Romanée-Conti Surprise

I have a story that provokes some thoughts on wines. In the 1980’s I used to drink the 71 D.R.C Domaine wines. I always favoured Romanée-Conti’s La Tâche and a good vintage of St.Vivant.

Richebourg was also a personal favourite and when a Grands Échezeaux was good, it was a good bargain. Today I find the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s 71’s too shallow and most of the glamour has gone. The 78’s are filled with “Bon Acidité” as they say in France. I have tasted some golden vintages and they are superb but mostly before the 1970’s.

In 1988, I was approached by a punter who had offered me 30 cases of D.R.C wines. Except the wines as I know them today were mixed cases broken up and made up again. I purchased over twenty cases and shared some with friends.

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti was only sold in mixed cases, which made good and fair practice. The punter based in Melano Switzerland had the idea to maximize the prices of the Romanée-Conti and basically sold the lesser calibre Échezeaux and Grand Échezeaux for well below market prices. It all needed to happen very quickly.

They sold cases of La Tâche in cases of 12 for $1800 per case and Échezeaux and Grand Échezeaux for under $1000. The Romanée-Conti was sold in cases of 12 to Japan for extortionary prices, which financed the whole deal.

This cost Lalou-Bize Leroy her Gerant status at the Domaine. Their exclusive distributor in the United States Wilson Daniels threatened to send back all the wines and were furious. It was a real mess. The 88’s turned out to be good wines and I still enjoy them from time to time.

Now turn the clock forward twenty years, I am driving through Burgundy and decide to pass through Vosne-Romanée. I stopped at the foot of Romanée-Conti’s vineyard to show a friend. Standing in front of  the vineyards wall, opposite the emblem, what I saw amazed me! Rows and rows of very old vines torn out and just lying on the ground. A part of the vineyard lay blank and old vines were strewn in piles – it happens.

I really couldn’t believe it, all new vines were going to be planted. So what do you think about paying those D.R.C prices for vintages that are blended into what you expected from Romanée-Conti, old vines?

This is not to say, Romanée-Conti is cheating clients, they are not because old vines need to be replaced in cycles. They claim the vines are 53 years old and the domaine was founded in 1869, so you judge for yourself. When you next buy a bottle of modern D.R.C., ask yourself what are you buying and is it worth it.