Would Burgundy by any other name smell as sweet and taste as seductive?
The people who make what most critics agree are the world’s greatest Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays seem to think so. And many of them hold a stubborn belief that if you love their wine, you should show your respect by calling it by its proper name: “Bourgogne.”
Bourgogne? You’re not alone if you don’t have a clue where those syllables break and the accents fall, or what contorted shapes your lips must make to pronounce it correctly. Here’s a verbal clue, or if you’re phonetically inclined, it’s something like this — “boor-GAHN-yuh.”
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Of course, it’s not every day that someone who owns one of the most valued and recognized brands in the world wants to change it (unless you’re Facebook and not getting many “likes”). Yet the official grape counters in Bourgogne Central want to do just that.
Now, admittedly, they have a point. “Champagne” is spelled the same in both French and English — even though English speakers still butcher its pronunciation. And “Bordeaux” in English is “Bordeaux,” “Loire” is “Loire,” “Rhône” is “Rhône.” So why don’t we call Burgundy the same thing that people who have lived and worked for thousands of years in this southeastern France wine heaven call their region and their wine?
“About 90 million bottles are exported every year, each with the word ‘Bourgogne’ printed on the label,” says Nelly Blau, who heads export communications for the Bourgogne Wine Board. (BIVB). “That must be confusing to people who think of it as Burgundy.” Although English speakers are the biggest buyers and thus the biggest headache for wine professionals like Blau, she says we are not the only offenders. “The Germans say ‘Burgund” and the Italians call it ‘Borgogna.’”
In 2012, the BIVB met to discuss the language barrier issue, ultimately deciding to reinforce the Bourgogne trademark. “But have we invested a lot of money to make the change? I would say, ‘no,’” Blau says. “However, we have been working with journalists and importers. And we use ‘Bourgogne’ in all our official communications and when we have training programs.”
So far, the board has been scoring modest results, one Burgundy-colored drop at a time, mostly by using both Burgundy and Bourgogne in the same communication in the hopes of eventually eliminating the “bad” word.
“But Burgundy (or ‘Bourgogne’ as they say in France) isn’t just any region, and Red and White Burgundy aren’t just any Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. No, Bourgogne is sort of a spiritual homeland to wine lovers the world over.”
Notice how sneaky easy that works?
Blau says the Brits are the English speakers most resistant to change — but, then, they are the original offenders in expropriating other regions’ names. Historically, they called wines from Germany “hock,” after the city of Hochheim, Jerez became “sherry,” and wines shipped from Oporto “port.” And, somehow, red wine from Bordeaux was sold in London as “Claret.”
But not every Islander is as defiant. Liv-ex marketing manager Richard Hemming says that his London-based marketplace for fine wine “looks to accurately reflect the appellation names depicted on labels, so that users searching for Bourgogne will find over 1,500 wines categorized as Bourgogne, Bourgogne Aligoté or Bourgogne Passe-tout-grains.”
Not everyone is convinced it’s a great idea.
“Forcing this kind of change on Anglophones for such a deeply embedded usage is not likely to work, if for no other reason than the word ‘Bourgogne’ sounds pretentious at a minimum for any reference other than generic Burgundy,” says Allen Meadows, professionally known as Burghound and the most influential English-speaking critic and rater of Burgundian wines. “As such,” he says, “this train has left the station — and a long time ago.”
Evan Goldstein, who heads California-based marketing agency Full Circle Wine Solutions, thinks Bourgogne might work, but with one big caveat. “ If you decouple it from the grape names, it will confuse,” he says. “So I think the remedy of ‘Bourgogne-Pinot Noir’ and ‘Bourgogne-Chardonnay’ should work.”
Another fly in Bourgogne’s glass is that the French have their own linguistic sins. While most English-speaking nations have corrected their spelling of geographic locations to reflect native usage — Bombay is Mumbai and Peking has reverted to Beijing — the French continue to drag their designer heels. “I have a friend who is an English journalist who says he will start using ‘Bourgogne’ when the French stop calling London ‘Londres,’” admits BIVB communications head Cécile Mathiaud.
And what will we do with the color Burgundy if we all get used to saying Bourgogne? “We actually don’t call the color Burgundy by ‘Bourgogne’ in France,” Mathiaud says. “Look up the translation of the color Burgundy [in an English-to-French dictionary], and it translates to ‘couleur Bordeaux!’”
Even if everyone in the United States who drinks wine eventually gets around to saying, “Bourgogne, Bourgogne, Bourgogne,” will the people at global wine distributors like Gallo be forced to make a painful marketing decision — ripping up all those printed jug labels and replacing them with ones reading “Hearty Bourgogne”?
Perhaps the simplest solution of all would be if the folks at the BIVB convinced the people who run the online spell-checker apps to automatically change “Burgundy” to “Bourgogne” every time we type the former. Pretty soon, wine writers, influencers, and bloggers would give up correcting the corrections, and we all could get back to arguing about whether the Bourguignons are charging too many euros for this year’s Bourgogne.