Richebourg is a king of a wine: the colonnade of the Louvre, the Château of Versailles. You are impressed by its finesse, its length and its delicate sensations, endlessly changing. The fact that no element dominates the others enables you to appreciate all of its aromas, on the nose and on the palate. In any given vintage, Richebourg is always one of the last wines to be drunk. Not because it is too aggressive when young; simply because it needs time to reveal its full complexity.
Romanée-Conti lies on brown limestone soils 60 cm deep with a major clay component. Romanée-Saint-Vivant has similar but deeper (90 cm) soils. Higher up, La Romanée occupies a markedly sloping site (12%) and the soil texture is less clayey. La Tâche and La Grande Rue share brown limestone soils, rather shallow at the top end with deeper rendzinas lower down. The same is true for the Richebourg, depending on slope and aspect. The underlying rock is hard Premeaux limestone dating from the Jurassic (175 million years BC).
Lying between Flagey-Échezeaux (home of the ÉCHEZEAUX appellation) and Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vosne-Romanée occupies a middle position in the Côte de Nuits. The vines grow at altitudes of 250 to 310 metres and face east or, in some cases, slightly south of east. Vosne-Romanée, the central jewel in the necklace of appellations which is the burgundian côte, is not content with holding a mere four aces but boasts a total of six Grands Crus, each one famous the world over. A thousand years ago, it was the Cluniac monks of Saint-Vivant de Vergy and the Cistercians of Cîteaux who first realised the value of these very special plots of land.
One of these vineyards takes its name from Prince Conti who lost his heart to it in 1760. Romanée-Conti is one of the wonders ofthe world and has always been a singly-held entity. Next door to it, Romanée-Saint-Vivant recalls the medieval monastery of the Hautes-Côtes which is currently undergoing restoration and which is linked to it by its own path. La Romanée, La Tâche and La Grande Rue are also singly-held entities, as is Richebourg, whose mere name is enough to fill a glass.
These Grands Crus frequently give good results from long laying-down. As a general rule, they shouldn't be drunk under about ten years of age but sometimes they will be aged up to 20 or 30 years. Each appellation has its own distinct personality depending on its year of production and on the stage it has reached in its development. These flamboyant red wines fully express the subtlety and complexity of the Burgundian Pinot Noir grape. Their colour is a dark ruby turning crimson with age. Their wide-ranging bouquet is divided among small red and black fruits, violet, spices and, with time, underbrush. On the palate, this wine is well-defined with a powerful body. It is delicate, sensual, frank and full.
In addition to their powerful structure and exceptional longevity, these great wines develop tertiary aromas of truffle, underbrush, leather and fur. It goes without saying that strong-flavoured meats will do them justice : furred or feathered game, braised, in sauce, or simply grilled. Wild-fowl (eg Peking duck) or a nice cut of roast veal will be gently enveloped by the close-packed but elegant tannins of these mighty Pinot Noir wines.
Serving temperatures : 15 to 16 °C.
Throughout most of the year, when everywhere in the world climates were shaken by exceptional weather disturbances, Burgundy had its share of misfortune with some spring frost and hail sometimes striking the same places successively. The Côte de Nuits and our Domaine in particular were fortunately spared by these catastrophic conditions, but during the whole period we alternately went through cold and warm weather spells.
After a mild winter, the « débourrement » (budburst) began precociously in early April, but a cold spell arrived around April 15th causing severe spring frosts in some places. There was no damage at the Domaine, but these low temperatures nevertheless provoked some « coulure » which would later take the form of « millerandage » and reduce the production accordingly.
The month of May was fine and warm. The growth was so rapid that the vineyard work, especially the « ebourgeonnage » (debudding) had to be done very quickly.
The first flowers appeared at the beginning of June. But a cold period set in and the flowering was finally spread over several weeks. We could still observe some « coulure », therefore « millerandage » and we already knew that we would have to content ourselves with small quantities.
The heat returned at the end of June and the vegetation began to grow very fast. There again, the work, especially the « accolage » (tying-down) had to be done so quickly that our teams had difficulties in keeping up. As far as I can remember, we have never experienced such stressful and labour intensive conditions.
In August however, there occurred one of the factors that would characterize the 1998 vintage : an exceptional heat wave (temperatures rose up to 43°C) which was both beneficial in quickening the grape ripening and bad in that it created a significant « stress » among some vines, especially the younger ones, and provoked everywhere « grillure » on the parts of the grapes facing the sun. It is the first time we saw this phenomenon develop to such an extent. Those grapes would of course be eliminated at the harvest.
At the end of August, the heat lessened slightly and we hoped for a little rain. This fortunately occurred and the ripening accelerated. This rain continued however and on September 15th we were really concerned, as rot began to appear and ripening stopped.
Then, at the very last moment, thanks to one of those miracles to which the Burgundian climate is so familiar, the fine weather returned, more than fine weather, where conditions were quite ideal : north wind, clear weather, not too hot, everything that was necessary to stop the rot and help the ripening.
We began the harvest on September 19th, under the sun, with the young vines already very ripe :
- Sept. 19 & 20 : young vines
- Sept. 20, 21 & 22 : Romanée-St-Vivant, Richebourg
- Sept. 22, 23 & 25 : La Tâche
- Sept. 24 : Romanée-Conti
- Sept. 25 : Montrachet; Grands-Echezeaux
- Sept. 26 & 27 : Echezeaux
The whole harvest took place under a beautiful weather. It was only raining on the penultimate day. Harvest was completed on, Sunday 27th, on a sunny cool day.
Never have our teams of harvesters worked better : « haute couture » once again, in the vineyards first of all where the selection is most important , and on the sorting table also which « refines » the vineyard work and eliminates the grapes that bear « grillure », those which are not quite ripe, and the rot that is finally much more important than it appeared first.
The degrees are satisfactory, between 12°1 and 12°7, and acidities are much better than expected.
Yields vary according to the wines between 20 hl/ha and 27hl/ha.
In summary, we have gone through both a difficult year and harvest, but the Domaine was able to seize the « few » opportunities offered by outstanding weather conditions and, even if it is too early to give a definitive description of the vintage, we are rather optimistic. The devatting has just begun : the colours are beautiful, fragrances enchanting, and there seems to be a lot of « fruit ».
With 1998, the production of great wines would depend on the yield controls, the choice of the precise date for picking and finally the quality of selection.