Travel Questions: Burgundy or Bordeaux

Seeking advice from those who have traveled throughout France:

I’m planning a trip for a group of non French speaking couples and had initially envisioned a few nights in Paris, a day trip to champagne, and then heading to Burgundy for around a 10-day trip in summer 2019. My best guess is 10 people, but it could be as few as 6 or as many as 14.

I have Meadows’ guide to restaurants/hotels and a few contacts which may be able to secure some decent tastings, but as I have read and considered the realities of such a trip, I’ve become intimidated by the idea of bringing a large group to Burgundy. I get the idea that Burgundy is small, harder to secure tastings at decent producers, and less friendly to big groups. So my question for those who have been:

  1. Is Bordeaux a more easily navigable trip for a group of American tourists in general? (For tastings, size of hotels, finding a guide, getting around, etc)

I’m particularly interested in the tasting experience in burgundy. Is it welcoming? This would be no sweat in Napa for example, but I want to curate a special experience and would like to make a decision that facilitates that end. Any other suggestions are welcome. The wine/domaines are less important (I’m far and away the biggest wine enthusiast and would be happy visiting either region). My question is much more about the travel experience than the wine itself.

I used to go to both fairly regularly. Based on my experiences, I’d say you’d have an easier time in Bdx.

10-14 people in a (small) cellar in Burgundy is difficult, if you are not sticking to larger negociants.
Much easier in Bordeaux.

Moreover it´s also difficult in Burgundy to get visits at the TOP-producers if you aren´t a long time regular customer … they are usually sold/reserved out and have nothing to sell anymore …

I travel through France a lot for both pleasure and business. Distances are pretty trivial when compared to the US.

I once did this trip with American friends and they loved it:

  • Paris
  • Champagne (stay at “Les Avises”, Selosse’s place)
  • Chablis (eat at “Le Comptoir du Zinc”)
  • Burgundy (lots to do there!)
  • Jura (stay/eat at JP Jeunet)
  • Lyon (loads to do, but do make sure to visit the covered market)

That would pack a huge amount of french food and wine culture into 10 days and on average you’d be driving about an hour a day, if that.

Definitely Bordeaux. If you just had two couples, Burgundy would work. 10 would be tough and also very limited.

You may also want to get one of the many great guides to help you plan the trip. I used to do trips and have found that people often need breaks, and you can certainly do that in Bordeaux, from the spa at Smith Haut Lafitte to Truffle farm in nearby Perigord to just wandering round Saint Emilion. If you decide to do Bordeaux, feel free to PM me.

Advantages to Burgundy:

  1. Food is better. Fabulous restaurants in a variety of price ranges.

  2. Much shorter distances between towns. Much easier to get around. Small country roads - Bordeaux involves much greater distances and much, much, much more traffic. Assuming you are planning to drive around by yourselves, you are going to find it much easier to get to appointments on time in Burgundy than in Bordeaux.

  3. Food is better.

  4. Beaune is great to walk around in.

  5. When you go to small wineries, you get to visit with the owner or winery themselves, not with some flunky like in Bordeaux or Napa whose job it is to give tours.

  6. In Burgundy, you can stay in a hotel in Beaune and remain there your entire trip. While we stayed in a hotel in Bordeaux our entire trip in Bordeaux, many people move from hotel to hotel - staying for example in the Medoc when there and St. Emilion when there. Nice to stay in multiple places but it shows the distances involved in navigating a much larger area and means the hassle of packing and unpacking.

    Advantages to Bordeaux.

  7. Impressive Chateaus. You have seen the Chateaus on wine labels and in books. But, nothing like seeing a Ducru or a Chateau d’Yquem in person. Thrilling.

  8. I would think it would be easier to visit wineries there with larger numbers but I have never tried to do so. In Burgundy, the most we have had together visiting small wineries was 7 or 8. And, for most places where we had that many one of us had a contact or something with the winemaker. In Burgundy, you likely can go to larger negociants like Bouchard, Drouhin or maybe Jadot with larger numbers. Certainly, you can go to Caveaus like the Caveau de Chassagne-Montrachet. But in both of these cases you are losing the advantage in Burgundy of seeing the actual producer rather than a tour guide. Maybe larger producers like Alex Gamble or even Rossignol-Trapet or Domaine du Lambrays would see larger groups, but I don’t know. But, I would not think larger numbers would be that big a deal in Bordeaux, although I don’t know.

    If you are leaning one way or the other, contact a couple of producers and see what they say. Here is a link to a lot of Burgundy producer contact information. Growers and merchants - Bourgogne wines?

Are you planning to do this on your own or hire a guide. That would make a tremendous difference. I have never used a guide in Burgundy, but in Bordeaux we (and a number of friends) have used Henri Challou.

In summary, Burgundy and Bordeaux are the two greatest wine regions in the world. Over time, you want to do both.

Mark, Howard, Thomas — incredibly helpful information - we’re in the early planning phases but I will reach out to you in the near future if that’s alright.

To what extent would having a guide simplify the experience? I’ve taken a group of 8 to Languedoc before and found it a bit stressful without a guide, we rented cars and it worked out ok but I’d like this trip to be a bit more relaxed and have all our appointments lined up. Top tier burg is not what this group needs, but I do have some contacts at very good producers that would be just fine. Are guides generally flexible to visit the producers you want or do they prioritize a few they maintain relationships with?

And Howard, to answer your question, yes I am planning on hiring a guide but don’t want to lose flexibility in so doing. Part of the intimidation is that my French is not what it once was and I’m not familiar with either region. Between the logistics of shuttling a larger group and communication, I’ve pretty much decided a guide is indispensable. But I’d like to do as much of the tasting/restaurant/activity planning on our end rather than a more generic guided experience. My wife and I once took a day-trip to champagne and it was nice, but had no say in which houses we made stops at