Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is the apogee in Burgundy and the mere mention of the Domaines name makes Burgoholics go a bit goofy and doey-eyed, The Domaine is co-owned by the de Villaine and Leroy/Roch families.
The history of the Domaines vineyards can be traced back to the 7th century…but we’ll start with when the de Villaine family came on the scene.
The de Villaine family involvement with Romanée-Conti began with current co-manager, Aubert de Villaines great-great-great-grandfather, Jacques-Marie Duvault-Blochet. He started piecing together the domaines holdings…..namely Gaudichots,which today makes up part of La Tâche , Richebourg, Grands-Echézeaux and Echézeaux…..it wasn’t until 1869, at the ripe old age of 79, that he purchased the famous piece of earth known as the Romanée-Conti vineyard. The Romanée-Conti name goes back to a previous owner….the Prince de Conti who sounds like a right boozehound as he kept the entire production of the vineyard for his personal use.
Duvault-Blochet passed away in 1874 and the vineyards went through a period when they didn’t get much love until Gaudin de Villaine and his brother-in-law, Jacques Chambon became the sole-owners of the domaine in 1911 after buying out their cousins. Louis Clin was hired as régisseur…..a lovely term for a director of viti & viniculture…..the term régisseur is also used in the entertainment industry where it means a director of a theatrical production.
Under the ownership of Gaudin de Villaine the Domaine began to bottle Romanée-Conti, Les Gaudichots and Richebourg under its own label…..quite a big deal at the time as most wines where negociant productions until producers like Henri Gouges, the Marquis d’Angerville and Armand Rousseau followed suit and started estate-bottling their own wines. Romanée-Conti was actually estate-bottled while Duvault-Belair was at the helm…..but his day gig was a négociant in Santenay.
In the 1930′s there was a bit of a kerfuffle when the Ligier-Belair family started legal action against the Domaine for labelling the wine from the Gaudichots vineyard as La Tâche….which the Ligier-Belair family owned. The Domaine prevailed in court and when the Ligier-Belair family ran into financial problems in 1933, the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti purchased their portion of La Tâche and in 1936, Les Gaudichots and La Tâche were combined and became the La Tâche appellation.
Gaudin de Villaine had become over the years, a good friend of Henri Leroy, a négociant in Auxey-Duresses….and when the Domaine became société civile in 1942, Jacques Chambon sold his shares to Henri Leroy and he became part of the fold.
Henri Leroy made quite a contribution to the Domaine….it was he who realised that the pre-phylloxera vines of Romanée-Conti and Richebourg needed to be grubbed out in 1945 and replaced with resistant American rootsocks in 1947. This rotational planting has flowed through to today with around 1/3 of a hectare per year being replanted.
Henri also aquired the Domaines first parcels of Montrachet in 1963 and came to an argreement with the Marey-Monge family to farm their Romanée-St-Vivant vineyard in 1966…..they actually purchased the Romanee-St-Vivant vineyard off the Marey-Monge family in 1988 and picked up other parcels of Le Montrachet in 1965 and 1980. I tried a Marey-Monge labelled 1969 Domaine de la Romanée Conti Romanée-St-Vivant a couple of weeks back so there will be a note to follow on that in the near future.
Current co-manager Aubert de Villaine was born in 1939….he worked for a while in the U.S. with the Domaines importer in that country…..actually Aubert even tried is hand as a wine hack writing some articles for Le Revue du Vin on the Californian wines he was trying in the U.S. In 1965, Aubert began work at the Domaine with stints at Maison Leroy.
In the early 1970′s there was some critsism in the press of the Domaines wines…..Hugh Johnson in particular stuck the boot in though he was not alone. In 1974 Aubert de Villaine and Marcelle (Lalou) Bize-Leroy took over the reins, succeeding their fathers and becoming co-managers…..not the most auspicious of beginnings as the 1975 vintage was slammed by critics as being unfit for bottling under the Domaines label. In fact the Domaine seemed to have a bit of a target on its back with wine writers (some of it justified) until the mid-1980s…..with the exception of the 1978′s of course!
But while this negative press was happening, Aubert & Lalou were making changes at the Domaine…..in 1985 the Domaine began converting to organics and from that point on the wines began to improve. Lalou-Bize Leroy left the Domaine in 1992….all sorts of rumors behind that but from all accounts it had something to do with the marketing of the Domaines wines. Charles Roch was apponted as the new cogérant….he was the eldest son of Pauline Roch-Leroy, Lalou Bize-Leroys elder sister. A mere two months after his appointment Charles was tragically killed in a car accident and his brother, Henry Frédéric Roch was given his position. The duo of Aubert de Villaine and Henry Roch remains in place to this day….though at a DRC tasting in Sydney about five years ago Aubert was hinting that he was getting close to retirement.
