Gevrey-Chambertin, une longue histoire

The name of Gevrey itself refers to the main feature of the landscape, the Combe Lavaux (the valley). It comes from gibriacus, meaning "le gave”, i.e. the torrent rushing down the hillside.

Aerial view of the archaeological excavations showing the lines of plantation ditches for the Roman vines (dark spots). The white spots indicate the site of an ancient farm dated from the Iron Age (INRAP, 2008).

The Gallo-Roman Period

Wine-growing is thought to have existed in Burgundy since the arrival of the Romans two thousand years ago, and evidence has recently been brought to light in Gevrey. A Roman vineyard has been discovered to the east of the commune. It was located at the bottom of the hillside, with almost no slope, but over a favourable substratum, at the end of the alluvial fan spreading from the outlet of the Combe Lavaux. This vineyard is probably associated with a large Gallo-Roman estate (villa).

The name of the Premier Cru, La Romanée, also provides evidence of Roman occupation, but does not absolutely prove the wine-producing nature of Roman presence in the region.

From the Middle Ages to the French Revolution

The medieval period corresponded to the intense development of the vineyard in Gevey-Chambertin. The monks, under on the religious authority of the abbeys of Bèze, Cluny and Langres, had considerable impact on the structure of the vineyard in Gevrey: they were present in great numbers for a long period of time.

Some plots of land in Chenôve, Marsannay-la-Côte, Couchey and Gevrey-Chambertin were donated by Duke Amalgaire of Burgundy for the foundation of the abbey of Bèze in 630 AD.

The resulting Clos de Bèze is thought to be the oldest Burgundy clos, with a surface area unchanged since its creation. The Clos de Bèze was sold around 1217 to the cathedral chapter of Langres, but kept its original name.In 895 AD, Duke Richard of Burgundy, the Justiciar, offered wine-growing lands located in Gevrey to the St Benignus Abbey in Dijon. As early as the eleventh century, and up to the French Revolution, the St Benignus Abbey in Dijon owned the almonry of Gevrey and the associated plots of land, in particular today the Clos des Ruchottes and the Clos de Fonteny.

Located close to the church, a cellar (XIIIth–XIVth century), still in existence today, which was used to collect the tithes for the canons of Langres, testifies to wine-producing activity during this period.
The Abbot of Cluny became Lord of Gevrey when the Lords of Vergy yielded their rights to him. Over the ruins of a building built at the end of the thirteenth century by Yves de Chassan, Abbot of Cluny, there is today a castle dated from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The prior of this abbey may have been at the origin of the name of the Premier Cru Clos Prieur.

The vineyard of Gevrey was so strongly impacted by the presence of the Abbey of Cluny that Cistercian properties are rare. The leper hospital (now demolished) is the main element known to have belonged to the Cistercian order in Gevrey-Chambertin.

The Modern period

Louis XVI’s cellar was heavily endowed with good vintages of Gevrey wines: in 1783, a hundred bottles of Vintage 1778 Chambertin and one hundred and eighty-five bottles of Vintage 1774 Chambertin were listed there.Claude Jobert, an eighteenth-century wine merchant knew how to valorise Chambertin. He even paid in order to add the name of the cru to his family name, becoming Jobert de Chambertin. His mansion still exists, in the street of the same name, "rue du Chambertin”.

Chambertin also found in Napoleon I a fervent ambassador: it was his favourite wine.
Adding Chambertin to the name of Gevrey was authorised in 1847 by a royal ordinance from Louis-Philippe. It was the first village of the Côte to have obtained the right to associate the name of its greatest grand cru to the name of the commune. Most of the wine-producing villages along the Côte followed this example.
Jules Lavalle established in 1855 the basics of a hierarchy that was definitely adopted in 1936, defining the four levels of ranking, regional (Bourgogne), communal (Village), Premier Cru and Grand Cru, which are all present in Gevrey-Chambertin.

A local figure, Gaston Roupnel (1872 – 1946), historian and rural writer, speaks highly of the village and describes the daily life of the winegrower in his novel "Nono”.
Long, patient landscape enhancement
Over the course of time, the wine-growers have discovered how to maintain, to transmit and to enrich their history. Today’s wine-producing terroirs of Gevrey-Chambertin are the result of the direct interaction of all these historical events with environmental factors.
The slow and complex relationship between the men and their land, as it is revealed in the wine they produce, makes terroir a living notion, evolving over time.

Gevrey-Chambertin has learned how to preserve its authenticity throughout the centuries, assertively expressing its terroirs, the obvious foundation for its future.

Etudes et cartes :
Françoise Vannier-Petit
Photographies :
Françoise Vannier-Petit,
Valérie Huguenot Office de tourisme du canton de Gevrey-Chambertin