Tasha Brandstatter on July 26, 2016 1 Comment The Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, or DRC for short, is the most famous winery in Burgundy, and one of the most famous in the world. Bottles of their Romanée-Conti wine typically sell for tens of thousands of dollars, and the wines are so famous they’ve been the focus of fraud, theft, and kidnapping. So what makes these wines so special? The answer lies in the high quality vines, painstaking harvesting process, and exquisite sense of terroir. What and Where is the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti? The DRC occupies several small estates on the Côte d’Or, or “Golden Slope” of Burgundy, which was first cultivated for growing wine grapes by the Romans. In the early 13th century, the 4.5 acres that’s now known as Romanée-Conti was turned into a vineyard by the Abbey of Saint Vivant in Vosne; the land has been producing wine grapes ever since. Aside from the Romanée-Conti, the DRC also owns the neighboring vineyard of La Tâche and harvests grapes from several other estates on the Côte d’Or: Richebourg, Romanée-Saint-Vivant, Échezeaux, Grands Échezeaux, and Montrachet. Aside from Montrachet, which produces Chardonnay, all the estates grow Pinot Noir grapes from Grand Cru vines, the highest-quality vines according to French standards. Why is Wine From Domaine de la Romanée-Conti So Expensive? If the thought of paying four or five figures for a bottle of wine makes your heart palpitate (and who can blame you), you might be wondering why the DRC’s wines are so expensive. The answer is two-fold. One, the DRC is famous for producing the finest-quality wine in a region known for superb wine. It’s been called a “cathedral” of wineries, more representative of the hallowed concept of terroir and all its layers of meaning than perhaps any other winery in France. Two, there’s the basic economic concept of supply and demand. The DRC produces a minuscule amount of wine every year, partly because their vines are all at least 50 years old and thus don’t produce as many grapes as young vines. And partly because the winery deliberately keeps yields low to intensify flavor in the grapes. Even after production, DRC wines are not easy to come by: they’re sold exclusively through a management company, C&B, whose allocation process is impenetrably complex, meant to favor drinkers over speculators. People who buy a young DRC wine from C&B and want to sell it are expected to offer it back to the company first before placing it on the open market, to help prevent fraud (so if you find a bottle for sale on eBay, be skeptical). What Does it Taste Like? The wines may be expensive because of their fame and rarity, but does their taste justify the price? According to those who’ve tried it, yes. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Grapes from each estate are handled and bottled separately, with the name of the estate prominently displayed on the label, and they each have their own personalities. Wine from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti estate is the most highly prized of the group and is often described as silky and satiny, with fruit-forward notes of cherry and violet and a restrained sense of minerality. Aubert de Villaine, one of the co-owners of the DRC and its “Grand Monsieur,” describes Romanée-Conti as having a “hidden elegance,” not wanting to show off. La Tâche La Tâche, the second most prized DRC wine, is more flamboyant. Villaine explained it beautifully to Wall Street Journal reporter Will Lyons as, “…vertical and sharp, but surrounded by a lot of lace and velvet.” Victoria Moore of The Guardian rhapsodized, “This wine feels like being in the Royal Opera House at the moment when the corps de ballet pirouette in a swirl of skirts…it has precision but it saturates you in sensation.” Richebourg Richebourg is the third most prized DRC wine, with less complexity than either La Tâche or Romanée-Conti, but with more body and intensity. The other estates produce wines that are on par with other high-quality Burgundy wineries – only more expensive because they’re DRC, so they’re probably not as much of a bargain as they may appear in comparison to the prices fetched for the top three DRC estate vineyards. Montrachet Montrachet, which produces the DRC’s only white wine, is a little more controversial. For some, it ranks with Romanée-Conti as one of the DRC’s best wines. Antonio Galloni of Vinous described it as having a nose of almond, dried flowers and hazelnut, with a silky texture. “It is at once mature yet opulent, feminine yet virile, and constantly changing in the glass, with layers of pure dimension that captivate all the senses,” he wrote. Yet Pinot Noir remains the wine for which the DRC is known, not Chardonnay. All the DRC wines need to be aged 20-30 years before they can reach their ideal flavor and complexity, and will stay at their peak for 15-20 years after that. This is why vintages from the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s now sell at auction for $20,000 or more (a case of 1978 Romanée-Conti sold for $39,700 per bottle at a Christie’s Hong Kong auction in November 2013 – that’s more than $1,500 per fluid ounce). How is the Wine Made? The wine production at Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is unique and crazy old school. Villaine’s goal is to enhance the terroir of each wine as much as possible, and let the natural character of the grapes shine through. Over time he has come to believe technology only gets in the way of that, so for the past few decades the DRC has been applying less and less modern wine making techniques to their process. The vines are grown biodynamically – a fancy word for what is basically 100% organic farming – they work the soil with horses instead of modern tractors or any other mechanical farming equipment; the grapes are harvested and sorted entirely by hand; the yeasts are indigenous and naturally occurring; and they even still foot press the grapes! Harvests occur very late in the season, after all other Burgundian wineries, a practice that dates back to the 18th century and Louis François I de Bourbon, Prince de Conti, one of the DRC’s earliest and most influential owners. What’s This About Theft and Kidnapping? Domaine de la Romanée-Conti wines aren’t just wine, but a work of art. And like any great work of art, they’re subject to fraud, theft, and other criminal enterprises. There are DRC wine fraud “rings” that have netted more than $2 million, bottles of DRC were abruptly pulled from an auction in Geneva recently under allegations they were fake, and in 2014 $300k worth of DRC and Screaming Eagle wines were stolen from the Michelin-starred French Laundry restaurant. To help prevent fraud, the DRC and other wineries put serial numbers and anti-fraud devices – whatever that entails – on their labels. But this is a small deterrent against private buyers willing to purchase stolen goods, with no interest in resale. Perhaps the most dramatic DCR-related crime occurred in 2010, when the winery’s vines were “kidnapped” via an act of ecoterrorism and held for a €1 million ransom. The kidnapper, Jacques Soltys, was later arrested, and fortunately the DRC was able to continue making wine as normal that year. If It’s So Expensive and Rare, Why Do I Need to Know About It? Ha! Actually, this is an entirely fair question. We’re not trying to torture you with something you can’t have; the answer is simply that the DRC produces the finest example of Pinot Noir in the world. Even if you never get to drink it, not knowing about it is like an art lover not being familiar with Leonardo da Vinci, or a Catholic who’s never heard of the Vatican. And besides which, you just never know if fate might send a bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti your way. When that day arrives, you’ll know exactly what it means to worship at the cathedral of wineries.