Current vineyard holding for the Domaine are as follows (with the recent aquisition of some Corton in 2009…..not exactly sure under what label this will appear in the marketplace): La Romanée-Conti 1.81 ha, La Tache 6.06 ha, Richebourg 3.51 ha, Romanée-St-Vivant 5.29 ha, Grands Echézeaux 3.53 ha, Echézeaux 4.67 ha, Corton Clos du Roi 0.57 ha, Corton Bressandes 1.19 ha, Corton Renardes 0.51 ha, Vosne-Romanée 1er 0.60 ha, Le Montrachet 0.68 ha and Batard-Montrachet 0.17 ha. As an aside the Batard-Montrachet is not sold to the public and is the Domaines “house”wine so to speak.
There is a great map of Vosne-Romanee over at The Burgundy Report here ……the map is copyright and courtesy of the fine folks at Kobrand.
From 2007 all of the vineyards have been managed biodynamically….though not strictly adhering to Steiners principles….maybe we’ll call it Bio-D-lite. No inter-row cover crops are planted as Aubert de Villaine believes that it would lead to darker, more concentrated wines that would lack finesse. For the same reason, there is no leaf-plucking though shoot-thinning is carried out at times through the growing season.
The vineyards are ploughed by horse…..last year I sat on the stone wall of Romanée-Conti drinking a coffee and watching the horse dutifully trudge up and down the rows…..I had a chat to the nice gentleman who was driving the plough for a while and asked if I could have a go but he politely declined. The vines are planted on a 1 x 1 metre spacing at a density of 10,000 vines per hectare.
The wines are made by Bernard Noblet who took over from his father André…..all a bit nepotistic this high end Burgundy Domaine stuff eh?. The amount of whole bunches used is dependent on the vintage…..some years it’s 100%…..in others, such as years with rain and rot, the amount of whole bunches will be much less. No destemming and the grapes are cooled to 15 degrees to kick the ferments off slowly. Natural yeasts are used and the vats are pigeaged twice daily. The grapes spend on average 17-21 days in the vats before being pressed off in a Bucher bag press…..free run kept separately and the soft pressings added back to the wine later down the track.
The wine is allowed to settle briefly before heading to barrel…..Francois Frere seems to be the barrique of choice….100% new…..I visited the cooperage in Saint-Romain last year and genuflected in front of their pile of seasoning planks. The wines are racked after the completion of malolactic fermentation the following Spring and will go to bottle without filtration…..some light fining is carried out though.
The 2007 vintage was an interesting one. Flowering began in Vosne-Romanée quite early….around May 20th but it was a drawn out affair which pointed to the possibility of uneven ripening further down the track. The Spring was cool and quite wet with oidium, mildew and botrytis rearing there heads…..Summer wasn’t much help and August started with a lot of rain making the disease issues more of a concern and by mid-August the ripening of the grapes was a bit behind the eight-ball.
In a “saved by the bell” moment the sunshine did it’s thing from August 20th onwards and the perfect weather didn’t let up for five weeks…..most importantly the North winds stopped the disease in its tracks and saved the vintage. The Domaine picked its Vosne-Romanée vineyards between the 1st and 11th of September with severe selection both during picking and at the sorting tables…..the yields varied between 22 and 28 hl/ha.
Enough preamble…..onto the wines:
2007 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Echézeaux (4.67 ha – Avg Production 1340 cases)
Most of the fruit for the domaines Echézeaux comes from the Poulaillères lieu-dit…..considered to be one of the best parcels within the appellation. In saying that, this is probably the weakest wine of the “Big 6″….there are some very good producers making Echézeaux and the competition is stiff. Scarce on the top-soil with a hard limestone bedrock.
A fairly deep medium red cherry in colour. Quite a tight aromatic profile with spicy cherry fruit combined with higher tones of raspberry. There are hints of forest floor, light gamey notes, roasted root vegetables and a slight medicinal note. Nice sweet fruit with a medium-bodied mouthfeel and fine minerally acid line. Fairly chewy on the palate with a fair amount of tannic grip. Fairly fine and sleekly shaped in the mouth with good length.
