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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.
At the time of this writing, the vineyards resemble a purplish red and gold tapestry under the sun that is shining through a light autumnal mist. The picture is sumptuous. At last we can feel the calm and softness of the "Indian Summer" which has set in over Burgundy.
This calm and this softness strikingly contrast with the chaotic year we went through : successively rainy, cold, warm, often without any transition, every warm spell being followed by storms... once again we were faced with a difficult year and we had to be as vigilant as ever regarding our treatments and work in the vineyards.
What are the turning points of the year 2001 ?
- The budburst (débourrement) took place at the beginning of May and was two weeks late compared to last year, which was excessively early. Beautiful bunch setting resulting in a severe disbudding.
- May was beautiful, but June was cold and rainy. The flowering began around June 10th in cool weather, which, surprisingly enough, did not slow it down and therefore did not prevent a rather uniform maturation of the grapes.
- The month of July was a succession of beautiful days and storms, of cold and heat. The beginning and second part of August were "bakingly hot" (up to 38°C during 4 consecutive days !) resulting in storms that struck very hard some places in the Côte, but did not affect the Domaine. In every way, the number of sunny days and accumulated heat were equal to what we observed in a year like 1995.
Through that ever changing weather, grapes were forming with rather thick and anthocyane-rich skins, but also fragile, which the vines were not always going to bring to complete maturity.
It is, I believe, the greatest characteristic of the year, which had major consequences on our decisions : the old vines with few grapes and the younger ones that had been carefully thinned out brought their grapes to complete maturity. But, much more perhaps than in other years, the grapes that were borne by vines that were a little more loaded, too vigorous or with large bunches, did not mature completely and created all the conditions for botrytis to develop.
This heterogeneity among the vines was worsened by the few days of cold that preceded the harvest and the day before we started, it appeared obvious to us that it would be necessary to sort out the perfectly ripe and healthy fine grapes from those whose maturation had stopped, leaving aside the grapes that were not ripe enough or exposed to grey rot.
That is the reason why we decided to have a very selective picking and to pass twice through the vineyards. The work was very difficult and required everybody to be very vigilant : from the pickers to the sorting-team at the winery. But the expected result was achieved and if the 2001 vintage reaches the quality that we hope for, we shall owe victory to the "haute-couture" selection that was performed.
It is at present too early to give our opinion on the final quality or to venture comparisons with other vintages. The vinifications proceeded very well and at the time of the devatting, which we are finishing, we can already say that the wines have beautiful colours, are extremely aromatic - the powerful fragrances are fit to knock you down ! - and show a beautiful length in the mouth. We shall see during the next weeks and months whether these positive impressions are confirmed.
The harvest began on September 24th and was completed by the 30th in the following order : Echezeaux, Grands-Echezeaux, Richebourg, Romanée-Conti, La Tâche and Romanée-St-Vivant.
The Montrachet was also harvested on September 30th, which was very late compared to other producers, but as you know now, this very great terroir makes it possible to wait for extreme ripeness without losing the freshness that gives it its balance.
2001 is once again a "vigneron's year" : that is to say as far as the work before the harvest enabled us to bring in ripe grapes that were produced according to a controlled yield, we can expect a beautiful quality.