Wine lovers have believed in the greatness of Burgundy’s terroir for centuries, but on July 4 it won more official recognition. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recognized the region’s 2,000-year history and cultural heritage by adding the climats of the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune to its list of World Heritage sites.
"I was in the room with a few members of my team and the French Ambassador when the Committee debated the [selection] and unanimously decided that our application was not only legitimate but long overdue," Domaine de la Romanée-Conti co-proprietor Aubert de Villaine told Wine Spectator. "It was an intense moment, so intense that I don’t think I have lived or shall live another one of that kind in my life." De Villaine spearheaded a group that lobbied for UNESCO status for more than eight years.
“We are delighted by the decision, which reflects eight years of hard work, raising awareness and mobilizing communities,” Claude Chevalier, president of the Bureau Interprofessionnel des Vins de Bourgogne, told Wine Spectator. “It’s the result of several centuries of work on the terroir and with the wine, a system invented by Cistercian monks and maintained since then by the people who work in the wine industry.”
UNESCO recognized Champagne too, voting to add the region's hillside vineyards, houses and cellars to its list, also in the “Living Cultural Landscapes” category. "Inclusion is a form of recognition but also a responsibility," said Pierre Cheval, president of the Association Paysages du Champagne, in a statement. "We are duty-bound to preserve and maintain this landscape, know-how and heritage so that we can pass it on to future generations. We have a date with history, our very own history!”
While eight years seems a long wait, the average application time for an approved site is 10 years. There are several steps involved: First was earning a place on a short list of proposed French sites. After three years of research by a committee made up of 36 geologists, historians, climatologists, linguists, sociologists, biologists and agricultural engineers, a 600-page dossier was submitted to the French ministries of Culture and Ecology. That dossier was selected and submitted to UNESCO in January 2014.
What is the practical impact of UNESCO status? "The recognition means that the Côte d’Or will be much better armed to defend its heritage," said de Villaine. "First, because the vignerons will have a better awareness that they are the guardians of a precious territory; second, because there will be more tools to protect its [historic features], for instance walls or vineyards huts—all these very humble attributes that are an important part of the culture of Burgundy."
“It will motivate people to preserve the winegrowing region and its landscapes as they are, and even to enhance them further," added Chevalier. "This decision will inspire people to respect the land under their care even more, in order to share it with future generations."
Visitors to the Côte d'Or may sense a more immediate effect. “It will no doubt have an impact on the number of tourists visiting our region," said Chevalier. "It will introduce visitors, whose knowledge is often limited, to the wines and landscapes of the Bourgogne region in an entertaining way through the climats, which represent our DNA.”