With its prominent setting, just off the Route Nationale to the north of Nuits St Georges, the well proportioned Chateau Vougeot is one of Burgundy's most popular tourist attractions. The monumental medieval wine presses, operated by the Cistercian monks, are worth seeing. But so is the first floor of the chateau, which sadly is closed to visitors, except for special events.
The Cistercian order established themselves in Citeaux, 12km due east of Vougeot, in 1098. They were a radical group of monks, who considered that the powers that be, ruling the Benedictine Order from their magnificent Abbey at Cluny, were not paying sufficient attention to the Rule of St Benedict, which advocated a daily routine of prayer, manual labour, and study. Under the guidance Robert of Molesmes, a new Order and Abbey were established at Citeaux, and Robert became the first Abbott of what became known as the Cistercian Order. The problem was that Robert practiced what he preached, without any dilution, and the regime proved too tough. Few of those that joined could cope with its rigours. The manual work involved changing the level of the watercourse passing the Abbey, over a distance of some -----km. In addition, the monks had to clear the cote (now the Clos Vougeot) of its natural scrub in order to plant their vines. In fact life was so tough, that the number of new recruits dried up, and for those that remained the life expectancy was not much more than 30. Many died from over work and starvation. However, help was at hand. One of original founders who moved with Robert to Citeaux, was an English monk by the name of Stephen Harding. He was an excellent administrator, and realised that if the Order was to survive, a more pragmatic approach had to be adopted. He was aided by the arrival of the charismatic Bernard, who later became St Bernard of Clairvaux. Stephen became the Third Abbott of Citeaux, and between them, they brought life back into the Order. There followed a period of rapid expansion across France and all of Europe, as far to the north as Poland, and to the east into Roumania. Among the new Abbeys founded was Fontenay [LINK], near to Montbard to the west of the Cote.
Clos de Vougeot covers some 52 hectares, and is the largest single Grand Cru plot in the Cote de Nuits. At the time of the French Revolution the land was taken off the monks, and sold off as national assets. The Clos now has upward of 80 different winemaker owners. The buildings at Citeaux in a frenzy of anti-religious vandalism, were completely destroyed, and today nothing remains remains. Thankfully the Chateau at Vougeot was spared.