Feature Story

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti

There’s always one important moment: Palm Sunday. The wind of Palm Sunday is often the dominant wind of the season. In 2008, it was a west wind, bringing rain and humidity. We knew we would have a difficult year.

Because of the cool beginning to the season, there was a lot of millerandage. The flowering confirmed the millerandage. It was a long flowering, three weeks. We like it when the flowering lasts three days—that provides for equal maturation. The weather after that was quite hot, mostly humid. We had three months of difficulties fighting mildew and oidium—and botrytis as early as the beginning of August.

We managed to get through all right. But the second week of September was a solid week of rain. Saturday, September 13, was the sort of day you remember for the rest of your life. It rained the whole day. I was with friends, vignerons; we thought we might not make any wine. Then Sunday morning, the north wind arrived, the clouds dispersed in the sky: very clear weather and a lot of light. The north wind is like gold, because it dries the botrytis and concentrates the berries. It takes off water, concentrates sugar and acidity.

Pinot noir has this extraordinary ability to ripen very fast at the end of the cycle if there is heat or light and enough humidity in the soil. So you had this combination: the humidity in the soil helped the vines have an efficient photosynthesis. We saw maturities that went up one and a half degrees per week.

We left the vineyard for about two weeks to dry and mature, then started harvest on the 28th of September, with fine weather that lasted a long time after the harvest.

Another observation about the vintage: It shows the importance of being organic or biodynamic. The organic way of cultivating brings to the grapes a finer maturity. I call it finesse de maturité. You are in a better position to accompany what nature wants to do in a vintage. When you look behind the loss you have had with mildew, oidium and botrytis, [you see that] it all has contributed to the concentration of what’s left. In every vintage—except 1968, when nature refused any opening—if the grower is at the right level, a great vineyard will produce a great wine. It could be a smaller amount, but it can be great in most years.

In 2008, we ended up with half the normal crop, but if we had the means to keep the crop as it was, we wouldn’t have made the wines we made. With this combination of what nature brought and the way we defended ourselves, we managed to have good harmony in the wine.

Purity and transparency is the character of the vintage.

Montrachet had a different history. When veraison happened at the beginning of August for pinot noir, we had attacks of botrytis. Chardonnay had veraison a little later and escaped this attack. In Montrachet, we have a more normal yield. We picked the reds from September 28 through October 5. We picked Montrachet on October 1 and 2, with a relatively high proportion of noble botrytis—about ten percent—which explains the opulence of the wine. But at the same time, the acidities are good—not so tight. 2009 is like 1959: There really is a correspondence. Here, with 2008, it is very different. This is a vintage with potential for aging, tense at the beginning, maybe like 1978 or 1998.

[Elin McCoy of Bloomberg asked De Villaine about his efforts on behalf of the Côte d’Or’s application for recognition as a World Heritage site.]

It is a big project. It obliges us to go very deep in what Burgundy is. We have to show first why Burgundy shows exceptional universal value. How this idea of climat, terroir, was built over three thousand years and why its value is universal. A team of scientists have worked on the geology, the sociology, all of the aspects that make this territory exceptional.

You have to prove you have the instruments to protect this exceptional value. The idea is not to freeze the territory, but to protect it. It is a moment when the AOC has lost some prestige, a moment when you have to mark your values. For all the people who try to make a vin de terroir, Burgundy is the model.

The application will be presented to the French state at the end of the year. If the minister of culture accepts the file, he may present it in 2012, 2013 or 2014—he is allowed to present only one file per year.”

You can place your name on the list of supporters on the Internet: Climats du vignoble de Bourgogne.


As transcribed on February 6, 2011, by Joshua Greene, who provides the following notes on the wines.

2008 Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Cuvée Duvault-Blochet
This wine is a blend of fruit from young vines (not from the young vineyards) with fruit from vines that have bigger clusters (these vines are picked later than others). It also includes the second crop from the old vineyards. Depending on the quality of the wine, the domaine either sells it in bulk or bottles it. The 2008 is light and meaty, with the dark, gamey savor of duck meat. There’s a prickle of sweet strawberry fruit in the middle, while the finish is closed off for now—a wine with a serious tone, rather than directly fruity. It’s named for Jacques-Marie Duvault-Blochet, who acquired La Romanée-Conti in 1869, adding the monopole to his grands and premiers crus holdings—which totaled 339 acres at the time.

Les Grands Crus

2008 Echézeaux
Bright with red berry scents and the sweetness of the earth. There’s something animal as well as vegetable root in the flavor, focused at this phase on earth and roots rather than fruit and sun.

2008 Grands Echézeaux
The humidity of the soil in 2008 shows in the breadth of this wine, the sort of volume you get in soil that is airy rather than compacted. There’s a meaty strawberry richness to the finish, fragrant and clean. The wine’s dark-toned minerality contrasts with more vibrant aspects of its structure. Showing some overt new oak at this stage. Built for drinking ten years or more from the vintage.

2008 Romanée-St-Vivant
With its density of aroma, this wine feels layered in several directions, giving the sense of a sphere with its own gravitational pull. A dark beauty, this is a feminine wine in the sweep of its curves, generously yielding its fruit at a young age. Underneath the bold sweetness of fruit you can taste the humidity of the soil, then the structural tension comes on with a power that may be humbling if you attempt to drink this wine young.

2008 Richebourg
The surface of this wine is all finesse: a floral scent of beeswax, discreet berried fruit that rolls around in the mouth like pebbles. The sweet flavors blossom into dark tannins, moving the wine toward earthy mineral tones. It feels youthfully severe in the end, unforgiving, needing ten to 15 years to mellow.

2008 La Tâche
Massively structured, this is a concentrated vintage of La Tâche that offers no points of entry for now. The tannins are muscular and unyielding; the aromas tied to those tannins show little more than black mushroom and chipped rock. In most years when tasted on release, the mystery and structure of La Tâche can provide a glimpse into the wine’s future, one for me that clearly places the wine at the very top of the domaine’s offerings—a paradigm of masculine power to stand with the more delicate and aristocratic finesse of Romanée-Conti. In 2008, the power is there, but the wine will need decades to reveal any of its charms.

2008 Romanée-Conti
A voluptuous vintage of Romanée-Conti, this wine’s aroma feels supple, like the touch of a red rose. The flavors expand in the mouth, a sphere increasing in volume and not backing down. It shows more oak as a young wine than in other vintages, as well as a bit of confiture to the tannin. But those are imperfections that may well turn into compelling markers of the vintage with several decades of age. As a young wine, Romanée-Conti often holds a subtle fragrance—the scent of a rose garden, from petal to stem to earth. This wine has it, lasting on the palate long enough to transform into a permanent memory, one not as impeccably formed as other vintages from this noble ground, but no less beautiful.


This feature appears in the print edition of February 2011.
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