Gevrey-Chambertin, 12 km from Dijon, is famous throughout the world for its Burgundy wines. It is now possible to conclude that winegrowing in this region goes back to the Gallo-Roman era, as testified by the findings of excavations by the Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives (INRAP), at the spot known as “Au dessus de Bergis”.
Carried out in collaboration with scientists from the ARTeHIS Laboratory (CNRS/Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication/Université de Bourgogne), the archeological dig revealed 316 rectangular pits aligned in 26 rows, interpreted as being the remains of a vineyard from the first century AD.
Commissioned by the French Government (DRAC Bourgogne), excavations covering nearly 12,000 m² were completed during the summer of 2008 before building work started to enlarge a housing estate planned by Gevrey-Chambertin town council. The dig, divided into two sectors, revealed a series of hollow remains (pits, pot-holes and ditches) from different periods. For the Gallo-Roman era, an area of more than 6000 m² was covered by more than 300, regularly spaced and aligned pits, surrounded by a continuous peripheral ditch. These rectangular pits are 90 to 130 cm long by a little less than 60 cm wide, and sections of the soil filling them indicate the void left by the trunk and roots of a small shrub. Many of the pits are split into two compartments by a small ridge of rubble and soil.
How can these remains be interpreted? The alignment and rectangular shape of the pits are similar to those found at the sites of other Gallo-Roman vineyards discovered in both southern France, the region around Paris and in the UK. The small dimensions of the pits mean that the hypothesis of an orchard can be excluded. The “ghosts” of small shrubs observed in the filing earth are of the size of a vine stock.
The two compartments separated by a ridge correspond to the recommendations of Pliny the Elder and Columella, two 1st century Latin authors, which were to plant two vine stocks in each pit and arrange them “so that the roots of the two layers in the same pit do not twist around each other, which will be easy to do by placing rocks no heavier than five pounts in the bottom of the pits, transversally and across the middle.” These pits are the first example how these viticultural and agronomic precepts were applied in Gaul. Some pits are edged by smaller, more shallow ditches. The secondary ditches probably served for provining, an ancient technique for the vegetative propagation of vines, when the above-ground part of the plant (stem, branches, etc.) was buried so that it developed its own roots before being separated from the parent plant and living as a new, independent individual.
How can we date these remains? Vines planted in rows are characteristic of Antiquity (and of the 20th century, but old land registers contain no trace of recent vineyards). Not only do these pits closely resemble those in other Gallo-Roman vineyards, but the spacing within rows, and the distances between rows, are multiples of the Roman foot (29.6 centimeters). The excavations showed that the pits were dug in ancient soil (from the Neolithic to the protohistoric periods), at a time that can thus be situated after the Gallic period. According to the fragments of pottery found in the pits, they probably date from the 1st century AD.
These pits in Gevrey-Chambertin are the first traces of Gallo-Roman vineyards to have been discovered in Burgundy. They are surrounded by numerous archaeological remains from the same period: villas, houses and graves, in the eastern part of the town and close to this site. They confirm interest during Antiquity for vines and wine in the region, although this was already known from numerous objects already found: a horn of plenty containing a bunch of grapes and belonging to one of the divinities of the shrines at the source of the Seine, the monument to the wine merchant from Til-Châtel, the gravestone of a couple of vineyard owners from Tart-le-Haut (the man carrying a bill-hook), the God with a barrel from Mâlain, etc. All these objects are on display in the Musée Archéologique in Dijon. The pits in Gevrey-Chambertin also confirm that vines were grown on plains at that time (as found at the other known sites), while slopes are preferred today for the production of good wine.
Archeologists working on this dig also revealed a Neolithic II lowland house (dated at between 4000 and 3500 BC) and the remains of a Neolithic III house (3500-3000 BC), which are rarities in the open plains of this region and provided confirmation of its Neolithic II and III chronology. From the Early Bronze Age, a farm and its outbuildings (2300 to 1650 BC), one of the southernmost buildings of this type, was excavated, together with a farm from the Late Bronze Age (1000 to 900 BC). And a house from the beginning of the Second Iron Age (450-350 BC) filled a gap in the documented records for this period in Burgundy.