Was Burgundy the only wine region impacted by Napoleonic Code?

Ask Dr Vinny

Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.

Dear Dr. Vinny,

Was Burgundy the only wine region impacted by Napoleonic Code?

—Jessica, Sydney, Australia

Dear Jessica,

Let me start with a quick history lesson for those who aren't familiar with the Napoleonic Code and how it shaped the wine regions of Europe. Most French land, including vineyards, was in the hands of the Catholic Church or the nobility prior to the French Revolution, which resulted in the confiscation of much of the land belonging to those institutions. Most of the vineyards were divided up and sold off. The Napoleonic Code of the early 1800s, which spread well beyond the modern-day boundaries of France under Napoleon's French Empire, required landowners to divide their holdings equally among their heirs. So generation after generation, the land was further subdivided.

Why does this matter to wine? It’s one explanation for how complicated Burgundy has become. For example, the grand cru vineyard Clos de Vougeot, which was owned by the Cistercian monks until the late 18th century. It's now broken up into more than 80 individually owned parcels, some comprising just a few rows of vines.

This practice happened all over, but not every region went the way of Burgundy. Some Bordeaux châteaus were owned by wealthy families, who decided to eliminate the issue of heirs by incorporating their estates. They developed a system of shareholders for their estates, and shareholders weren’t subject to the same succession laws. As a result, many Bordeaux châteaus remain large and have even grown over time.

The Napoleonic Code took its toll on other wine regions around France (and in Germany). But some properties were pieced together with trusts and other shareholder-type systems. There is a lot of emphasis on the Burgundy's history vineyards, which is why the Napoleonic Code is most often cited in reference to Burgundy, but if you look carefully, you’ll find evidence of it’s influence elsewhere.

—Dr. Vinny

France Ask Dr. Vinny

More In Dr. Vinny

Are collectible wines still collectible after the wine has gone bad?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny talks to Penfolds winemaker Peter Gago about 50-year-old …

May 17, 2019

Why aren't bottles stored on their sides at wine stores?

Wine's Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why wine bottles need to be stored on their …

May 15, 2019

Is there a polite way to tell a winemaker that I'm not enjoying their wines?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny suggests a few etiquette tips for kindly declining an …

May 13, 2019

Do you swirl a glass of sparkling wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains why there's no need to swirl a glass of …

May 10, 2019

Is it OK to ask guests to bring expensive wine to a party?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny talks party etiquette.

May 8, 2019

What's the difference between Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc wine?

Wine Spectator's expert Dr. Vinny explains the origins of the Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet …

May 6, 2019
WineRatings+

WineRatings+

Xvalues

Xvalues

Restaurant Search

Restaurant Search