After few days driving through the most iconic vineyards in Bourgogne Côte d’Or , there were only few left. It was still an heat wave during the first week of June 2019. The day after we were ready to visit Chablis in the far north of the region and then turning west for the Loire Valley vineyards.
At less than one hectare, La Romanee is not only the smallest Grand Cru m France but also the smallest Appellation Contrôlée. It is generally believed that pre-1760 it formed part of the larger Romanée vineyard with the same name conjoined to what is now Romanee-Conti.
This history, though , is contested. The Domaine de la Romanée-Conti believes that only Romanée-Conti had the Romanée designation: and that both La Romanee and RomaneeSt-Vivant acquired the Romanée suffix later merely because of their proximity to Romanee-Conti.
Rodier (op. cit.) cites a contemporary description of the verbal hearing from the Côte d'Or archives which avers La Romanee to be fwe journaux - the size of today's Romanee-Conti but surrounded on three sides by a stone wall, much of which remains and includes both vineyards. The Liger-Belairs, proprietors of La Romanee, on the other hand, claim that both vineyards were united until around the 14th century, most likely under an entirely different name, before part (which then became Romanee-Conti) was sold to the Prince de Conti. Whatever one's take on the history, what is certain is that La Romanée has never been part of Romanée-Conti. In any event, General Liger-Belair bought the sbc individual plots which constitute the present vineyard progressively from 1815 to 1826. It was declared a Monopole on 1 July 1927.
From 1947-2001, the vineyard was managed by Vosne viticulteur Régis Forey who also made the wine although because of part family ownership, half the crop was matured and marketed by Bouchard Père et Fils in Beaune. From the 2006 vintage, the Liger Belairs, having bought out the other family interests, took over both vineyard and winemaking; the arrangements with Bouchard ended after the 2005 vintage.
Lying between Ftagey-Échezeaux (home of the ÉCHEZEAUX appellation) and Nuìts-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-Romanee, 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 Benedictine 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 of the world and has always been a singly-held entity.
Next door to it, Romanee-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.
Given its situation and pedigree, there is no why La Romanée should not equal Romanée-Conti in quality. However, for many years it did not do so. There are signs from the limited evidence available since the family took back responsibility for the operation that quality has improved considerably. In character it is relatively firm and masculine with plenty of flesh, developing complexity and interest as its layers unpack and its tannins resolve. The wine is dearly returning to where it belongs - as first-division Grand Cm.
A visitor to Vosne-Romanée in search of the postagestamp that is Romanee-Conti will need guidance to direct his steps to the stone cross and engraved corner-stone that mark the vineyard. Like the wine, and indeed its peers from this peerless Domaine, there is no advertisement, although recent times have seen the posting of a rather forlorn sign to dissuade visitors from wandering the vines. Self-promotion - heaven knows their quality and consistency over the years amply justify pride - is not part of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti's culture. This famous vineyard keeps a low profile, allowing its remarkable wines to speak authoritatively and eloquently to those lucky enough to taste them.
At just under two hectares, Romanee-Conti is indeed a micro-dot on the total vignoble that is Vosne-Romanee, let alone the Côte. It stretches most consumers’ credibility to accept that this handkerchief of a vineyard produces wine of a quality that outshines those around it. The concept of such detailed terroir specificity, although gaining in understanding, bemuses people more used to buying well-made fruity, but essentially pedestrian Pinot. Few really believe Romanee-Conti merits fifty or a hundred times the price of a decent Vosne-Romanee village wine or two hundred times that of a perfectly palatable New World varietal and demotic opinion remains obdurately unconvinced by recitals of rarity or quality.
The history of the Romanee-Conti vineyard is well documented. Richard Olney(op. cit.) meticulously chronicles its changes of ownership, including a two-month spell under the proprietorship is Paul Guillemot who owned the station buffet in Dijon. Although deeds of sale confirm that wine has been produced in this place since 1580, the Romanee' denomination, affirming the site as known in Roman times, first appeared in 1651 under the stewardship of the Croonembourg family and the 'Conti' suffix when the vineyard was bought by the Prince de Conti on 18 July 1760 for 80,000 livres - over ten times the contemporary price for other 'distinguished neighbouring growths' (idem.). It finally came into the Domaines ownership when it was acquired by M. Jacques-Marie Duvault-Blochet for 260,000 franca, in November 1869.
We we had to ask few people around the small square near a small Church that leads to the country dirt path to the sign of the iconic vineyard. The writing on the sign was hardly readable, leaving us surprised about the lack of a very beautiful formal entrance to one of the most famous wine sites in the world.
TOPOGRAPHY/GEOLOGY: Romanée-Conti is indeed a jewel surrounded by jewels. At the epicentre ofVosne's nervous system of Grands Crus, Romanée-Conti is perfectly placed to produce fine wine. Its immediate neighbours from which it is separated by no more than the width of a path or narrow vineyard road or in the case of La Romanee by nothing at all - are all Grands Crus: to the south, La Grande Rue; to the east, Romanee-StVivant; to the north, Les Richebourgs; to the west, la Romanee.
It incorporates 20 ares of the southern sector of Richebourg, added by Croonembourg when he sold to the Prince de Conti as the extent was found to be deficient by that amount from the area contracted.
