Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune and a Wine Tasting

On our last day in Beaune, we visited the Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune, one of the main tourist attractions in Beaune and a beautiful place to boot.

The Hôtel-Dieu was built by a wealthy man, Nicolas Rolin, who some say was trying to buy forgiveness for his many sins by building a hospital for the poor. Begun in 1443, it was a hospital and shelter for the poor, run by the church and paid for by Rolin.  In the 1470s, it inherited the first of several vineyards, ensuring a perpetual income following Rolin’s death.   The auctioning of the Hôtel-Dieu’s wine (the grapes are harvested and pressed, and the juice is sold off to other houses for actual vinification and bottling) is still the biggest commercial and social event in Beaune every year.

At any rate, the Hôtel-Dieu was a working hospital from 1451 to 1971, and still houses a retirement/nursing home.  The Hospices de Beaune, which runs the Hôtel-Dieu, runs the retirement home as well as another retirement home and a modern hospital located elsewhere in town, all paid for by their annual wine auction.

Because the Hôtel-Dieu was in continual operation all those years, it was maintained well and much of its original architectural character has been preserved.  It’s a pretty stunning place, as you can see.

Main hospital ward - looking toward altar
Beds along main hospital ward
One note about the roof – the Duchy of Burgundy (before it was a part of France) for many years reached well up into northern Europe through marriage to a wealthy Flemish family.  The colored tiles on the roof of the Hôtel-Dieu reflect the impact of Flanders, and these tiled roofs can be seen throughout Burgundy.
Flemish roof tiles in courtyard

Gargoyle roof detail in courtyard

Finally, you can’t go to Burgundy without going to a wine tasting.  Now wine tastings aren’t exactly our thing.  It gets to be too much wine to taste in too short a period of time (it all starts to taste the same), and it can feel pretentious.  We know lots of tourists spend their entire Burgundy vacation going from one vineyard to another, but not us. 

But we had to do one, so we picked a company called Patriarche Pere & Fils (father and sons) that bottle and store their wine from several different appellations in Burgundy right in Beaune, about a five minute walk from our apartment.  We could taste lots of different types of wine without having to drive and without having too far to go as we carried wine home (because of course we would buy a few bottles).

Housed in an old convent confiscated during the French revolution, the original Patriarche, a wine grower in a nearby town, bought it from the government in 1796 mostly for its cellars that could be used to store wine. It has five kilometers of vaulted cellars that store millions of bottles of wine, and the best thing about the place is the self-guided tours through the cellars.  There are self-service kiosks every so often that allow you to listen to a bit of info in one of many languages, but mostly you just get to wander through a seemingly endless warren of cellars, each low-ceilinged and very dim.  Not the place for claustrophobics!

Typical wine cellar view
Old dust-covered bottles ripening...
It was an interesting experience, wandering the cellars which dated back to the 12th century.  There were no security staff we saw and no cameras, and because it's the off-season, there were almost no other visitors either.  It was cool, damp, dark and quiet as a tomb.

Finally we came out into the candlelit tasting rooms, essentially more little cellars with wines to taste  set up on a series of wine barrels.  As part of the tour, each person received a tastevin (a small shallow silver bowl) to use for the tastings, and to take home as a souvenir.
Tasting station for the Gevrey-Chambertin

We worked our way through, and came out on the other end with several bottles to take home (for the rest of our stay in France), and a strong desire for a nap!

Our last dinner in Beaune was at Le P'tit Paradise, a teeny restaurant (nine tables) on a practically deserted side street.  It was so small you had to have a reservation, and the menu was limited but just great.
  • Beef carpaccio (Valyn); foie gras and king prawns in aspic (Craig)
  • Stuff chicken (Valyn); roasted pigeon (Craig)
  • Pineapple 'carpaccio' with sorbet (Valyn); rhubarb compote (Craig)
A very nice way to end our week in Burgundy.

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