''In wine-making there is more to be learned in what not to do than in what to do'' Aubert de Villaine
The story begins 752 years ago when the monks of the Priory of St Vivant, sited on a hill behind Vosne-Romanée, sold a tiny vineyard of 1.8 hectares called Cros des Clous which they had received some two centuries previously from the Dukes of Burgundy.
It was the de Croonemberg family who changed this name from Cros des Clous to Romanée and who were the beneficiaries of its eventual sale in 1760 to Louis Francois de Bourbon, Prince de Conti, first cousin of Louis XV of France.
As a result of the French Revolution, the vineyard was sold at auction in 1793 to a Parisian, Nicolas Defer, it was again sold in 1819 to Julien Ouvrard, Napoleons controversial banker, for FF 78,000.
In 1869 Romanée-Conti was acquired by Monsieur Duvault Blochet who built up most of the holdings now owned by his direct descendants the de Villaine family, and by the Leroy/Roch families.
The vineyard of La Tâche was acquired by the Domaine in 1933, Romanée-St-Vivant, was managed by the Domaine from 1966 and in 1988 this parcel was purchased outright.
The Domaine de la Romanée-Conti now owns in entirety the vineyards of Romanée-Conti and La Tâche, half of Richebourg, a third of Grands Echézeaux, a seventh of Echézeaux and more than half of Romanée-St-Vivant. Its only white wine is the incredibly rare Le Montrachet of 0.67 hectare out of a total vineyard area of just under 8 hectares.
Bertrand de Villaine and Perrine Fenal are Co-Directors of the Domaine.
The hallmark is concentration, great depth of structure, unbelievable length and supreme elegance.
Minimum intervention in the winery allows an entirely natural vinification. There is no de-stalking of the grapes, which undergo a very long cuvaison – up to a month – and fermentation is carried out at relatively low temperatures.
The Domaine has its private supply of oak from the Troncais forests. 100% new oak is used and maturation time depends on the quality of the vintage.
New oak is used to eliminate any possibility of contamination which might result from older casks, and to marry the unique qualities of the fruit.
There is no filtration and if racking off the lees is required this is done by gravity from cask to cask, never pumped. If the wines need to be fined, then fresh eggs are used.
The wines spend sixteen to twenty months in wood before bottling. Both assemblage and bottling are done by gravity and usually cask by cask.
The vineyards are grouped around the village of Vosne Romanée on well drained slopes facing east and south east. The soil is iron-rich limestone on a base of rock and marl with vines lying around 800ft above sea level. The average age of the vines is very high – around 44 years and the vineyards are cultivated organically.
Soil supplements are limited to compost made from crushed vine roots, grape skins and residues from fermentation. To avoid compacting the soil with the use of tractors, horses were re-introduced to cultivate the vineyards of Romanée-Conti and Le Montrachet.
Five hectares in La Tâche and Grands Echézeaux are now being cultivated biodynamically whereby the individual vines are treated with special natural preparations and according to a strict lunar timetable.
Yields are very low at an average of 25 hl/ha (the Grand Cru rendement is 35 hl/ha). In other words, it takes the produce of three vines to produce one bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Yields are kept low through severe pruning early in the season, and green pruning (éclaircissage) in July/August with a “passage de nettoyage” completed immediately before harvest, to cut out substandard grapes.
At harvest time, the grapes are sorted into small baskets and individually examined for health on triage tables, before the winemaking begins.