Bicycling the Vineyard Trail from Beaune to Santenay is an adventure to savor slowly, very much like the area’s premier wines. The trail is only 22km long. In a car, you could travel it in under 20 minutes, on a train, it is merely a blur. I had visited the area before in a car, but I had not experienced it, as I did this week on a bike.
On a bicycle, you can take all day to complete the journey, completely enjoying the sights, smells and overwhelming beauty of some of the best known vineyards in the world. On a bicycle, you can reach out and touch the vines. You can marvel at the perfectly trimmed vines in rows of perfect symmetry. You have time to think about the natural elements that the vines endure, and how very fragile the process of grape growing and wine production is.
You can anticipate and admire each village from afar as you cycle closer with every pedal, the tallest spire first, then the rest of the village. First Pommard with its chateau, then Volnay with its chapel of Notre De Pitie, then picture-perfect Meursault’s town hall with its varnished and colored tiles.
Next, Puligny-Montrachet with its beautiful town square and finally, Chassagne-Montrachet with its premier grand cru vineyards. This is the area that thousands travel to each year to see where some of the best wines in the world are produced. But few have the opportunity to experience the area as I did, slowly and deliberately, savoring every kilometer, every stone wall and every village.
In late August, the vines were full of the rapidly maturing chardonnay and pinot noir grapes. The vineyards were busy with activity as growers prepared for the upcoming harvest. Everyone prayed for much-needed sun. As I rode past each vineyard, it was like watching a beautiful play progress before my eyes. With the harvest only 10-20 days away, I wished that I could stay to be part of this annual event. Perhaps another year. For now, I will just enjoy bicycling along the vineyard paths that have been used by winegrowers for decades, marveling at the vineyards’ complete sense of order, and anticipating tasting many of these wines at the end of the day.