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“As if, in this square of earth, the gods had bequeathed us a memory of the fascinating vestige of a timeless perfection.” — Richard Olney. The wine of Prince de Conti, she is velvet, seduction and mystery. It is the most Proustian of all great wines.
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is without question the most famous estate in Burgundy and arguably the greatest, producing some of the best wines in the world. It is probably one of the most traditional wineries in France. Wines are produced in small quantities while the demand is huge. The domaine has 25 hectares of vineyards, all Grand Crus, including the jewel in the crown, the 1.8 hectare monopole of Romanée Conti.
Romanée-Conti, a vineyard of four and a half acres,was originally the property of the Abbey of St. Vivant. In 1760 Prince Conti acquired it against the competition of a famous collector of jewellery, Madame de Pompadour – the king’s minister against the king’s mistress. He withdrew it from the market and reserved it for his own dazzling social events. It was he who created the myth surrounding Romanée-Conti.
The price of this tiny, treasured vineyard was 80.000 livres, which in those days was worth a small kingdom. Reclaimed as property of the nation during the Revolution, the vineyard passed through the hands of several proprietors to an ancestor of the present owner for 14.000 gold pounds in 1868.
–We are the keeper of a certain philosophy of wine and, mainly, we are concerned by the perfection in details" assures Aubert de Villaine.
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.
1997 will be remembered as a vintage where extremes of cold, heat and humidity never stopped meeting, a vintage that began with anxiety and difficulties, but ended with smile and excitement, and everything you need to achieve an exceptional wine.
The bud was very early, favoured by an extraordinarily warm month of March, but in April the cold weather returned with intensity and frost slowed down and even here and there destroyed the vigourous vegetation that had developed.
May and June were warmer, but very rainy. The blooming began from the end of May, but unlike last year when it was extremely rapid, this year it spread over nearly three weeks, which explains the irregular growth of the berries that could be observed until the harvest, of the "coulure" (flowers that had not been fertilized) and "millerandage" (small berries). At this stage, we already knew that yields would be small.
During these three months, the threat of mildew, always present, was one of the strongest of these last few years. As usual, we stuck to our biological treatments and had to repeat the operation several times while being as careful as possible.
However the great earliness of the bud was still noticeable and veraison began from the end of July with at least 10 days ahead of last year.
The scorching heat of August first accelerated the ripening of the grapes, then, as often happens when vineyards go through extreme and stressful climatic conditions, the process of vegetation and maturation was stopped.
Fortunately, a rainy period began on August 26 and lasted, with sunny intervals, until September 6. These warm rains which could have been a disaster if they had lasted a few more days, were in fact beneficial. The vegetative process started again and vineyards ideally entered the beautiful period of dry and hot weather that continued without interruption until the harvest, during the harvest, and is actually just over.
Stimulated by these ideal conditions, the grapes started ripening very fast, extremely fast in fact since, between September 10 and 15 for instance, degrees rose by 1°5 ! We were afraid that at the same time as the sugar level was rising so high, acidities might be falling, but, on the contrary, they did not stop strengthening, just like last year, thanks to a phenomenon of concentration of sugars and acidities resulting from the Sun and the North Wind.
With this persistent anticyclone, it was not easy to decide when to start harvesting. As usual, we waited as long as possible in view of the sugar and acidity contents. The harvest of the red wines began on September 16 and ended with Romanée-Conti on September 23. During this week, the sky remained cloudless and it was so hot that the last two days we only harvested in the morning.
The grapes are perhaps the most perfect we have ever picked these last few years, real "jewels" offering the "cuit and rôti" of the very great years and skins of a deep black that the fight against the weather conditions had made very thick. May the wines reach the same level of perfection !
It is yet too early to know definitely if the 1997s will be good or very great wines, but the first devatting show coloured and fruity wines that should be extremely charming.
As for Montrachet, it was not harvested until September 29. The Chardonnays were indeed throughout the year very late compared to the Pinots. The excellent sanitary condition of the grapes allowed us to wait until maturation was at the maximum - we were the very last ones to harvest - and the grapes we pressed contained 14°5 sugar. We expect a great 1997 Montrachet.
The only drawback : small yields are confirmed - It is one of the smallest crops of these last few years, even inferior to 1995.
Recommended glass shape
Average Bottle Price
|14 390€ +47.7%||9 740€ +1.9%||9 554€ +74.1%||5 489€ +131.6%||2 370€|