The vineyard is almost square rising an almost imperceptible 3-4 metres at a roughly even slope of sue degrees. It lies mid-slope and faces east at an altitude of 260 metres. Geologically, there is no great difference between Romanée-Conti, La Romanée, La Grande Rue and La Tâche, although the latter pair occupies a great extent of slope, making it likely that variation in soil and minutiae of situation account for differences in the wines. Vosne's soils are on a substratum of Jurassic rock layers, from top to bottom: Prémeaux limestone then marls rich in tiny oysters
(Ostrea acuminata) giving onto crinoidal limestone (calcaire à entroques). Its subsoils are made up of white oolite and Combìanchien limestone, and Oligocene marls and conglomcrates. It is believed, but as yet unverified, that Romanee-Conti lies on shaly limestones. These could either overlay the entroques or possibly form part of the Ostrea acuminata formation - the evidence currently available is unclear. Otherwise, its soils are relatively uniform - a brown clay-limestone mbc with limestone scree in places and moderate stoniness; not particularly deep - around 20 centimètres of red-brown silts - giving onto limestone.
WINE: Attempts to describe Romanee-Conti in specific detail entirely miss the point which is, above all, to convey an exceptional experience. Apart from the real risk of courting pretension, unpicking the essence of any great wine is no more achieved by a listing of aromas and flavors than would be the beauty of a rainbow by a spectrographic analysis of its component wavelengths.
Nor is this a wine to be trivialized by scores which titrate pleasure as deductions from perfection.
Those fortunate (and wealthy) enough to taste, even rarer drink A, Romanee-Conti often come to it expecting more of eveeything - size, tannins, fruit.
They are destined to be disappointed. The relationship between Romanée-Conti and La Tâche or Richebourg more or less mirrors that of Le Montrachet to its neighbours BatardMontrachet or Chevalier in that, in each case, the greater of the pair exemplifies elegance and nuance above all rather than size or (perish the thought) hedonistic impact.
In aspect Romanée-Conti is less profound and obviously dense than either La Tâche or Richebourg. Often delicate, even deceptively light, in colour it is distinguished by its complexity and intensity rather than for any dimension of weight. Here one finds feminine elegance allied to exemplary purity and richness. Heresy as may be the description in these days of rampant egalitarianism, Romanée-Conti exudes nobility; not the result of contrived nobility - the vulgar ennobled'- but the^ elite product of supreme breed and effortless class. Refinement, regality and reticence are its hallmarks.'What makes this vineyard remarkable is its ability to fuse exceptional concentration into exceptional elegance. **** ( Grand Cru . Remington Norman).
CLOS DE TART
Le Clos de Tart is an ancient vignoble even by burgundian standards. Then known as the Clos de la Forge, its documented history dates from 1141 when it was sold, along with a press and vineyards at Brochon, ajoining Gevrey-Chambertin, to the sisters of the important Abbey of Tart-le-Haut, in Genlis, a small town between Dijon and Dole, which was attached to the Cistercian foundation at Cîteaux. By judicious dealing, through donations and purchases, they augmented the Clos from around 5 ha to its present size. Its current name dates from 1184 when the sisters were granted the rights to harvest 'before, during or after the ban (de vendanges). In the following 860+ years there have been only three owners: fìrst. Monsieur Charles Dumagner of Nuits who acquired it from the French State after sequestration during the Revolution in 1791; shortly thereafter it passed to the Marey family (of Marey-Monge lineage - the family who owned a large slice of Romanée-St-Vivant since the late 18th century before selling it to the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti). The present owners'. the Mommessin family, took over in 1932. The reconstitution of the estate was due to the inspiration and energy of Ferdinand Marey-Monge, direct descendant of the original purchaser Claude Marey.
In 1956 two small parcels of adioining Bonnes-Mares totalling 32 ares were officially incorporated into the Clos. Clos de Tart used to be distributed by the négociants Mommessin but this firm now belongs to Jean-CIaude Boisset and is no longer involved with the Clos or its wine. The wine is now made, matured, bottled and marketed at the fine old buildings in Morey-St-Denis, presided over by Sylvan Pitiot.
WINE: Things have improved considerebly from the 1980s and 1990s when quality was distinctly patchy. In particular, the introduction of a second wine, La Forge de Tart, has greatly strengthened the credibility of the Grand Vin Recent years have seen more precision viticulture, thoughtful vinification and rigorous selection for what appears under the Clos de Tart label. Nowadays, the fruit from the different subsoils in the Clos is vinified separately before selection and assemblage for the final cuvée. In generai, there appears to have been a shift towards a plusher, more modern style with a touch more obvious oakiness than hitherto. The wine is none the worse for that. The keys to the Clos5 quality are a rich mid-palate, plenty of ripe fruit and excellent length. There seems to me a touch of the Morey earthiness in the wine which sets it apart from the Grands Crus of both Chambolle and Gevrey. The best vintages start out full and masculine with plenty of firm tannin, developing typical Pinot secondary sous-bois and considerable finesse. Great wine indeed.
This ends the Bourgogne Côte d’Or journey. Between visits to the vineyards we enjoying the country side of this beautiful part of France . The next blog will describe this experience although not necessarily a wine specific. After we will dive into the last area of Bourgogne: Chablis where the weather started to change and we went from summer to fall in a few hours. But let’s wait for that. Follow us through this beautiful Voyage in the Wine Universe.