The Little Known Burgundy Melon

Portrait of Nick Borland, wine tour guide
Nick Borland
August 2, 2021

Here we are not talking about a tasty orange-fleshed cantaloupe which can be served as a starter with parma ham! No, this Burgundy melon is a very rare grape variety which has all but disappeared from the Burgundian vineyards. And its name is derived from the very rounded leaves on this varietal and not the flavour of the wine! More’s the pity!

The Melon was born in Burgundy and is a cross between the Pinot noir and a now extinct grape variety, known as the white Govais. You probably know the Melon by its more common name, the Muscadet which is planted widely in the region of Nantes in the Loire and whose delightfully fresh wines make the perfect partners for oysters.

So, the question begs to be asked: How come a Burgundian grape variety found fame and glory in western France whereas it has virtually disappeared from the Burgundian scene? There are several hypotheses :

  • like the grape variety Gamay which today is primarily found in the Beaujolais, the Melon was simply banned by an ordonnance of the Duke Philip the Bold. It is possible that it was considered inferior to the Chardonnay and therefore « exiled », and finally wound its way down the Loire river to the region of Nantes where some claim it appeared for the first time around this very period, at the end of the 14th century.

  • Others think the Melon was introduced much later, in the 18th century, in order to replant the vineyards around Nantes which had been wiped out by the harsh winter of 1709. Yet some sources claim that it was simply used to replace the grape varieties that were less resistant to cold and that it had already existed in the region for several centuries.

Of course, the other questions are how and why the name changed from Melon to Muscadet once the grape left Burgundy?

Once again there are several theories :

  • it’s said that the Burgundy melon has distinct flavours of muscat although this seems far-fetched to me as the wines nearly always have a rather discreet nose of flowers and citrus!

  • Dutch merchants who were the main importers of the wines from the port of Nantes were also specialised in the spice trade, and they may have added some spices, including nutmeg (noix de muscade in French) to the wines, either to give them a bit more « pep » or to help conserve them during transportation

Today only a few parcels of vineyards are still planted with this varietal in Burgundy. One of the rare wine-growers to still cultivate the Melon is Maria & Yves Cuny in Vézelay where they grow the vines alongside their Chardonnay on a plateau with a view to the church of Vézelay.

Decorated with a special award for « agricultural merit » in 2014, Maria is proud to continue this tradition as the Burgundy Melon is an intrinsic part of the region’s long wine-making heritage.

The wines produced from the Melon are labelled « Coteaux Bourguignons », literally Burgundy hillsides, an appellation that was created in 2011 for wines made from more than one grape variety or that use these ancient varietals, such as the Melon.

Happy drinking (in moderation)

Domaine Maria Cuny
34 rue Saint-étienne
89450 Vézelay
03 86 32 38 50

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Portrait of Nick Borland, wine tour guide

About Nick

My professional experience in wine and tourism has been long and varied and has included, amongst others, working as a wine buyer and sommelier for boutique hotels, putting together wine lists for restaurants, a specialised wine tour guide for luxury hotel barges, a « wine hunter » for Scandinavian importers as well as organising and conducting wine-tastings to Wine Societies in the UK, Germany and Holland. I have also completed my WSET Level 3 and and obtained a certificate in Advanced Tasting Techniques from the Wine University in Suze-la-Rousse". I love sharing my knowledge of wine and spirits with people interested in the topics. I have a passion for how wine is made, from the methods used to the history of the grapes. If you would like to learn more about wine, join me in my Facebook group by signing up below to using the form. I talk about wines, answer all the questions you may have about it growing techniques, history, and even organise webinars for the group members where I talk about wine in a bit more detail. Hope to welcome you there soon!
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