On the little hill of Vergy behind Gevrey Chambertin, in the Hautes Côtes de Bourgogne, events took place which you would never guess when looking at the hill from below. The story includes the downfall of one of the most influential and powerful families in France; the construction and destruction of an impregnable fairytale chateau with 14 towers; the origins of Romanée Conti and Romanée St Vivant; and the first appearance of the Turin Shroud. And all on this little hill!
From about the 7c, the Vergy family lived in a fairytale chateau on the top of the hill. The chateau had 14 towers from which there were views in every direction. In uncertain times, Popes sought safety there. It dominated the skyline and was so secure, that a siege lasting 18 months failed to breach its defences. However, having survived the siege, and almost 1,000 years of history, the entire château was dismantled stone by stone on the orders of Henry IV in 1609 following the religious wars between Catholics and Protestants.
With some vigilance, it is possible to discern here and there the remains of the battlements. But walking through the trees along the footpath where the château once stood, it is hard to imagine what it would have been like all those years ago.
In the Middle Ages, the monasteries that sprung up across Europe, played an important role in wine making and the development of wine theory and practice. Nowhere more so than in Burgundy. Monasteries needed vines – to produce wine for the Eucharist, to serve to visiting dignitaries, the sick and the poor, and for daily consumption by the monks.
In 1232 Alix de Vergy donated vines owned by the family to the monks who in the 9c had built the Abbey St Vivant at the foot of the château. The vines included the vineyards Romanée St Vivant and Romanée Conti.
In the 12c, on the other side of the hill, a small church was constructed, known as Saint Saturnin. It still serves the local community today, but viewed from a distance (it can be seen on the brow of the hill to the left in the photo), gives little clue to the dramatic history from which it escaped largely unscathed.
And the Turin Shroud? Jeanne de Vergy presented the shroud for its first public exhibition in 1357.