The French wine board stopped using the term "Burgundy" almost a decade ago, but not many others have followed suit.

By Mike Pomranz
March 30, 2021
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I love Burgundy. I realize it's a cliché, but we biked around the French wine region for our honeymoon—because that's the kind of cliché I want to live. And the wines are fantastic. But don't take my word for it: Just ask the bidder who paid $558,000 to make a bottle of Burgundy the most expensive wine ever sold.

So I was a bit surprised today when I was emailed a reminder from the Bourgogne Wine Board with the subject, "Why you should not translate Bourgogne anymore." Oh no. Just how mortified should I feel?

Road of Bourgogne wine sign, France
Credit: ricochet64/Getty Images

"Bourgogne" is, as many people know, the French word for "Burgundy." It may be most recognized to English speakers when paired with meat as "beef bourguignon"—a context where the French goes untranslated, even though "beef" is often still used in its English form. Apparently, the wine region has similar aspirations.

"In 2012, on the request of its elected representatives, the Bourgogne Wine Board (BIVB) decided to stop translating the word 'Bourgogne,' whatever the country," the press release stated. "The aim is to help consumers find their way by ensuring coherence between our wine labels and the name of the region where the wines were created."

The BIVB does make some compelling arguments. They say that Bourgogne "is the only wine-producing region in France whose name is translated into different languages"—an interesting fact I was unaware of until writing this. And half of Bourgogne wines are exported, making it even more "essential to use only one powerful name" across over 100 foreign countries that drink the globally renowned wine.

"We felt it necessary to return to our original name, Bourgogne, in order to affirm our true identity, in a unified and collective way," François Labet, President of the BIVB, stated. "I'd say that our appellations are like our forenames, which makes Bourgogne our family name. A name that unites us all with our shared values embracing all the diversity of our wines. You don't translate a family name!"

Valid points indeed! However, if this change was first made in 2012, why am I only hearing about it now? The answer should be pretty obvious: traditions die hard. "Gradually, things are evolving," the BIVB admits, "and we are starting to see the word 'Bourgogne' appear in French in texts across a range of media and on certain partner sites abroad." As one example, the BIVB cites the educational organization the Wine Scholar Guild, which has already made the adjustment.

Still, you'd think with a reputation as powerful as Burgundy's—excuse me, Bourgogne's—, more people would be willing to respect the wine board's call for a change. Perhaps when they reached out and said they were from "Bourgogne," no one recognized who it was.