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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.
The weather sometimes makes it as hard and complicated to give birth to a new vintage as it must be to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs. 2008 will remain a concentrated demonstration of how difficult, fascinating and also rewarding it is to be a vigneron in Burgundy.
We first became aware of these difficulties on Palm Sunday when a firm West wind blew for the whole week-end. The wind that blows on that day remains, practically every year, the dominant wind of the season. West wind brings rain. We knew then that we were heading for a challenging vintage. But at the same time, the cool spring weather helped the vines to produce grapes with small clusters and, most important, a lot of "millerand" berries: grapes ideally built to make a great vintage.
The flowering was late compared to most recent vintages. It began on June 1st and took three weeks to be completed. As a result, the veraison, two months later, also took three weeks. This was a setback, but the grapes still had their "great vintage" structure.
Unfortunately in June, July and August, the West winds brought frequent rain. This made the vines subject to attacks of all sorts: mildew, oidium and later botrytis. We managed to fight these victoriously while entirely keeping to our organic methods. This meant that we had to be ready to intervene every time the weather would offer us a "window". Any wrong step would have been severely punished.
Nature's last wicked attack was the severe rain it brought the second week of September. Botrytis was progressing and, if this weather had continued, we would have run the risk of losing the entire crop. It is at this time that, once more, what we call the "burgundian miracle" came to the rescue. From the morning of Sunday, September 14th, after the last day of rain on Saturday, the North wind set in, strong, cold, exhilarating for us as well as for the grapes. With it came a succession of cold nights and luminous days. This had a brutal effect on the botrytis causing it to dry up rapidly. The maturation slowly progressed and, under the action of the North wind, sugar and acidity were spectacularly concentrated. It is to be noted that these climatic conditions are quite similar to 1996 and had the same effect: a fast increase of the sugar content and a concentration of the acidity.
We waited until the end of September to pick, letting our grapes benefit for as long as possible from the wind and sun to heal their wounds. When we decided to pick on September 27th, the vines were at the end of their vegetative cycle. There was nothing more to gain. Botrytis was still there, but dry. It was up to our team of pickers to do the "haute couture" work of sorting that we have trained them to do.
It was hard work and a good part of the crop was left on the ground or discarded from the sorting table. The grapes that ended up in the vats were of the finest quality: small clusters and small black berries showing some of the highest sugar contents of these last years, as well as the high acidities that make long-ageing wines.
With a little more luck or help from the weather in July and August, 2008 could have been one of the greatest vintages ever. But with the help of the dry conditions in the 2nd part of September, we believe that we have saved the "heart" of the crop and that the grapes we have so carefully picked will show, if not all, at least a good part of their initial potential. Once more, in Burgundy 2008 is a "millésime de vigneron".
Here are the harvest dates and approximate yields:
Harvest dates Yields
Echezeaux ......................... Oct. 4th, 5th&6th ................ 18 hl/ha
Grands-Echezeaux ............ Oct. 4th ............................... 19 hl/ha
Romanée-St-Vivant .......... Sept. 30th, Oct. 1st&2nd ...... 18 hl/ha
Richebourg ....................... Sept. 29th&30th ................... 15 hl/ha
La Tâche ........................... Sept. 27th, 28th&29th .......... 16 hl/ha
Romanée-Conti ................. Sept. 30th ............................ 16 hl/ha
Montrachet was harvested on October 1st.
Contrary to the red wines where the yield, as shown above, is extremely reduced, the crop of Montrachet is normal (40 hl/ha). We had some noble botrytis, a lot of "millerand" berries and as a result, a high concentration of sugar. 2008 should produce very good white wines and a particularly great Montrachet. In the barrels the fermenting must shows already some penetrating aromas of sweet honey.
The vinifications have been oenological examples. The grapes being taken cold to the winery, the vats "simmered" for a good week before starting the fermentations. These lasted over three weeks and proceeded ideally: slow and regular increase of temperatures, good extraction of colour and tannins, winery full of penetrating aromas.
We have waited for the first "devattings" to be finished to send you this report. The colours are a bright and healthy red. Aromas are fine, delicate and noble. The first wines show a good minerality and a promising depth. It would be surprising if the North wind at the end of the season did not bring some firmness to the wines, but it is truly after the malolactic - which we shall certainly not hasten - that we shall be able to evaluate the real balance these wines have.
An indifferent spring caused uneven flowering and mildew risk. At the end of June the weather changed for the better, continuing into July. Apart from local hail in the Côte de Beaune at the end of July, the summer began well. August arrived fairly cold and variable, but fortunately the last week of the month brought fine, warm weather. The lead-up to harvest saw sunny skies, apart from two days of rain in mid-September. A challenging vintage.
From day one the red wines have had a rich, pure fruit character with fine, silky tannins. The whites offer a good balance between ripe fruit and vibrant acidity. A vintage not to be overlooked because the wines deliver potential and pleasure.
Recommended glass shape
Average Bottle Price
|10 554€ +17.7%||8 969€ -15.9%||10 659€ +12.9%||9 443€ -4.5%||9 890€|