”


Francois Barnoud runs his engineering business from an industrial estate on the eastern fringes of Dijon. But he’s also recently opened a new wing to his office block next door — and it’s no storeroom.

Entrepot Neuf is one of the most radical new spaces for art in Burgundy, a minimalist rectangular gallery dedicated to new and experimental artists.

A recent exhibition featured digital-media work by the Mexican artist Miguel Chevalier. This October, the gallery showcases collected works from Barnoud’s own private collection.

“My first passion was jazz but, when I went to the first international art fair in Paris in 1986, it struck me that, like there is genius in jazz, there must be genius in contemporary art,” says the softly-spoken President of Geotec, sitting behind a desk piled high with papers, proposals and the proofs of his first book.

“I simply started collecting what I liked. And I liked the fact that, by bringing provocative contemporary art to Dijon, it would shake up the city’s bourgeois mentality.”

Over the years, and after several previous forays into running art spaces in the city, including giving over his own home over to art in the Nineties, Barnoud has given early exposure to young artists who have gone onto to earn international plaudits.

The Cameroon-born artist Barthélémy Toguo was first shown by Barnoud, while the French artists Georges Rousse and Philippe Gronon both had early shows in his spaces.

But, while art is still — for now — generously support by the French Ministry of Culture, Barnoud has always rejected government grants in favour of private enterprise.

“A French company can use five per cent of its business turnover to buy the work of a living artist. If you show that work to the public, then you can assign the cost to your company accounts,” explains Barnoud.

He hopes Entrepot Neuf will convince fellow business leaders to join him in collecting and showing art.

“It’s always been an uphill battle convincing people to invest,” he laughs, “but I always rather enjoyed the fight.”

* Liked this? Try also Father’s Day in Burgundy.

And post your comments below.

Story of the day: Dijon City Guide


I’ve been to Dijon and Burgundy several times over the last few years to follow the story of the urban renaissance.

This story, taken from the Independent, details the final visit last autumn. There’s another story to come for the Sunday Telegraph this spring with a modern art angle. The first trip with my dad (pictured above) was about wine tasting.

Here’s an extract:

Place Darcy has been symbolic of Dijon of late: a work in progress. But, as part of “Le Grand Dijon”, the master plan to revitalise the city by its ambitious mayor, François Rebsamen, Dijon’s sleek new trams are now gliding across the historic city centre.

“Dijon has really come alive with revived public spaces and new pedestrianised streets,” says tour guide Sherry Thevenot of Bourgogne Authentique. “It still has the classical sites, but a new sense of vibrancy pervades.”

That’s it for Burgundy, I think, unless you know more story angles? Time to move on, or more to explore?

Post your thoughts below.