How Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Makes Such Incredible Wines
Seriously fine wine.
When I die and go to heaven there had better be DRC. For I certainly have not imbibed enough of the wines of the legendary Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. The juice of the gods sucked from the ground through Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes into your glass via Burgundy in France.
I often joke about drinking Withnail and I style, sucking on the marrow of life, drinking tea, and eating cake, and drinking “the finest wines available to humanity.”
Well this is no joke. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti—aka DRC to those lucky enough to drink it regularly—simply is the finest wine available to humanity. Full stop. Period. End of discussion.
If an angel were to land right now and be offered a glass he’d probably agree to cut off his wings and stay just for a refill. One refill. Even if it were from a dirty plastic cup in the back of a fancy restaurant from the remains of a bottle someone just splashed thousands of dollars, if not tens of thousands of dollars, on.
That is how spectacularly transportive and ephemeral these wines are. Forget all the other so-called good stuff. For DRC will take you on an exclusive trip you will forever be at pains to to repeat, absent a war chest the size of a small economy.
I first imbibed the legendary elixir in a youth too full to remember them as well as I should, when they were expensive but not “unobtanium.” And again later with friends who were lucky enough to have somehow made hundreds of millions of dollars and acquired wine cellars to match.
These wines live in a rarefied atmosphere inhabited by those with impeccable taste, those who aspire to impeccable taste, and those who equate impeccable taste to spending lots of money. Occasionally even the latter group is right. Just as a broken watch tells the correct time twice a day.
In 2020 the world-renowned auction house Sotheby’s sold $19 million worth of DRC—impressive in and of itself. But as with every statistic it requires some context. That was more than their combined sales of the next six producers of Bordeaux at auction last year.
To add further color, and perhaps gild the lily a little, let us also remember that DRC produces only 5,000 or so cases of wine a year across all of its wines. The fanciest Bordeaux vineyards combined spit out just over a million cases of Grand Cru. Think about that for a second.
Burgundy is a land of folklore, magic, and legends. But DRC is acknowledged as the magnum opus. If you are ever offered a glass, cherish it, regardless of why. If you are ever offered a bottle, be thankful. And if you are ever offered a case, wonder what the hell you did to deserve it.
Despite having a reputation for hosting parties to die for, legend has it that DRC’s former owner, the Prince of Conti, who acquired the vineyard in 1760, drew the line at letting his friends actually taste this spectacular juice—it was just too special to be wasted.
And thus it went through time as the parcels of Grand Cru (comprising only one percent of all wine produced in Burgundy) were tended with a love and care that knew nothing of the heady heights of the atmosphere they would reach today.
As Don and Petie Kladstrup note in their fantastic book, Wine and War: The French, the Nazis, and the Battle for France’s Greatest Treasure, the ethos was that latterly adopted by many a connoisseur: “Monsieur de Villaine at Romanée-Conti… believed that the winemaker was no more than an intermediary between the soil and the wine, and that he should interfere as little as possible.”
I like to think that a large part of what has made the wines magical is the nutters who have owned, nurtured and tended the vines over the years. And I mean that in the sincerest, most laudatory way. For I am sure had the Domaine fallen into the hands of more commercial, less passionate, and less obsessive hands, we would not be seeing the statistics we see today.
Again from Wine and War: “Although the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti would not begin showing a profit until 1959, it was still considered the standard-bearer of great Burgundy, a property that never cut corners or sacrificed quality for the sake of making money.”
The Villaine and Leroy families, and in particular Madame Bize-Leroy, have elevated something exceptional to a global pedestal based upon purity of vision and an unerring attention to that which matters.
As massage and beer is to A5 Wagyu, talking to your vines and playing them classical music is to fantastic Burgundy. I joke, but I don’t joke. For Madame Bize-Leroy is the rare bird who doesn’t give a toss what you or anyone else thinks.
Which is why that bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti you have been eyeing will cost you a cool $10,000 from your local purveyor of old and rare wines. And then a darned sight more from anywhere worth sharing it with friends.