The quality of a Climat depends even more on its exposure to the sun as on its soil type. When a slope or hillside called “larrey” (orlarret, larré,larris in local dialect) is east-facing and sufficiently steep to prevent water from stagnating, it is particularly suitable for vine cultivation.
The word “larrey” originates from the Gallo-Roman term lat(e)r-iciu, which was itself a derivative of the Latin latus, lateris, meaning “flank, side, or slope” and was commonly used in the medieval period.
In the 12th century, extended vineyard planting pushed back woods and wasteland, leaving areas of cleared land (called “essarts” in French) on the fringes of parcels of vines, hence the names Les Issards in Ladoix-Serrigny and Ez Echards in Volnay.
Some of the premiers crus names recall the method of swidden farming (otherwise known as “slash and burn” or brûler in French, which consists of burning the stubble): for example, Combe Brûlée and Aux Brûlées in Vosne-Romanée.
The uncultivated lands which became vineyards were called “toppes” (originating from a pre-Latin term, tippa meaning “mound of earth or small hill”): hence the names: Les Toppes Coiffées in Ladoix-Serrigny or La Taupine in Monthelie. The most common name given to the tracts of uncultivated land before they were planted with vines is chaume. Hence the names Les Chaumes and Les Chaumées.
The Latinized form calma, used in 7th century charters, became chaume but sometimes charme, which caused confusion between the land and the lime-loving shrub of the same name as we can see in the name of the grand cru Aux Charmes-Chambertin.
Words like bouchots, boucherottes, bouchères, boichots(woods),orboissières, bussières(boxtree) describe the bushes and shrubs which grew on the land before it was cleared for vine cultivation, and occur in the names of famous clos – for example « Les Bouchots ». Thorny bushes like brambles, junipers and hawthorn (les épineux in French) which were growing on the land or forming the surrounding hedgerows, appear in names like Les Epenottes or Les Epenots. The French regional name for aubépine or white hawthorn is ébaupin, hence the names L’Ebaupin, Les Baupins and even Aux Beaux Bruns. Finally, the stunted and sparse vegetation found on hilltops is expressed in the name Montrachet, literally meaning bald mountain – la râche being a French regional term for ringworm which can cause hair loss.
Toponyms or place names evoking the ways in which vines were introduced on the land over the centuries provide ample testimony to human occupation of the territory. La Romanée is an example evoking the proximity of a road which was later thought to date from Roman times.
The Gallo-Roman villa, which initially designated a country estate, rapidly became the word for village. It was used as a reference point to give an accurate location for the surrounding parcels of vines: examples include Entre Deux Velles (between two villages - Fixin and its hamlet Fixey), Sous (below) la Velle of Saint-Romain le Haut and Derrière (behind) la Velle of Puligny.
Many place names in the Côte region include the word Chezeaux – from the Latin casa, casale, casalis or house, literally meaning “a suitable place to build a house on”. This produced the variants Chazal (singular) and Chazeaux or Chezeaux (plural) and the subsequent Climat names: Aux Cheusots in Fixin, Aux Echézeaux in Gevrey-Chambertin, Aux Cheseaux in Morey-Saint-Denis, Les Grands Echézeaux in Flagey and Es Chazots in Corgoloin.
The many place names featuring the word Meix, like Les Meix des Ouches and Les Meix Gagnes…describe small enclosed village plots. The Provencal form of meix is mas (farmhouse). Historians use the word manses, from the Latin mansus, which originally designated a peasant’s tenure on a lord’s estate.
The names of the great medieval Clos are evidence of the influential land ownership of the lords, monks, chapters and bishops: Clos de Vougeot, the various Clos du Roi (previously owned by the Duke of Burgundy) in Chenôve, Corton and Beaune, Clos de Bèze in Gevrey and finally, Clos de Tart in Morey, established in the 12th century. Land registers often mention the regional form clou (cloux or clous in the plural). The diminutive form closeau was especially used in Gevrey-Chambertin for Au Closeau, a small Climat nestled in a corner of the place named La Perrière.
Many of the local vineyard place names remind us of the rocky hillsides, where cultivation began from the Early Middle Ages.
The masses of fallen rocks and alluvial cones, called « cras » and « crais » locally, provide the vines with an excellent substrate which helps to produce the premier cru wines : these include Les Crais and Les Cras in Marsannay, Les Crâs in Vougeot, Les Crays in Monthelie, Les Criots in Meursault, etc.
Although these place names have medieval origins, the primitive term goes back further to the Celtic word « cracos », meaning rocky hill, which directly influenced the current Celtic terms: craig in Welsh and crag in Breton.
The homophonic origin of corbeau (the French for crow) is crâ (an onomatopoeic reminder of its squawk). This can create a certain amount of confusion and incorrect interpretation of les cras meaning rocky soils.