Nathalie Fevre and her daughter, Julie, present wines at their Chablis winery, Domaine Nathalie et Gilles Fevre. ##Photo by L.M. Archer

Bourgogne Before Lockdown

One virus, four journalists, five regions, seven days

By L.M. Archer

In March, the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted wine trade shows worldwide, including Grands Jours de Bourgogne. Luckily, the media tour for this particular event did go on — just in another format. Instead of large public tastings, a few international journalists attended intimate, bespoke events designed to showcase the region.

Unfortunately, what started as a simple media tour morphed into a global odyssey fueled by a frenzy of COVID-19 travel restrictions rapidly unfolding in real-time. Along with fellow journalists Karyne Duplessis-Piché of Canada, Wilson Kwok of Hong Kong and Jill Barth of the U.S., our hosts scrambled to get us out of the country in time. Miraculously, we all made it back to tell the tale.


It appears simple: Four journalists taste and tour the five regions of Bourgogne in seven days as guests of the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB). Dubbed #BacktoBourgogne, our trip starts in Chablis, meanders south to the Mâconnais, back up to the Côte-d’Or and finishes in the Côte Chalonnaise. Our arrival also coincides with French government restrictions banning gatherings of 50 people or more and no physical contact.

Bourgogne vignerons, négociants and wine industry members react to the latest rules with regional good humor. As host Cécile Mathiaud, BIVB press relations director, tells us with a wink countless times during our visit, “Bourgogne isn’t complicated; it’s complex.” But also pragmatic. Elbow bumping and toe-tapping replace “la bise,” the traditional French double-cheek kiss. Jokes abound about washing one’s hands to “Le Ban Bourguignon.”

Over time, a false sense of security envelops us who are warmed by the ample sun, wine and local conviviality. Little do we realize how quickly things will change from Day 1 to Day 7 for all of us. And how, as dynamics change, an urgency to bear witness grows. Each visit reminds us not only of Bourgogne’s generosity during uncertain times, but of our responsibility to tell the region’s stories.


Our first stop in Chablis, Domaine Nathalie et Gilles Fevre, proves a touchstone for this journey. Nathalie Fevre and her daughter, Julie, greet us on a squalling Sunday in their newly renovated winery nestled along Route de Chablis. Our visit also coincides with International Women’s Day — perfect timing, since Nathalie serves as the latest president of the professional women winemakers’ association Femmes et Vins de Bourgogne (FEVB). After offering us a gracious glimpse into her family vineyards, cellar, wines and Chablis, we depart the domaine with a few elbow-taps and off-hand comments about the virus.

Over time, COVID-19 dominates the conversation, as international travel restrictions careen widely. Uncertainty about the future of the media tour looms large. In response, by Day 6, our hosts scramble ferociously to reroute flights, verify taxis and confirm train times. I fly out on my originally scheduled flight from an eerily empty Charles de Gaulle Airport. For the first time, I enjoy enough empty cabin space to stretch out and sleep in economy. Arrival at Sea-Tac proves a breeze, the 14-day self-quarantine simply business-as-usual for a writer.


Meanwhile, back in Bourgogne, vignerons and négociants grapple with the effects of COVID-19, coupled with severe frost in Chablis. I check back with Nathalie Fevre. “There is no doubt that this will define not only our near future, but also have devastating and long-lasting effects,” she reports. “The situation in France is very much similar to the rest of Europe and to your country. Therefore we all try, the best we can, to navigate and react according to the development of this pandemic.”

Meanwhile, Mother Nature, undaunted by the pandemic, refuses confinement. Equally undeterred, Bourgogne vignerons continue working in the vineyards and cellars, spawning the hashtag #LeVigneContinue. “It will be difficult, but we will survive, without doubt,” says Fevre. “We have to stay optimistic.”


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