La Paulée 2020 / Credit D. Mulsion photography
One of the most coveted events on the international wine calendar started as a rural luncheon. La Paulée, the series of tastings, seminars and dinners celebrating all things Burgundy, grew from a humble Meursault harvest party to a parade of globe-trotting bacchanals, with guests digging deep into their cellars to bring their best bottles of Burgundy to share. It has been dubbed the “world’s classiest BYOB.”
The primary modern event is held in New York. To understand its transformation is to trace the progression of global wine culture and commerce.
La Paulée is steeped in centuries of history and tradition.
Every domaine in Burgundy has a kind of paulée, or celebration to mark the end of harvest. Though no one knows when the practice began, the best guess is the Middle Ages. It started as a hearty lunch to fill the bellies of the vignerons and workers of the commune of Meursault, in Burgundy’s Côte d’Or, after an arduous harvest. In fact, the word paulée is taken from the French word poêle, which means “pan,” as the lunch was originally a one-pan meal.
Jules Lafon, great-grandfather of Burgundy’s inimitable Dominique Lafon of Domaine des Comtes Lafon, was the mayor of Meursault in 1923, and continued the tradition but with a twist. His version of La Paulée included inviting friends from nearby domaines to his winery to celebrate the end of harvest. They’d bring bottles from their own domaines to share. The trend caught on and La Paulée de Meursault began.
By 1932, it became an annual event in the village .
In 1933, La Paulée de Meursault was tacked onto the already-established Saturday Clos Vougeot dinner and Sunday auction as a third day called Les Trois Glorieuses, or the Three Glorious Days. Those three days are usually held around the third Thursday in November and consist of a black-tie dinner at Clos Vougeot on Saturday, the Sunday auction for Hospices de Beaune, which raises millions for the elderly and sick, and a Monday “lunch” at Château de Meursault that lasts well into the evening.
La Paulée de New York
In 2000, Daniel Johnnes, then the sommelier at erstwhile Montrachet restaurant in New York City, and creator of the modern-day roving version of La Paulée, had a brazen idea: to bring the spirit of Burgundy stateside.
“After attending the original Paulée in Meursault in the early ‘90s, I understood it was a wonderful way to bring people together to share wine and food in a convivial atmosphere,” Johnnes says.
But recreating that vibe wasn’t easy. La Paulée was not a suitcase that could be put on a plane and then unpacked upon landing.
Johnnes had a gargantuan task ahead of him.