Beaune is the epicenter of Burgundy's wine trade and the second-largest town in the famous Cote d'Or wine region. Just as Nuits-Saint-Georges gives its name to the Cote de Nuits, so Beaune’s name has been adopted for the southern half of the Cote d’Or escarpment, the Cote de Beaune.
For centuries, Beaune has been so intrinsically associated with Burgundy’s wines that before the formalization of France’s appellation system in the mid-20th century, its name was widely used as a generic title for any locally produced wine. Since the creation of the town’s communal AOC Beaune appellation in September 1936, only wines from Beaune vineyards have been able to use the name.
Since 1859, the town and its wine producers have hosted a charity wine auction known as the Hospices de Beaune, an event that has become significant not only in the local social calendar, but also as an indicator of pricing trends for the current vintage. The Hotel-Dieu, a 15th-century hospital for the poor which is famous for its extravagant roof and imposing architecture, is the main beneficiary.
Beaune is much more developed than other parts of the district, and a large proportion of the town is given over to commercial and residential use – land that would otherwise be covered with vineyards. Over the centuries, however, Beaune's expansion has been carefully guided away from the prime vineyard sites on the Cote d’Or slopes towards the flatter land east of the old town.
Modern Beaune is neatly divided by the tracks for the high-speed trains that run between Dijon and the south coast. On the western side lie the ancient slopes, their vineyards, the old town and the headquarters of long-established wine merchants. To the east are the metal warehouses and industrial units of modern wineries, plus the A6 motorway – the Autoroute du Soleil – which links Paris to the Mediterranean via Burgundy and the Rhone valley.
Beaune wines have always been predominantly red, made from Burgundy’s flagship grape, Pinot Noir. Recently, though, with growing international demand for Chardonnay, the town has increased its production of white wine. Nearly 300,000 bottles of white Beaune wine are now made under the commune's appellation each year, although this still represents just 20% of the total output. The reds for which the town is better known strike a middle ground in Burgundy's wine styles. They are not as rich or ‘masculine’ as those from Pommard, immediately to the south, nor as structured as the Grand Cru wines from Corton, immediately to the north.
The Beaune appellation has an unusually high proportion of Premier Cru-classified vineyards, with more than 40 climats stretching in an uninterrupted belt across the commune from north to south. Wines from these sites are permitted by law to bear the title Beaune Premier Cru.