Outsider impacts Burgundy winemaking tradition, Part I

Burgundy winemaking is tradition and viewed as a right. Skills and vineyards are passed down from generation to generation, but occasionally a dreamer or upstart gains a foothold and sets root into Bourgogne’s Côte d’Or.

The Beaune Hospice, founded in 1443, was a place of refuge for orphaned children until 1970. Today the Hospices de Beaune are a testimony to its long history, continue to operate 60 hectares of vineyards and host a wine auction the third Sunday of November.

Born in Paris in 1963 to parents who were strangers to Burgundy, Ulrich Dujardin’s father moved the family to Nancy, France (east of Strasbourg, France) soon after for a job opportunities in the petrol industry. Later the family uprooted and settled in Dijon where Ulrich finished his schooling from 1971-1981. However, as he continued his schooling, working towards an education degree, Ulrich met disabled people in Beaune. The impression impacted him forever.

Ulrich’s father introduced his children to wine at an early age; a common practice for Europeans. His parents enjoyed wine and shared tastes with young Ulrich who gained valuable appreciation for its importance. Wine not only shaped dinner choices but cultural and community events they attended. And wine tasting with his father impressed and provided the impetus for Ulrich to occasionally cutting grapes from vines in the vineyards, influencing and honing early skills. But he could never allow himself to dream of becoming a winemaker. Burgundy winemaking was not in his family’s lineage.

I sat down with Ulrich and his wife Catherine one day in mid June to find out how a man born outside of Burgundy could thrive in a such a small town like Monthelie. In the next couple of posts, Ulrich’s story, despite my poor French skills, are what follows. And while Ulrich’s English is limited, Catherine’s struggle to translate French to English is also a part of the story.

“I grew up knowing about wines and vineyards from my father,” Dujardin said in broken English through his wife Catherine. “He gave me some tastes and I cut some grapes from the vine. This I never forgot.”

But as an outsider, Ulrich never felt or became a part of the winemaking community even after he met Xavier Bouzerand in 1986 of Monthelie, Burgundy, in the Côte de Beaune.

Ulrich Dujardin began to work for Xavier Bouzerand in the vineyards of Monthelie in 1986. The small village and surrounding slopes are 5 KM 3.5 miles from Beaune.

After graduating from school, Ulrich increasingly became interested in working with handicapped people after he took a tour of the Hospices de Beaune: a hospital for the sick and disadvantaged from 1443-1970. Ulrich was moved by the passion of the nurses while visiting the museum and decided to become a handicapped teacher.

Four years later, Bouzerand met Dujardin while Ulrich led a class field trip while working at a Center Aide Travail just outside Dijon. As a teacher who worked with adult handicapped people, Dujardin often took groups to work at temporary jobs. Disabled adults worked in places like woodshops and construction sites, assembly plants and repair shops. They also would help with catering and housekeeping opportunities and labor in the vineyards.

When Bouzerand and Dujardin initially spoke to one another, their communication centered on a handicapped member of Bouzerand’s family. Dujardin’s efforts with adult handicapped people at the non-profit agency impressed Bouzerand and the two men seemed to click; they both shared their expertise, keenly interested in what each other shared. A match was born.

Without a family tradition or land inheritance, Ulrich Dujardin decided to cut back to three days part-time teaching adult handicapped people in 1986. The other four days a week he accepted a position at Domain Bouzerand in Monthelie.

Soon afterwards, and upon Bouzerand’s invitation, Ulrich began making trips to work at the Bouzerand vineyards in Monthelie, about 42 km (26 miles) from Dijon, the region’s capital. At first the visits were on weekends and on holidays from his job at the Center Aid Travail. But within a year, Dujardin committed 50 percent of his time to the winery in Monthelie. He spent Monday through Wednesday working with handicapped adults and Thursday through Sunday working along side Bouzerand.

The aspiring winemaker worked seven days a week between the two business until Bouzerand accepted him as a 50-50 partner, changing the label from a single last name to Bouzerand-Dujardin in 1990.

It became increasingly clear to Bouzerand that his own handicapped son was not able to accept the responsibility of taking over the family winery; as a result, Dujardin’s dream began to emerge. He then focused his full-time energy on the winery. Even if he could not own the land, Dujardin was ready to take charge of a reborn Domain Bouzerand-Dujardin and its eight hectares. He retired from his teaching position in Dijon and its guaranteed salary.

He now became a full-time Vigneron.

Please return in the next couple of days for Ulrich Dujardin: Outsider impacts Burgundy winemaking tradition, Part II.

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