June 21st was another one of our picturesque journeys, this time to the town of Beaune. Beaune became the center of the wine trade in France in the 16th century and since then has remained a prominent city of wine traders. There are essentially two cities in Beaune, the one above ground, and the one underground. Under Beaune are many wine cellars that can extend for blocks, and some even hold up to three million bottles! You can even go into these cellars for a fee and taste the wines by candlelight, but that wasn't the focus of our trip.
In Beaune is the "Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune", a hospital for the sick and poor that was opened in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, then chancellor of Burgundy. There was a lot of wealth being generated from the Burgundy area in that time period, and Nicolas Rolin and his wife wanted to give back to the community. So, they funded the construction of the hospital and opened it for use to the public. The original structure of the hospital has been almost completely conserved and it has been turned into a museum that tourists can visit. The really interesting thing about the hospital is that it was funded through the profits of the wine trade in Burgundy. The hospital was given several vineyards that produced quality wines, and they sold off that wine to pay for the costs of running the hospital.
Once our visit to the Hôtel-Dieu had ended, we went on to the "Musée du Vin" (the museum of wine). There were many interesting displays from the different terroirs of the region, to the tools used for wine production through time to the evolution of the wine bottle and wine glass. There were many old tools that I had never seen before, and many of them were very odd. I think of producing wine as pretty tough work in the modern world, but the difficulty of it back then astounds me.
For lunch we were let loose on the city of Beaune to fend for ourselves. So, our first order of business was to get food and we found some very good sandwiches and ate them in the park. Guess what happened next? We proceeded to get lost for about in hour in the town, of course, just about finding our way back in time to meet with the group. So, although it was not enjoyable at the time looking back on it it was pretty funny.
Our last order of business for the day was to go to a cheese tasting at the "Alain Hess" fromagerie in Beaune. This fromagerie is unlike the others in that it's main specialty is the aging of cheese, and not necessarily their production. They do produce some cheese, but most of their business comes from buying cheese from producers, aging them until they are just right and then selling them to their customers. The cheeses we tasted were delicious, and I must say they certainly did age their cheese to perfection. But cheese isn't the only specialty of Alain Hess, they also do wine. The wine we had was superb, and even paired well with the cheese. So next time your in Beaune check out the Alain Hess fromagerie for sure.