Clos de Vougeot is a large Grand Cru vineyard and corresponding appellation in the small village of Vougeot. The walled site is the largest Grand Cru in the Cote de Nuits sub-region of Burgundy, with 124 acres (50ha) under vine.
The sheer size of the Clos de Vougeot climat makes it distinctive among the top vineyards of the Cote d'Or, where the average Grand Cru site is closer to 35 acres (14ha). There is a particularly obvious contrast between Vougeot and its southern neighbor Vosne-Romanee, whose six meticulously classified Grand Crus have an average surface area of only 11 acres (4.5ha).
(© BIVB / DR)
The Clos de Vougeot was officially classified as Grand Cru in 1937. The whole clos was granted this prestigious title – delimited according to the location of the clos wall, rather than the actual quality of the terroir. Many in the modern wine world openly question whether this decision was in keeping with the high standards imposed on the other Burgundy Grand Crus, and suggest that only some parts of this ancient vineyard are truly deserving of the classification.
There are about 18 sub-divided lieux-dits within the Clos de Vougeot, reflecting the fact that ownership of the land was historically divided between the Cistercian monks who planted the original vines, the Roman Catholic Church and the French crown. These divisions became less meaningful after the French Revolution, when the land was confiscated by the state and subsequently sold to a rich banker. Today, the clos is divided into over 100 plots, owned by more than 80 individuals from various families and domaines. France's Napoleonic inheritance laws have meant that this type of multiple ownership prevails throughout Burgundy's vineyards.
These divisions have had profound implications for the quality (and resulting reputation) of Clos de Vougeot wine. While in the past, grapes from all over the site could be blended to achieve a balanced style under a single label, the numerous different producers now have only their own small patches of terroir. Some produce grapes worthy of Grand Cru status, but many do not – meaning that modern Clos de Vougeot wine is of highly variable quality.
To earn the right to bear the Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru title, wines must be made from at least 85% Pinot Noir grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are permitted to a maximum of 15%) grown exclusively within the climat; they must also meet the strict production conditions specified in the appellation laws. These conditions are designed to guarantee the quality of the wines and control such factors as vineyard management, maximum yield levels, and the natural sugar and alcohol content of the finished wine. The clause permitting the use of 15% white grapes is rarely invoked anywhere in Burgundy and is only present in the appellation laws to allow for mutations and planting variations within the sometimes-ancient vineyards.