The French wine nation is an journey for the Albuquerque couple »Albuquerque Journal

Many couples take due care in planning this long-awaited trip to Europe. My fiancé and I, in stark contrast, cemented our trip to France in five minutes and hit each other with a loud hammer at the Vintage Albuquerque event last June.

The trip was built around the world’s most famous wine auction, held once a year in support of the Hospices de Beaune, a charity hospital founded in 1443.

Our trip was planned by Carolyn and Ken Thompson, Albuquerque business owners, who made the trip available for auction.

Since 2005, this couple has had a second home in Burgundy, particularly in Pommard, Côte d’Or, home to vineyards so famous that they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The Thompsons started their company Your Key to Burgundy a few years ago to share their appreciation for French culture, food and wine. The aim is to provide just the right amount of guidance and support so that travelers can settle down and “live like a local”. There was no way we could have created a trip of our own as I am going to describe it.

Vineyards on the hills above Pommard.

Vineyards on the hills above Pommard.

Our adventure began in Albuquerque when they invited us for a wine tasting and geography lesson to learn about the region. When we arrived in Paris, a private driver met us at Charles de Gaulle Airport and took us to the door of our accommodation, a more than 350 year old building in the heart of Pommard.

The townhouse apartment was modern and comfortable but retained the old charm of stone walls and massive oak beams in the ceiling.

Our first day included a stroll around Pommard, named for Pomona, the Greek goddess of fruit and gardens, and adjacent vineyards with historical tidbits along the way. That evening our hosts drove us to a country restaurant that was housed in a 17th century kitchen and was run by a Michelin-starred chef.

A typical Burgundian cabotte.  A place where winemakers could escape storms or the sun for something to eat.

A typical Burgundian cabotte. A place where winemakers could escape storms or the sun for something to eat.

The Michelin star is a trademark for fine dining.

Every day was an adventure. At the beginning of our stay we visited a Pommard winemaker, Delphine, whose family history in the wine business goes back more than 500 years. In perfect English, she described the family’s winemaking process and the interesting combination of tradition and technology that characterize the domain today.

Our first lunch was at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Beaune, followed by a private tour and tasting at the Chateau du Meursault, whose cellars, many of which were filled to the ceiling with wine, date back to the 11th century .

The next day we drove on tiny country roads to an old castle in the fog between two small wooded hills. We were greeted by the owner of one of the most important truffle operations in France and invited to a hunt where we watched his truffle dog Julio discover the mysterious little mushrooms.

The church in Pommard from the 18th century.  Thomas Jefferson was no doubt there.  (SOURCE: Sharon Friedes)

The church in Pommard from the 18th century. Thomas Jefferson was no doubt there. (SOURCE: Sharon Friedes)

After getting to know the region for a few days and tasting it with several winemakers on the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune, we took part in the private wine dinner that was held for members of the Bailliage de Pommard, one of the local wine societies.

Typical of a French ceremonial meal, it lasted for hours, course after course, each time accompanied by a carefully selected wine from Pommard. The village choir entertained all evening with a repertoire consisting entirely of songs about wine.

Pommard is just three kilometers from Beaune, a town that attracts an international audience on the weekend of the wine auction.

One day, with some advice from our hosts, we set out to explore the nearby town of Dijon and spend a day shopping and touring. Strolling the cobblestone streets and admiring the rich architecture was a perfect accompaniment to a great afternoon sifting through a mix of international and local retailers. And when we returned to the tiny village of Pommard, we were always amazed that there was so much to do. There was the artisanal chocolate maker, the tasting room in the 13th century castle of the Dukes of Burgundy, the cellars of a local winemaker opening their doors for the public to come through and enjoy.

We ended the trip with one night in Paris and stayed in a great hotel in a small neighborhood.

I have since heard about some of the planned excursions on offer this year:

• “Burgundy and Bubbles” – an April excursion through the regions of Burgundy and Champagne.

n “Watercolors in the Vineyards” – An opportunity for artists of all skill levels to paint in the vineyards under the guidance of Albuquerque artist David Welch, scheduled for June.

n “4. July in Thomas Jefferson’s Favorite Village “- Designed specifically for families, an opportunity to experience Independence Day in Pommard, the village Jefferson knew and loved.

n “Women in Burgundy – A Guided Transformation Journey of Female Wisdom and Power” – A retreat-style experience specially developed for women in October.

Details can be found at yourkeytoburgundy.com.

Sharon Friedes is the advertising director for the Albuquerque Journal, [email protected]

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