2007 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grands-Echézeaux (3.53 ha – Avg Production 1000 cases)
The Domaine is the largest producer here owning more than 1/3 of the vineyard area in the appellation….there are 21 proprietors here with half owning less than 0.13 hectares. It lies between Le Poulaillères and Clos Vougeot and the soil is influenced by an alluvial wash from Le Musigny which lies above it. As a general rule of thumb the wines here show a bit more flesh, richness and intensity than the wines from Echézeaux.
A fairly deep medium red cherry in colour. A little closed on the nose with spicy cherry and meaty notes poking through but after some time in the glass it opens up to reveal a quite sensual smelling wine with gamey notes, dried citrus peel and earthy nuance. Richer fruit in the mouth with increased palate presence and brightness….very focused with a tight, minerally acid line. Seems quite airy in the mouth but has greater density of fruit than the previous wine. Again not lacking in grippy tannins on the finish.
2007 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanee St-Vivant (5.29 ha – Avg Production 1500 cases)
Probably the lightest and most delicate of the Vosne-Romanée Grand Crus. Again the Domaine is the largest landholder here with 5.29 hectares out of a total of 9.44 hectares.
Deeper in colour. Quite an intoxicating nose with a sense of latent power purring in the background. Again sexy, spicy cherry fruits with notes of dried citrus peel, sous bois, game and minerals. Quite fine, bright and silky on the palate with beautiful ripe, fine tannins. Certainly a step up in clarity, perfume and intensity after the previous two wines and a wine of great potential.
2007 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Richebourg (3.51 ha – Avg Production 1000 cases)
Sounding like a broken record, but again the Domaine is the largest landholder here with 3.51 hectares out of a total of 8.03 hectares…..Leroy is the next largest holding at 0.78 hectares. Current average vine age is 45 years.
Medium cherry red in hue. Quite a floral nose showing violets, spicy cherry and notes of raspberry and redcurrant with earthy, forest floor, exotic spice, game and mushroomy hints coming into the picture with air.. A little more generous, fatter and intense than the Romanee St-Vivant but perhaps lacking a little of the previous wines fineness and poise. The finish is quite savoury with a stark, stony acid line coming through and medium, fine-grained rip tannins. The finish seemed a little truncated at this stage but I think the wine was just showing a little dumb on the finish.
2007 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tâche (6.06 ha, Avg Production 1500 cases)
La Tâche is a monopole and is owned entirely by the Domaine. It stretches from top to bottom of the mid-slope that contains the Grand Crus just on the other side of La Grand Rue. It is a wine that is renowned for its longevity….a wine of incredible fragrance with a siky, supple mouthfeel and peacocks tail finish.
Deep cherry red….certainly noticeably deeper than the previous wines. Again sexy spicy cherry fruit with a gorgeous floral edge showing violets, sous bois, mushroom broth, stone, exotic spice and polished leather. Supple in the mouth with amazing fruit density and a obvious step up in concentration. Great tension between the fruit and the minerally acidity and even at this stage of its development it is expressive, structured and shows tremendous power……it’s a real “Look at me wine”……and I can’t stop looking! Fantastic ripe tannin structure and amazing potential again.
2007 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti (1.81 ha – Avg Production 450 cases)
Romanée-Conti is again a monopole……previously called Cros des Clous, the vineyard was renamed in the 17th century to Romanée and the Conti was added to the name after that old saucehound the Prince of Conti purchased it in 1760. It was replanted in 1947 and the first vinatge produced from the re-planted vines was in 1952.
Medium dark cherry red in colour. Absolutely stunning nose with exotic spices sheathing the pure, violet-tinged cherry fruits with blood orange notes shing through….great clarity of aromas on the nose. On the palate it is quite tight and compact but most definitely rich with hints of mushrooms, spice, forest floor, deep gamey notes and some dashi-like nuance. Earthy and quite masculine the flavours are very defined and there is a beautiful line of minerally acidity underpinning the rich, powerful fruit. Amazingly complex and dense with super-ripe tannins and great resonance across the palate with a very long finish……needs a lot of time.
Beautiful read, thankyou.
Cheers Boz….’twas a real pleasure to taste all the wines together…..didn’t get to try the Monty though unfortunately
Super duper stuff
I have a couple of 07 reds but jagged a Monty for some insane reason- I love the Mont and the Batard.
Unfortunately didn’t have the Monty this time around…..I’ve got a visit tee’d up at the domaine in June which I’m very much looking forward too….must try those Cortons!
Must agree with you bigtime- I tried 09 & 2010 – booj in march april & I rate 2010 raciness over bigger riper 2009 everytime.