: The dukes of Burgundy

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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From a byword for largesse in Avignon, Burgundian wine became a status symbol with the Valois dukes, four generations of whom governed Burgundy from 1363 to 1477. The first duke, Philip the Bold (1363–1404), son of King John of France, took a keen interest in the wine of the region, its most important export. In 1395, he issued a decree declaring the gamay grape variety to be harmful to human beings and its planting contrary to Burgundian practice. The first mention of the pinot noir grape, named Noirien, dates only from the 1370s, but in all probability the grape had been in use longer. Modern Gamay has a far higher yield than Pinot Noir, and documentary evidence suggests that the same was true in the 14th century. In the same decree, Philip inveighs against the use of organic fertilizers, presumably because it also increased yields. Philip was trying to maintain quality, while many growers thought that manure and Gamay would make for easy profits. Although Philip the Bold wanted every single Gamay plant uprooted by the next Easter, we find his grandson Philip the Good (1429–67) still thundering against the inferior vine, which he says is a threat to both the wines and the dukes of Burgundy. Fearing for his immortal soul, Philip the Good’s rapacious Chancellor Nicolas Rolin built the famous hospices de beaune in 1443.